Patterns of imagery and play

The centrality of imagery in Dr Faustus

Patterns of imagery are central to our understanding of Doctor Faustus:

  • They emphasise key points in the structure
  • They are a means of understanding the play's main themes
  • They may rely on allusions to episodes in the Bible or from mythology, in a way that helps us to understand characterisation
  • They occur at crucial points in the action of the play and the experience of its characters, so as to bring all these elements together.

How the imagery works

Imagery is a kind of metaphor, a literary device that usually works by bringing together – sometimes quite unexpectedly and even shockingly – ideas from two quite distinct areas of experience. This is because the poet has perceived a link between these two ideas that is not immediately evident and thus offers the reader or spectator a new way of seeing or understanding the world.

Imagery is, therefore, intended to make the audience or reader think, to make their  imagination work a little bit harder to respond to the poet's own vision. This active and creative work on their part is a central part of the experience of literary and dramatic texts.

In the case of Doctor Faustus, it is the central character who delivers many of the images, demonstrating his expansive imagination, in line with his aspirations to knowledge and power. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that many of Faustus' images rise above the immediate moment and are conceived on a universal or even cosmic scale.

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