Sunday, October 3, 2010


Before the very action of the play starts the Chorus tells us that after obtaining his doctorate degree Faustus became puffed up with pride in his vast knowledge and scholarship and, dominated by inordinate ambition, began to dabble in the black art of magic aspiring to venture into unknown depths of knowledge. The Chorus also informs us that he is going to be punished by God for his pride and inordinate ambition:

“Till with cunning of self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above the reach,
And melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow.”
So Faustus commits the sin of pride, the form and fount of all other sins; his pride and arrogance is to bring about his ruin and damnation in the end.
Straying into Forbidden Path
As the drama unfolds and the action of the play advances, we are able to trace the various stages of Faustus’s damnation. In the very first scene of the play we find Faustus sitting in his study and arguing within himself which branch of study he should take up to gain limitless knowledge and power. One after another, he dismisses all the traditional subjects, because all are absolutely inadequate for his purpose. By mastering all these subjects he is ‘still but Faustus, and a man.’ He can neither make men to live eternally nor ‘raise them to life again.’ So he ignores all these traditional subjects and finally turns to magic as the necromantic books seem heavenly to him. And his pride leads him to presume:
“O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, or omnipotence.
Is promis’d to the studies 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.”
As a student of theology Marlowe must have had a good acquaintance with the current theological concept of sin or evil as stated and formulated by St. Augustine in his classic work. He must have known that the commission of a sin means turning away from God and godly things and turning towards things which are evil and evanescent and thus to pave the way for doom and damnation. And according to Christian theology the greatest sin of man is pride. In spite of all this, Faustus, out of his intemperate pride and presumption is going to submit to the allurements of the black art of magic as he takes it for granted that ‘a sound magician is a mighty god.’ Then at the end of this very first scene his two great friends, Valdes and Cornelius, serve as Devil’s decoys by painting a very glowing picture of the immense possibilities for one who will master the black art of magic. So when Valdes urges to remain firm in his decision, Faustus’s reply is firm and resolute:
“Valdes, as resolute am I in this
As thou to live: therefore, object it not.”
Thus we find Faustus taking the first step to move towards the path of his doom and damnation.
And this he does, disregarding the voice of his conscience, externalized by the Good Angel, who urges him to lay aside ‘damned book’ and to read the scriptures. The Evil Angel, his voice of passion or curiosity, scores over the Good one by assuring that by mastering the black art of magic, Faustus will become as powerful on this earth as Jove is in heaven.
Raising Mephistophilis: Pact with the Devil
Next in the third scene of Act I we find Faustus very much elated when he succeeds in raising Mephistophilis, one of the attendant spirits of Lucifer, ‘commander of all spirits.’ But Mephistophilis in his very first appearance makes it clear to him that:
………..the shortest cut for conjuring
Is stoutly to abjure the Trinity,
and pray devoutly to the prince of Hell.”
And Faustus’s reply is unpardonably insolent when he says that he has already done so and he is fully prepared to surrender his soul to the Devil as:
“This word ‘damnation’ terrifies not him,
For he confounds hell in Elysium”
This impertinent assertion clearly reveals the working of his mind and distinctly points out that Faustus is one step further into the path of eternal damnation. Another point that is clear to us from his talks with Mephistophilis that he is going to surrender his soul to the Devil not only to gain limitless knowledge and power but also to live in all voluptuousness for a period of twenty four years. So Faustus not only yearns, for ‘knowledge infinite’, but also craves to enjoy carnal and sensual pleasure of life to his heart’s content. He has also a craze for limitless power and pelf in this world. So the seeds of decay and destruction are already there in his soul from the very beginning.
Pact with the Devil
In the first scene of Act II Faustus signs the bond with the blood from his own veins writing ‘a deed of gift of body and of soul’ for the prince of the devils. Henceforth, nothing can stop the gradual deterioration of his soul. And the worst thing for Faustus is that he does it deliberately, knowing fully well what he is doing or going to do. Such intemperate pride and vaulting ambition must lead a man to discard God and turn to Devil, thereby paving his way for utter ruin and damnation. And Faustus does so deliberately and of his own accord. Then, in this very scene when Mephistophilis frankly tells Faustus that he is going to be condemned to hell, Faustus’s response is audacious and insolent according to Christian theology:
“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”
So Faustus, as he mentally and morally deteriorates, gradually becomes more and more proud and insolent. And we know that great Lucifer, ‘most dearly loved by God’, also fell for his ‘aspiring pride and insolence.’ Thus at this stage it is clear that dreams of limitless power, pelf and of sensual pleasure of life has completely obscured his clear vision and hence he cannot think of the bitter consequences of his presumptuous and insolent actions.
Dramatic Irony: Further Deterioration
After the signing of the deed, as the action of the drama proceeds on, the deep dramatic irony and Faustus’s further deterioration is gradually unfolded before us. If we follow the career of Doctor Faustus after the surrender of his soul to the Devil we find how all his great expectations are belied. The man who wanted ‘to gain a deity who dreamed of becoming great emperor of the world’, of making ‘a bridge through the moving air’ or of chasing the Prince of Parma from his land, ultimately turns out to be a buffoon and just a magician of repute. What is Faustus’s real achievement excepting the ride in a chariot—’drawn by the strength of yoky dragon’s necks’—across ‘Jove’s high firmanent?’ He just earns fame as a magician displaying his miraculous feats in the courts of kings and emperors or playing nasty tricks sometimes on the Pope, sometimes on a common horse courser. Even before this we have seen how Faustus was delighted to see the coarse dance of the devils just before he signed the bond. Again when Faustus, disgusted with Mephistophilis for his refusal to tell him about the creator of this universe, thought of listening to the voice of conscience, Lucifer intervened personally and by dire threats compelled him to write his bond for the second time. And after such strain and stress we find Faustus deriving extreme pleasure from the flimsy show of Seven Deadly Sins. What a deterioration in the taste and temper of the great scholar from Wittenberg.
Faustus—A Spirit
We have seen that the first clause of his agreement with the devil is—‘that Faustus may be a spirit in form and substance.’ We have also seen that by ‘devils Mephistophilis means the ‘unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer.’ So in this play ‘spirits’ definitely means ‘devils.’ And the degraded soul of Faustus does not shirk from accepting the status of an abject devil. And the point is made absolutely clear when Lucifer himself tells Faustus: “Christ cannot save your soul, because he is just. He won’t interfere with the soul which has been pledged to me.”
Union With Helen: Last Stage
In the first scene of Act V comes the climax of Doctor Faustus’s career in his union with the apparition of Helen, the peerless dame of Greece. Before raising the spirits of Alexander and his paramour Faustus himself made it clear to the emperor that it was not in his power to bring before him the two great princes bodily, as they must have turned into dust long ago. The same must hold good for Helen too. So in spite of all his love of beauty in nature and art and his very sensitive appreciation of classical beauty, Faustus becomes an abject prey to his carnal desires. And the slow moral degradation and disintegration reaches its final stage and completion when Faustus ardently kisses the spirit of Helen—and a spirit is nothing but a devil—and makes a frantic appeal to this apparition to make him ‘immortal with a kiss.’ And thus Faustus gives up his last chance of redemption to become ultimately an object prey to his own despair and dejection. Even the Old Man leaves him with a heavy heart with the sad comments:
“Accursed Faustus, miserable man,
That from thy soul exclud’st the grace of heaven,
And fly’st the throne of his tribunal seat”

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