The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare and Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe have many elements of drama in common, including the theme of corruption, both morally and politically. The similarities in theme between the two plays is remarkable with respect to the theme of corruption. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Doctor Faustus both feature multi-faceted, ambitious main characters that support one of the major themes of the plays: corruption. Doctor Faustus blatantly displays the theme of corruption, both morally and politically.
Faustus, at the beginning of the play, seeks magical powers and has numerous ideas on how to use the power he seeks, such as gaining immense wealth, learning the mysteries of the universe, and remaking the map of Europe. However, when Faustus sold his soul to Lucifer in exchange for the power he longed for, he abandoned his plans and became content with performing conjuring tricks for kings. Faustus’s behavior at this point in the play does not resemble wickedness, but instead mediocrity. The power Faustus gained made him content being a minor celebrity instead of the grand plan maker with seemingly limitless ambition.
Faustus was morally corrupted when he sold his soul to Lucifer in exchange for power. The play has a decidedly religious framework, and in this one can argue that greatness can only be achieved through God’s love. Faustus was condemned to mediocrity because be cut himself off from God’s love. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark also displays the theme of corruption, both morally and politically, however it is more subtle than in Doctor Faustus. In Hamlet, Claudius, Prince Hamlet’s uncle, is corrupted by power. He murdered King Hamlet, became the King of Denmark himself, and married the former king’s wife Gertrude.
Claudius was an ambitious and manipulative leader. He was determined to hold on to his power, ultimately at the cost of his life. Prince Hamlet was morally corrupted by the ghost of his father. The ghost of Hamlet’s father provided Hamlet with evidence that it was Claudius who murdered him. After presenting Hamlet with evidence, the ghost beseeched Hamlet to seek revenge on Claudius. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s death, and becomes obsessed with proving Claudius’s guilt. The ghost’s request corrupts Hamlet to the point where all Hamlet can think about is getting revenge on Claudius.
Hamlet is a contemplative character, essentially good at heart. He would have never thought about avenging his father’s death if the ghost had not mentioned it, and therefore would not have been corrupted. Faustus and Claudius’s greed for power brought on their own corruption, while Hamlet was corrupted by an outside force. Faustus was ambitious to the point where he became obsessed with obtaining magical powers. This obsession with magical powers led him to sell his soul to Lucifer, breaking contact with God. Everyone except Faustus seemed to realize that selling a soul to Lucifer was an extremely bad idea.
Even Mephastophilis, the mediator between Lucifer and Faustus, tried to keep Faustus from selling his soul, saying, “O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands. ” (Marlowe 1604/1994, 3. 81). Faustus was morally and politically corrupted, and refused to follow the path to redemption. Claudius’s ambition led him to murder King Hamlet, his own brother, and marry the Queen of Denmark, ensuring that he, not Hamlet, would gain the power that went along with being king. Claudius’s greed for power brought about his own destruction.
For example, to ensure that Hamlet would die, and therefore be unable to take the throne from Claudius, Claudius not only had two weapons, the sword and the poison on the sword, but the poisoned goblet as well. Had the poisoned goblet not existed, Gertrude would never have died, and Hamlet would still have been unable to decide if he was going to go through with the revenge plot or not, dying before Claudius was dead. However, the death of his mother sent Hamlet over the edge, and Claudius suffered the consequences of his own plot (Shakespeare 1603/1992, 5.
2). Hamlet, on the other hand, was different from Faustus and Claudius. Hamlet was morally corrupted by an outside force: the ghost. The ghost told Hamlet, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murderer. ” (Shakespeare 1603/1992, 1. 5. 31) Hamlet’s love for his father and the grief that he felt at the loss of his father forced him to vow to avenge his father’s death. Doctor Faustus displayed the theme of corruption in a religious way, while The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark displayed the theme of corruption in a relatively human way.
Faustus sold his soul to the devil in order to gain the power he sought, but when the time came for Faustus to join Lucifer in hell, he begged for God to redeem him. Faustus wailed, “My God, my God, look not so fierce on me! ” (Marlowe 1604/1994, 13. 111). Faustus broke from God’s love for mediocrity, and he ultimately had to pay the price. Hamlet experienced corruption in more of a human way. For example, Hamlet had to be sure that Claudius was guilty before he would exact his revenge. Even when Hamlet was convinced that Claudius was the murderer, he still could not bring himself to harm Claudius (Shakespeare 1603/1992, 3.
2, 3. 3). Hamlet reasoned with himself, not with God, during these times. Although Hamlet was morally corrupted, it was not in a religious sense. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was about indecisiveness and human error, not religion such as Doctor Faustus. William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe both portrayed power in a negative light, sending the message that power can cause great pain and anguish for individuals who seek it obsessively. Faustus sold his soul to the devil, while Claudius murdered members of his family for power.
Claudius shows that he is obsessive with power in the second scene of the first act when he refuses to let Hamlet go back to the university in Wittenberg. Hamlet, when alone, thinks about suicide, “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! ” (Shakespeare 1603/1992, 1. 2. 133-134). Faustus was also caused great pain due to seeking power obsessively. Faustus ultimately had to spend eternity in hell. The pain due to the obsessive need for power caused great pain for both Faustus, Claudius, and Hamlet.
The theme of corruption, both morally and politically, played an important role in both The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Doctor Faustus. The characters of Faustus, Claudius, and Hamlet all experienced loss because of this corruption. Faustus and Claudius were greedy for power to the point where Faustus lost his soul and Claudius lost his life. Hamlet was morally corrupted by the ghost to the point where he became obsessed with proving Claudius’s guilt. The authors of these plays sent the message that obsessiveness only leads to anguish. The moral of the plays was that everything should be kept in moderation.