Sunday, October 3, 2010


There is a poem in one of our Indian languages whose central idea is that no body knows how far is heaven or hell from us; but we are certain about one thing that human heart is the abode of both God and the Devil or heaven and hell. In all probability our poet might have remembered the following famous lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
But there is the idea of conventional physical Hell also mainly propounded by myths and mythologies. It is a limitless and terribly dark place where burns a liquid fire eternally for torturing the damned souls of despicable sinners. And then there is the spiritual hell created by the mind of man within himself and the source of suffering of this hell is the consciousness of impending doom and a damnation as well as the loss of eternal bliss of heaven.
Concept of Hell in “Doctor Faustus”
In Doctor Faustus the concept of hell is mainly a spiritual one. We come across the first talk about hell in the third scene of Act I, when Mephistophilis appears before Faustus after his first magic performance. In reply to a question from Faustus, Mephistophilis replies that he is one of these:
“Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer.”
and is condemned to ever-lasting hell. Then again when Faustus asks him how he is out of hell at that time, the reply from melancholy Mephistophilis is deep and poignant:
“Why this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?”
Thus Mephistophilis reveals it quite forcefully that by losing both God and Heaven he experiences a constant gnawing at his heart. Hence the hell is actually within his own self.
Then again, after finally surrendering his soul to Lucifer and signing the deed with the blood from his own veins, Faustus desired to know from Mephistophilis the actual location of hell; and Mephistophilis quite explicitly explains the nature of hell thus:
“Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortur’d and remain for ever!
Hell hath no limits nor is circumscrib’d
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.
Milton in his Paradise Lost has also given us the same idea—‘Hell flies with Satan’, and Satan himself announces clearly “Myself am Hell.” Thus it is crystal clear from Mephistophilis’s explanation that hell is not something outside the man. It is really located within the heart and soul of a sinner and the terrifying tortures of hell are experienced by a man within his own self.
Faustus’s Sin and his Sufferings
According to Christian theology the greatest sin of a man lies in his ‘aspiring pride’ to become a god himself by rejecting God and renouncing Christianity. And for this ‘aspiring pride and insolence’ even Lucifer, ‘an angel once and most dearly loved by God’, was turned out of heaven to be damned for ever. Faustus committed this very great sin by surrendering his soul to the Devil ‘to gain a diety’ and by renouncing Christianity of his own will. And there were two ways left for him. The first was the path of prayer and penitence to gain God’s mercy and the other was to sink deeper and deeper into the mire of sins and the pit of hell losing all hope of salvation. And Faustus rolled down this smooth path of hell. With his intellectual pride and insolence, with his typical Renaissance paganism, he turns a deaf ear to Mephistophilis’s timely warning and arrogantly asserts:
“Think’st them that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That after this life, there is any pain?
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.”
But could he avoid the mental tortures that must follow every act of sin or crime? After the commission of his act of surrendering his soul to the Devil, Faustus becomes a prey to his own doubts and diffidence and an acute conflict between heaven and hell starts ranging in his soul and lasts till his tragic end. So just like Mephistophilis Faustus also becomes hell itself with his sense of sin and folly, with the painful pricks of his guilty conscience. Faustus may discard and denounce God and the Trinity, but he is undoubtedly attached to them emotionally. That is why a guilty conscience dogs him almost from the beginning to the end of this tragic drama.
In the closing scene we find that to his utter dismay, Faustus realises that he is doomed to eternal damnation without any hope for redemption. And the most poignant soliloquy of Doctor Faustus starting just before an hour of his final-doom reveals in a very forceful manner the deep agony of a horror-struck soul facing its impending doom. And here in Faustus’s last hour soliloquy we have the concept of both the types of hell—conventional or physical hell as well as the spiritual hell. The dim and awful prospect of a gaping hell strikes deep and uncanny terror in the heart of Doctor Faustus and just like Mephistophilis, Faustus is also tormented with thousand hells, “ being deprived of everlasting bliss?” And the excruciating pangs and tortures of ‘thousand hells’ finds the most poignant expression in such forceful lines as:
“O God,
If thou wilt not have mercy on my soul,
Yet for Christ’s sake, whose blood hath ransom’d me,
Impose some end to my incessant pain.
Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,
A hundred thousand, and at last be saved!”

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