Sunday, October 3, 2010

“The over-reacher”—is that an apt description of Marlowe’s heroes? Discuss with reference to Doctor Faustus.

Faustus the protagonist who falls through his own will
Faustus is the central figure of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Faustus is a character ideal to be the hero of a tragedy where man alone is the maker of his fate, good or bad. He falls, not by the fickleness of fortune or the decree of fate, or because he has been corrupted by Mephistophilis, the agent of Lucifer, the Devil, but because of his own will.

Faustus: no king or prince, but a great scholar
Faustus is an ordinary German of parents base of stock’ who goes to Wittenberg for higher studies, mainly supported by his kinsmen. But in course of time, he graces the golden field of learning and before long obtains a Doctor’s in Divinity for his unsurpassed skill in dispute on heavenly problems. He has attained mastery over various branches of study. Thus Faustus is a break from the traditional concept of the tragic hero to the extent that he is not of royalty or any noble parentage. But he is great all the same, because of his scholarship.
Faustus is a man of extraordinary calibre
He possesses rich imaginative faculty. He cherishes the idea that as a magician he will be greater than emperors and kings, and his dominion will stretch “as far as doth the mind of man.” He will become a mighty God. Endowed with exceptional imaginative power, he visualizes as a magician the bright dreams of his future.
Faustus is a born poet
Poetry is an innate gift with him. He makes blind Homer sing to him of the love of Paris and Oenone, and he makes Amphion produce ravishing music from his melodious harp. In the final soliloquy, Faustus calls upon the heavenly spheres to stop moving so that time ceases and midnight never comes. But the most wonderful among his passages is his apostrophe to Helen. His speech to Helen bespeaks of his high imaginative faculty and is pregnant with mythological allusions.
Faustus like Icarus running too high: Presumption the cause of his tragedy
Faustus is not satisfied with his vast knowledge in various subjects of the university, for still he is an ordinary man. Faustus wants to be a superman; he wants to be a “mighty God.” He is “swollen with cunning and of a self-conceit”—to such an extent that he becomes the “Icarus” of classical mythology. And he aspires on the artificial wings of his knowledge to soar above human limits, to reach the status of a “Jove in the sky.” Pride is the sin for which the angels fell, and in consequence of it, heaven conspires the overthrow of Faustus.
Faustus: the child of Renaissance
Faustus, with his yearning for knowledge, proceeds to study necromancy. He responds to the suggestions of the Evil Angel, to attain the position of a ‘Lord and Commander’ of the world. He tries his brain “to gain a deity” and he commits a sinful act. But he is not at all terrified of ‘damnation.’ He does not believe in pains after death. He sells his soul to Mephistophilis to acquire unlimited power to probe the secrets of the universe.
Faustus’s mental conflict: a study of his mind
Faustus’s choice of necromancy is made after inner conflict. The appearance of the Good Angel and the Bad Angel side by side are the personifications of his good and evil impulses. His conventional heart is opposed to his self-damnation and this is clearly hinted when his blood congeals as he proceeds to write: “Faustus delivers his soul to the Devil.” But he ignores these warnings and completes the scroll. But the conflict arises again in his mind—the conflict between his impulse to fly to God and his resolution to stick to the pledge made to the Devil. As the time rolls on, he becomes more and more disillusioned about the profits he expected from Magic, and the growing sense of loss and of the wages of ‘damnation’ begins to sting him like a scorpion:
When I behold the heaven, then I repent,
And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis,
Because thou hast deprived me of those joys.
(Act II, Scene II)
But it is he himself, and not Mephistophilis who is to blame.
Faustus the complex character dominated by ambition
The more Faustus turns towards God, the greater becomes the force of the Devil to drag him back into his trap. Faustus is an inordinately ambitious hero. He denounces God, blasphemes the Trinity and Christian doctrines, and sells his soul to the Devil to gain superhuman power and to live a life of voluptuousness for twenty-four years. The death is cast in his very first monologue Faustus bids Divinity adieu. He turns a deaf ear to the earnest appeal of the Good Angel to lay that damned book aside, and is carried away by the allurements of the Evil Angel who tells him to be “on earth as Jove in the sky.” It is Faustus who utters such blasphemous words:
Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I’d give them all for Mephistophilis.
By him I’ll be great emperor of the world.
The uttering of the phrase “consummtumest” after signing the bond with his own blood is nothing but blasphemous irony. Discussing about hell and heaven with Mephistophilis, Faustus tells him that he is not worried by such “old wives’ tales” and damnation.
Faustus: moment of crisis and self-realization comes late as to all tragic heroes
Faustus is isolated from his surroundings. He does not die suddenly. And before dying, Faustus reaches that point of horror, when even pride is abandoned. Faustus would like to retrace his steps and repent of his surrender to the Devil. But Lucifer, Belzebub and Mephistophilis appear and demand the fulfilment of the conditions to which Faustus had agreed by signing a bond with his blood. Finding no other way, Faustus begs the forgiveness of the devils and vows never to mention God or pray to Him or to look to Heaven. But Faustus’s conscience is not absolutely dead. On hearing the Old Man’s exhortation, Faustus immediately becomes aware or his predicament and says to himself:
Where art thou, Faustus? Wretch, What hast thou done?
Damned art thou, Faustus, damned; despair and die.
Faustus’s inner conflict reappears in a more acute and agonising form. He feels that hell is calling him with “a roaring voice.” Mephistophilis offers him a dagger so that he may kill himself and go to hell. Faustus is distressed. When the Old Man comes and tells him not to commit suicide and that he might yet receive the mercy of God, Faustus’s distressed soul is comforted. Faustus, therefore, tries to repent. But he is not allowed to repent by the devils.
