Thursday, March 26, 2009


By chance, I’ve been revisiting in this same week Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and William Shakespeare’s King Lear, which prompts me to compare these chief tragic masterpieces of each playwright.

Faustus and Lear, I would say, are two different kinds of fools: one of the head, one of the heart. Marlowe’s play meditates on the Baconian proposition that knowledge is power, whereas Shakespeare seems to canvass the ancient insight that wisdom is compassion.

Doctor Faustus explores the passion of egoism, since Faustus personifies acquisitive lust for prideful power and intellectual supremacy over all rivals.

King Lear explores the compassion of altruism, probing the phenomenon of cruelty. “Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” the “foolish, fond” old king opines, not yet acknowledging his own stoniness; though at the last the blasted Lear fathoms the compassionate heart of wisdom—seeing it feelingly.