Sunday, October 3, 2010


In the pageant of Seven Deadly Sins in the second scene of Act II, Pride has been shown leading all other deadly vices that follow. Thus pride has been given the pride of place among all other Deadly Sins. And Doctor Faustus has committed this very great sin of sins. In the prologue of the play the Chorus informs us how Faustus puffed up with pride and afire with inordinate ambition takes to the black art of Magic and how he is going to meet his doom just like Icarus whose ‘waxen wings did mount above his reach.’

Theological Concept of Evil or Sin
Marlowe was a student of theology, so he could not but have a first hand acquaintance with the current theological concept of sin or evil as stated and formulated by St. Augustine in his classic work. According to his concept the commission of any sin means turning away from God and godly things and turning towards things which are evil and evanescent. And naturally the sin of man must lead to his damnation. According to this concept and Christian theology the greatest sin of man is pride—pride that brought about the fall of Lucifer, ‘most dearly lov’d of God’ from heaven. In this connection Douglus Cole has justly remarked: “There is no denying the fact that in Doctor Faustus Christopher Marlowe, whatever his personal views of Christianity may have been, has fashioned a play that is thoroughly Christian in conception and import. Christianity was of course explicit in Marlowe’s source, the English Faustbuch. But in adapting that meandering collection of anecdotes about the famous German magician Marlowe gave it a more concentrated intellectual shape by reorganizing his material along a more sophisticated line of philosophical and theological concept of evil. That theology had been given its classical and enduring formulation by St. Augustine with whose Marlowe, as a student of theology, had first hand acquaintance.”
Pride and Insolence
When Faustus asked Mephistophilis how Lucifer, ‘an angel once’, became the prince of devils, he rather gave a very clear warning in his relevant reply:
“O, by aspiring pride and insolence!
For which God threw him from the face of heaven.”
And this very sin is going to be committed by Faustus. We find the play opening at a very crucial juncture of his life. In the very first scene of the play we find him disappointed with all branches of knowledge that he has so far mastered. Physic, philosophy, law, divinity, all are absolutely inadequate to fulfil his inordinate ambition. In spite of mastering all these great branches of knowledge he is ‘still but Faustus and a man.’ Human mind very often reveals a very great tendency to venture beyond limits set by religion and ethical principles. But this also is a very dangerous tendency that often bring about ruin and disaster, both physically and morally. And the soul of Faustus is afire with a supreme yearning for infinite knowledge and a craze for limitless superhuman power and supreme sensual pleasures of life. And we can clearly understand whether the wind blows when Faustus takes his final decision to leap into the darkness or into the lap of the Devil when he utters these memorable lines:—
“……….Divinity, Adieu!
These metaphysics of magicians.
And necromantic books are heavenly;
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence, .
Is promised to the studious artizan!
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command……………
A sound magician is a mighty God:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”
So Faustus wants to tire his brain ‘to gain a deity’ and to become—‘Lord and commander of the elements.’ And this desire to be a god himself is one of the greatest sins on the part of a Christian as it reveals ‘aspiring pride and insolence’ beyond limits. And Faustus commits it.
Deliberate Commission of Sin
The worst thing for Faustus is that Faustus commits his sin deliberately. He sins knowing fully well what he is doing or going to do. Puffed up with such pride and afire with such inordinate ambition a man is bound to discard God and turn to Devil. And Faustus does so wilfully and deliberately. Thus in the third scene of Act I when Mephistophilis tells him without any ambiguity that the easiest method to call up the spirits of hell, is to abjure God and the Trinity and to ‘pray devoutly to the prince of hell.’ Faustus’s reply was deliberately insolent:
“So Faustus hath
Already done! and holds this principle,
There is no chief but only Belzebub!
To whom doth Faustus dedicate himself.
This word ‘damnation’ terrifies not him,
For he confounds hell in Elysium”,
And then he had audacity to declare:
“Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I’d give them all for Mephistophilis.”
Thus quite deliberately and of his own will Faustus firmly makes up his mind to sell his soul to the Devil to gain superhuman powers with the help of Mephistophilis as his pliant slave and ‘to live in voluptuousness’ for twenty-four years. And in the first scene of Act II we find Faustus finally surrendering his soul to the Devil and writing the bond with the blood from his own veins—‘a deed of gift of body and soul.’ Then again, when Mephistophilis frankly tells Faustus that he would be condemned to hell as he had given away his soul to the Devil, Faustus’s reply is defiant and audacious according to Christian theology:
‘Think’st 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.
Had Faustus committed his sin out of passion or due to ignorance then his moral responsibility could have been mitigated to a great extent. But all his utterances in the very first few scenes establish beyond any doubt that he had discarded the path of virtue ‘to gain a deity’ deliberately and of his own accord.
Presumption and Arrogance
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus may rightly be regarded as a tragedy of presumption. Literally ‘presumption’ means arrogance as well as taking things for granted. In fact pride and presumption go together. And it is his excessive pride and intemperate ambition that lead Faustus to commit the folly of presumption. Even after mastering almost all the important branches of study and in spite of his vast scholarship Faustus is still far from satisfied as he still cannot ‘make men to live eternally’ and is unable ‘to raise the dead to life again.’ And hence he bids farewell to Divinity and the ‘metaphysics of magicians’ and necromantic books seem heavenly to him. Vanity and sky-high ambition obscure his vision completely and lead him to take things for granted blindly. Faustus takes it to be granted that by mastering the black art of magic,
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings
Are but obey’d i’ their several provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind or rend the clouds:
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man!
A sound magician is a mighty god:
Here Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.
What proud and presumptuous utterance these are! He takes it for granted that a ‘sound magician’ is like a mighty god and that his mastery over the black art of magic will enable him to become as powerful a monarch on this earth as Jove is in heaven.
Diffidence and Degradation
The irony of the situation is that Doctor Faustus, in spite of all his erudition and scholarship, could not realise that although he was denouncing Christian doctrines intellectually with his scepticism and atheistic bias, his emotional attachment to them was too deep to be rooted out so easily. And then he is also not devoid of conscience. Hence we find Faustus becoming a prey to his own doubts and diffidence and his mind wavering between his God and the Devil. And that is why the Good Angel, the voice of his conscience, appears and urges him to shun that ‘damned book’ and to read the scriptures. But lust for sensual pleasures of life have completely obscured his vision and vitiated his soul. He turns a deaf ear to the earnest appeal of the Good Angel and his voice of passion, the Evil Angel, scores a victory by turning his soul away with the assurance that by mastering the black art of magic Faustus will be like Jove in the Sky:
“Lord and commander of these elements”.
Even almost at the end of this tragic drama, in the first scene of Act V the old man fails in his sincere attempt to guide his ‘steps unto the way of life.’ In the pageant of Seven Deadly Sins we have Sin of Lechery to come last of all. It means when a man gets absolutely degenerate he is ultimately bound to become an abject victim of his carnal desires. So Faustus’s degradation is complete when we find him making a frantic appeal to the apparition of that peerless. Helen of Greece to make him immortal with a kiss. And thus Faustus gives up the last possibility of his redemption and becomes an abject prey to dejection and despair is also a sin for a devout Christian named Curiosity. Another important aspect of his sin is his limitless curiosity. Of course this was one of the most significant characteristics of the Renaissance. But Faustus’s boundless curiosity led him to practise more than heavenly power permits; he begins wondering at unlawful things and thus bringing about his own doom and damnation. Hence in the epilogue the Chorus warns us all:
“Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things.
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits.”

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