Term Paper: Marlowe's Faustus an Examination

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[. . .] iii.71). Mephistophilis even urges Faustus to forget his "frivolous demands" (I.iii.84) the "strike terror" (I.iii.85) on his soul. Faustus is too concerned with his own selfish gain to understand the hidden meaning in Mephistophilis' words.

As a result, power and corruption are eternally linked in Marlowe's play. Faustus' desires are consuming and they blind him to the reality of his circumstance. He mistakenly believes that the angels are under his control and that he has selected the most powerful of deities in Mephistophilis. Interestingly, Mephistophilis does not need to deceive Faustus because Faustus deceives himself quiet well. Faustus is responsible for his own corruption because of his desire for power. His desire leads him to one of the worst types of suffering because his grandiose dreams become nothing more than child-like pranks. In other words, his desire leads him to the incredible pain of losing something that he cannot recover. He does not realize there is no escape from this torment until his last hours when it is too late for him. This type of suffering is common in the Marlovian tragedies.

The theme of good vs. evil is predominant in this play. The good and bad angels are perpetual thematic symbols throughout the course of the play. In short, they represent the two sides of human nature. Their conversations offer insight into serious theological issues. The good angel tells Faustus that is never too late for his soul, if he will repent. The bad angel focuses on Faustus' pain and retribution should he dare repent, yet he seems to understand that repentance is impossible for a man such as Faustus. At the end of the play, the good angel recognizes Faustus' fatal flaw when he surmises that he loved the world.

Man's fragility is another important theme in the play. Faustus' frailty is emphasized when he allows himself to become convinced to never look to heaven or pray to God again. Lucifer, Belzebub, and Mephistophilis promise to gratify Faustus for his obedience to them, even though he has already been duped. The interesting aspect of this theme is that Faustus is unaware of his condition. He is blind to his own mistakes because he is so thirsty for power, knowledge, and pleasure.

His blindness transforms itself into ignorance as the play progresses. Faustus is presented with the opportunity to seek forgiveness several times, which he rejects the notion every time. Faustus' resistance reveals the clash of the medieval and Renaissance worlds. Faustus, clearly a Renaissance man, decides not to put God at the center of his universe. In fact, he rejects and blasphemes him. He finds the truth spoken of in the Bible banal compared to the interesting prospects of science. For example, he states:

These metaphysics of magicians

And necromantic books are heavenly:

Lines, circles, signs, letter, and characters

Aye, these are those that Faustus most desires. (I.i.49-52)

He abandons the medieval way of thinking and embraces the "world of profit and delight" (I.i.53). After his encounter with Mephistophilis, he says, "What boots it then, to think of God and heaven?/Away with such vain fancies, and despair -- /Despair in God and trust in Belzebub" (II.i.3-5). He also expresses the belief that there is no afterlife when he tells Mephistophilis that "Thinkst thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine/That after this life there is any pain?/Tush, no, these are trifles and mere old wives' tales" (II.i.133-5). These statements illustrate how Faustus has become not only blind but also arrogant.

Marlowe does not waste any time revealing the limits of Faustus' power. His gift of knowledge does not help him when he seeks to spiritual knowledge. An example of this can be seen when Faustus asks Mephistophilis for an explanation of who created the world and he refuses. (II.ii.69) Marlowe utilizes Faustus' circumstance to elude to the fact that all forms of life and matter ultimately find their way toward God. The irony, of course, is that Faustus' choices have separated him from God. He is not only separated from God, but he is also incapable of returning to his previous state.

In the final act, Faustus is again presented with an option to repent. The old man in this scene tells him that his "magic will charm they soul to hell/And quite bereave thee of salvation" (V.i.38-9). He also tells him not to "persever like a devil" (V.i.41). A final warning:

Yet, though has an amiable soul

If sin by custom grow not into nature;

Then, Faustus, will repentance come too late:

Then thou are banished from the sight of heaven. (V.i.42-5)

This statement is followed by the old man's vision of total forgiveness represented by an angel that hovers over Faustus' head ready with a vial of grace to pour on his soul if he should ask for mercy. Faustus felt compelled, but only until Mephistophilis enters the room, threatening to tear him to pieces.

Mephistophilis captures the fate of Faustus perfectly when he states that Faustus' "heart-blood dries with grief" (V.ii.12) and "his laboring brain/Begets a world of idle fantasies/To overreach the devil, but all in vain" (V.ii.12-4). Faustus, too, realizes that he is beyond saving. In despair, he wishes that he had never even read a book. He has indeed lost "both Germany and the world, yea, heaven itself -- heaven the seat of God, the throne of the blessed, the kingdom of joy" (V.ii.46-7). He even recognizes that he gave up his soul for the "vain pleasure of four and twenty years" (V.i.i.61). This scene also clearly reveals the cunning of Mephistophilis as he admits:

Twas I, that when thou wert i' the way to heaven

Damned up thy passage; when thou tookest the book

To view the scriptures, then I turned the leaves

And led thine eye. (V.ii.87-90)

This passage uncovers Mephistophilis' mission and he leaves Faustus with the lasting words, "Fools that will laugh on earth must weep in hell" (V.ii.93). Indeed, when it is too late, Faustus begins to see his grave mistake.

The final scene in Marlowe's tragedy reinforces the conflict of medieval and renaissance values. The theme of good and evil resurfaces as we witness the frailty of Faustus. Marlowe seems to be expressing the belief that while intellectual and educated men may be Christians, their thirst for knowledge and power must be tempered. The Chorus warns us of his tragic mistakes. We are told:

Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,

Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise

Only to wonder at unlawful things:

Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits

To practice more than heavenly power permits. (V.iii.23-7)

The clash between medieval and renaissance values coupled with the conflict between good and evil illustrate the frailty of the human psyche. Faustus becomes a victim of his own desire. On the surface, this action appears to be a noble quest but Marlowe is quick to point out how mankind can become consumed with deadly desire.

Personal Evaluation

Marlowe's tragedy of Faustus illustrates the fragile state of man in a circumstance that is easy to comprehend. At the beginning of the play, Faustus is a man that is curious and heavily influenced by the new ideas emerging from science and humanism. His curiosity leads him to consider science, astrology, and other areas in which man was making great advancements. This portrait is realistic because knowledge is often positively associated with power. Even today we are bombarded with the message that knowledge is power. Individuals are encouraged to learn, read, and grow throughout their lives. In addition, we are born creatures of curiosity. Faustus illustrates what happens when we take that curiosity too far.

It is also important to note Faustus is not presented to be evil in the beginning of the play. In other words, he is not portrayed as a villain in the same way that Iago is in Shakespeare's Othello. He becomes a despicable character as a result of his mad pursuit. His mistake manifests itself in a type of arrogance that allows him to believe that he can outsmart the devil. His desire also encompasses pleasure as well. He wants to:

Fly to India for gold,

Ransack the ocean for orient pear,

And search all corners of the new found world

For pleasant fruits and princely delicates. (1:82-85)

The aspect of understanding one's limitations is critical to understanding the play because a desire for knowledge is healthy.

In conclusion, Marlowe also masterfully demonstrates how such a desire for knowledge proves itself to be unworthy. This becomes obvious after Faustus travels the world and then resorts to playing tricks on the pope. The massage we have from how Faustus handles his power is that power -- even as much as he can stand -- is not enough to satisfy him. It does not edify him in any way; instead he becomes like a child playing pranks. In fact, we do not see any benefits from Faustus knowledge and power at all. From… [END OF PREVIEW]

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