What motivates Faustus towards his doom?
Faustus is unsurpassed in his magic idealisation of that which is essentially base and carnal. He seeks immortality in the kiss of Helen—a spirit.
Faustus is not one consumed with a thirst of knowledge, says Arnold Wynne, for we see him exercising his supernatural gifts in the most puerile and useless fashion. It is impossible, therefore, to regard his ambition as a lust for knowledge in the usual meaning of that term, differentiating it from sensual experience. If Faustus is to be liable according to his dominant trait, then let us describe him as embodiment of sensual-gratification.”
Marlowe’s Faustus, the legendary German scholar, is an insatiable speculator. His brilliant mind dismisses all subjects one by one. Magic ravishes him and nothing should daunt his determination to command all things that move between the quiet poles. Faustus aspires to unlawful knowledge because it is an instrument of power. It is the passion for omnipotence rather than omniscience that urges Faustus to summon Mephistophilis by incantation to his side. He puts some questions to Mephistophilis on astrology, Lucifer and hell, but the fruit of experience is disillusionment. The replies of Mephistophilis hardly satisfy him. Wagner’s narration of his aerial voyages for cosmography and Faustus’s discussion on geography with his attendant spirit—all this exemplifies the insatiable passion of Faustus for knowledge, but he seeks knowledge because knowledge is power. Faustus employs his magical power not only to acquire knowledge but also for his sensual-gratification. He is a sensualist from the moment he takes up the book of magic to ponder over what it may bring him.
Faustus not fit to be a tragic hero according to some critics
The element of sensuality is so much emphasised in the character of Faustus that some critics have gone to the extent of regarding him as an incarnation of lust and as such, unfitted to support tragedy. His creator, according to these critics, inspires him with his own Bohemian joy in mere pleasure, his own thirst for fresh sensations, his own vehement disregard of restraint—a disregard which brought Marlowe to a tragic and unworthy end. But, as if in mockery, he degrades him with unmanly, ignoble qualities that excite our derision. His mind is pleased with toys that would amuse a child; at the conclusion of an almost incredibly trivial show of the Seven Deadly Sins, he exclaims “O, how this sight doth delight my soul!” His practical jokes are unworthy of a court jester. The congealing of his blood agitates his superstitious mind far more than the terrible frankness of Mephistophilis. “Miserably mean-spirited, he seeks to propitiate the wrath of the fiend by invoking his torments upon an old man whose disinterested appeal momentarily quickened his conscience into revolt. Finally, when we recall the words with which Tamburlaine faced death, what contempt despite the frightful anguish of the scene is aroused by Faustus’s screams of terror at the approach of Lucifer to claim him as his own! In his vacillations we see, not the noble conflict of good and evil impulses but an ignoble tug-of-war between timidity and appetite” as Wynne observes.
Faustus, though proud as he is, lacks firm determination; he wavers and vacillates; “his character is in fact not one of fixed determination, as it is so often asserted; he constantly wavers, and his purposes change.” Sometimes he sounds immovable, but at other moments he is furiously torn by conflict.
Tragedy of Faustus is symbolic
Faustus stands not for a character, not for a man, but for Man, for Everyman. The grim tragedy that befalls him is not a personal tragedy, but a tragedy that overtakes all those who dare “practice more than heavenly power permits.” The terrible conflict that goes on in his mind is not particular to him alone, but common to all who waver between opposites. In the character of Faustus “there are no details, no personal traits, no eccentricities or habits, nothing that is intimate or individual. Marlowe could not have told us where or in what way, Faustus differed from any other man. He was concerned only with the part of him which was common to all men, yet in virtue of which he exceeded all men, his mind. And that mind is Marlowe’s—the limitless desire, the unbridled passion for the infinite, a certain reckless, high confidence in the will and spirit of man.” The doubts and fears which rock the mind of Faustus are not of one character alone: these doubts and fears about hell, heaven, God, salvation and damnation have been experienced by all inquisitive men in all ages.
Faustus wavers between his Good and Evil angels, between God and Devil, so we may see Marlowe hesitating between the submissive acceptance of a dogmatic system and a pagan simplicity of outlook to which instinct and temperament prompted him. It will be hard to condemn Marlowe as an atheist. His sceptical and rebellious temperament was not simply his personal tendency; rather he was impressed by the prevailing tendency for free thinking on religious matters. In the same sense, Faustus, with all doubts and fears about hell and damnation, believes in Christ and God. Faustus in the beginning is a bold, defiant and adventurous spirit of the Renaissance but at the approach of his doom he reaffirms his faith in Christ and God. In the final hour, the fact of redemption to which Faustus has closed his eyes for so many years becomes apparent to him and he cries:
See, see; where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament,
One drop would save my soul, half a drop……
A person who believes in the blood of Christ as the ransom for all the sins of the human, or that turns to God after having once abjured him, cannot be regarded as an atheist. Faustus discovers that intellectual pride and insolence of man are responsible for dragging him away from God and true religion. “Faustus’s passion for knowledge and power is in itself a virtue, but diverted from the service of God it threatens to become totally negative and self-destroying.” as O.P. Brockbent says.

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