Sunday, October 3, 2010

“Doctor Faustus is the tragedy of an aspiring intellect that is doomed to failure.” Discuss.

Introduction
Doctor Faustus, a unique creation of Christopher Marlowe, conveys a deep conception of tragedy. In awe inspiring and terror, the play fulfils one of the true functions of tragedy. It thrills us because there is something of the ‘desire of the moth for the star’ of Faustus’s desire to conquer human limitation, in all of us, and we are fascinated by the audacity with which he persists in his desperate course.

Extraordinary Courage and Indomitable Will
Doctor Faustus deals with the heroic struggle of a ‘great souled’ man doomed to inevitable defeat. The entire interest in a Marlovian tragedy centres round the personality of the hero, and the pleasure comes from watching the greatness and fall of a superhuman personality. And ordinary German scholar, in the beginning, Faustus’s intellectual endowment raises him to the status of a great hero. He has the genuine passion for knowledge infinite. With his inordinate ambition he soars beyond the petty possibilities of humanity, leagues himself with superhuman powers and rides through space in a fiery chariot exploring the secrets of the universe.
Marlowe’s Faustus aspires to be more than man and therefore repudiates his humanity and rebels against the ultimate reality. Being a true Renaissance hero, he surpasses his mortal bounds to be as powerful on earth as Jove in sky. He finds some hope only in Necromancy. He, therefore, turns to Magic and is elated by its prospects of profit, delight, power, honour, for:
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command…………
A sound magician is a mighty God……..
Endowed with extraordinary courage and will to pursue his goal relentlessly and recklessly, without caring for good and evil, Faustus is really a tragic hero. He strives to satisfy his overriding desires, rejecting the will of God or servitude, and asserting his will both in opposition to God as well as the Devil.
Tussle between orthodoxy and quest for intellectual freedom: A deep spiritual conflict
Marlowe’s Faustus, the tragic hero, is afire with an indomitable passion. He discards all moral codes and ethical principles and plunges headlong to achieve his end. But in rejecting Christian values, there arises in his mind a deep conflict between the pull of tradition, the Will of God, and the desire to learn more and more to taste the fruits of the forbidden tree. The heart of Faustus turns out to be the battlefield where the forces of good and evil are trying to overwhelm each other. Faustus makes his own choice to take to the black art of magic deliberately and then sells his soul to the Devil of his free will. Faustus is a modern man whose conscious self is opposed by the subconscious self which is deeply attached to the conventional doctrines and dogmas of Christian theology.
Throughout the play, Faustus staggers between doubt and faith symbolised by the warnings of the God Angel and the seductions of Bad Angel, as he moves towards his inevitable doom. He has been told by Mephistophilis the meaning of Hell, but in his blind arrogance, he refuses to really grasp the implications of his action. Indeed, before the end of the play Faustus undergoes the mental torture born out of the opposing pulls of his rational and emotional selves. To Mephistophilis, he can arrogantly assert:
Thinkest thou 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 Faustus cannot avoid the mental tortures that must follow every act of sin or crime. A guilty conscience pricks him almost from the beginning to the end of this tragic drama. Doctor Faustus is a tragedy connected with man’s intellectual faculties and his rejection of voluntary subjection of them to an orthodox order of Christianity.
Tragedy the outcome of the hero’s inherent weakness and presumption
Marlowe’s Faustus prides himself in his great learning and scholarship. He is dominated by ambition to acquire knowledge infinite and through it to gain superhuman power and satisfy his sensuous and mundane pleasures of life. His weakness is not a mechanical outcome of his pact with the Devil. The seeds of decay are in his character from the first, half hidden in the Marlovian glamour cast about him, though he has intense desire to know the truth and he comes to make his rash and fatal bargain. Furthermore, in the true Aristotelian sense, he is blind to the actual implications of his action. This is the tragedy. His sensual pleasures override all other passions and blind him to the dreadful truth. The vision of Helen conceals the vision of Absolute Truth from the eyes of Faustus. Faustus is conscious of the weakness, but he has no control over his overriding desires. ‘The vision of Helen’ allures him and her unrealisable beauty penetrates his spirits to the depths:
Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of
Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Faustus, we realize, is doomed, far from being able to reach immortality.
Tragic irony is the essence of all great tragedy, and Doctor Faustus embodies this irony poignantly
Possessed with supernatural powers to perform great things, Faustus fails due to his uncontrollable human weakness. He sets out to gain a deity, but ends with a wish to be turned into something inanimate. He comes to understand his predicament towards the end and cries: “But Faustus’s offence can never be pardoned, the serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus.” In the last but one hour of his life, Faustus stands on the brink of everlasting ruin and damnation, waiting for the fatal moment. He realizes that the pact with the Devil has got him nothing. He had sought to control the stars once but they:
Move still, time runs, the clock will strike.
The devil will come and Faustus must be damned…….
The play, in its final twist, turns supremely tragic as Faustus collapses into simultaneous submission to both his bosses, Lucifer and Christ. Doctor Faustus depicts the human soul as a tragic battlefield where the hero meets with tragic failure.
Cathartic effect: the emotions of pity and fear
In the hands of Marlowe, Faustus acquires a spiritual greatness which, in the finest moments of the play, wins him our sympathy, and at his death arouses that pity and terror which great tragedy demands. Marlowe has felt and conveyed the sense of tragedy in Faustus’s aspirations and downfall. Faustus is seen as a symbol of Marlowe’s times when wonders of the mind and of the world were being discovered and people’s hopes of the attainable were full of ardour.
Faustus’s summoning of Mephistophilis, his signing of the contract, his vision of Helen, and his final death and damnation are the outstanding scenes of the play, in which “the medley of desire and fear, the poignancy of regret, the ecstasy and the terror are depicted with sureness and strength which give them a place among the greatest emotional situations in Elizabethan tragedy.” Faustus’s final monologue is unsurpassed in English drama, in the expression of sheer agony and horror. As he cries with ringing despair:
O I’ll leap up to my God, who pulls me down?
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament,
One drop would save my soul, half a drop, ah, my Christ.....
The tragic emotions of pity and fear at the plight of such a great man tugs at our heart. The tragedy achieves its climatic cathartic effect in Faustus’s last shriek, “Mephistophilis.”
Conclusion
Doctor Faustus is a tragedy of an aspiring intellect which seeks to pierce through to the centre of all knowledge. Such ambition is doomed to failure because of its very nature, for man is a limited being. The courage of the challenge, however, is awesome.

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