Doctor Faustus

Meet the Author:

Christopher Marlowe (website)
          Christopher Marlowe was born in 1564, Canterbury, England. He became an actor, a poet, and later on, a playwright during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. During his school years, he attended Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University. There, he educated himself on language and other numerous subjects for three years, from 1584 to 1587. Originally, his education was meant to prepare him to become a clergyman but in the end, Marlowe decided not to join the business. After leaving Cambridge, he left for London where he lived his life as a playwright. 
    Marlowe was sought to be a government spy as he was reported to have lengthy absences from his studies at the Cambridge University, absences that were longer than permitted. Also, Queen Elizabeth I had also intervened when Cambridge had doubting thoughts of restraining Marlowe’s degree. As it turns out, Marlowe had "done her majesty good service" in "matters touching the benefit of the country." It was also reported that Marlowe was Atheist and despised religion for its complications to the world. His atheism view may have also integrated into his play, Dr. Faustus because as Dr. Faustus toils with magic and Lucifer/God, he begins to lose sight of his intentions and ultimately loses his soul. Had he been content with the slow progress science would have made, he may have actually lived. Doctor Faustus’ gaining knowledge through the use of magic also hints at the fact that Marlowe was atheist in a sense that, as Doctor Faustus hung onto magic and his religious belief of Lucifer and God, he was bound to pay an immense toll. Dr. Faustus’ death also suggests that had he been content with humanity’s slow progression in science and other respectable studies, he may have lived. Marlowe’s play strongly hints that without religion, several obstacles may be suppressed or even removed from play. During his time, several suspected him of atheism, as he was, and also that he had converted to a catholic religion, which in his time was not acceptable. 
     He produced seven plays, but among them all, Doctor Faustus, and The Jew of the Malta became the most popular. In his plays, he utilized the use of Blank Verse, which later on his fellow opponents soon adopted: Shakespeare. Both were born in the same year and naturally they formed a weak rivalry. In 1593 however, Marlowe’s career was cut short after being accused of heresy, for during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, it was a Protestantism supported state. Though, in May 30th, 1593 he was released. After his short release however, he then became involved in a tavern brawl where his life was taken by a man who somehow stabbed him in the head.


Book Summary:

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Faustus having a discussion of repent with the Good Angel
          Doctor Faustus who is a well known and respected German scholar grows tired with the limitations of traditional knowledge; logic, medicine, law, and religion. Deciding that it is time to move on to something never done before, he chooses to learn the art of magic. His companions, Valdes and Cornelius instruct him on the black arts and summon Mephastophillis, a lesser demon. Mephastophillis forms a contract that must be signed in blood if Faustus should learn magic and the fee that is required, is discussed: twenty four years of magic, in exchange for Dr. Faustus’ soul. Mephastophillis tells Faustus of the horrors of the underground and Hell, but despite his warning, Faustus chooses to sign the contract with his blood, thus sealing his fate.

          Mephastophillis then receives word that Lucifer has accepted their contract, allowing Faustus access to the dark arts. Though, Faustus shortly begins to doubt his decision and even questions the validness of his recently made contract: Was it an Equal Exchange? Angels then begin to appear on both sides of Faustus, one holy, and one tainted. Both debate, both deny, one tries to give a route of purification, and the other pulls Faustus further in. Books are given to Doctor Faustus to enrich him in knowledge of the newly attained magic. But, Faustus soon questions the making of the Universe, and Mephastophillis who had been able to answer Faustus’ numerous questions before, cannot answer his final question. [Mephastophillis’ refusal to answer is an implication that God had made the universe and is considered holy if talked about, thus harming Lucifer.

          In order to quiet Faustus and his doubts, Lucifer personifies the Seven Sins, and each sin explains themselves to Faustus. With Faustus’ newly obtained power, he travels to Rome with his new assistant, Mephastophillis. Arriving, at Rome, he seeks out the Pope, and plays a series of unnecessary pranks, such as turning invisible to steal food, and boxing the Pope’s ears. Faustus is then summoned to see the German Emperor [Charles V, Enemy of the Pope]. Within the courts, Faustus is asked by the emperor if he could see Alexander the Great using his magic. Using his magic, Faustus creates an image of Alexander the Great, thereby impressing the Emperor. Faustus continues his travels and meets a horse courser and sells him a horse that turns into straw the moment it touches water. Faustus then plays another prank/scam by pretending his arm falls off.

          As the years continue, coming near to the end of Faustus’ twenty four year contract, his angel’s disputes become more and more meaningful: to repent, or to continue to betray. On the final night of his twenty four year contract, he is brought to his knees and as his fellow scholars crowd about him, they in horror pray for him as Faustus’ soul is taken away and given to Mephastophillis.


Analysis of Themes:

Faustus becomes blinded by his power and everything that comes with it
Moral Divinity

- Doctor Faustus chooses to exchange his soul blindly for knowledge and power of the dark arts. By doing so, he signs the contract with his blood, thus betraying God and giving into temptation of the Devil. In the Christian frame, giving loyalty to the Devil rather than seeking a pathway to heaven is immediate damnation. However, one can redeem themselves through Christ and the option remains open to Faustus throughout the whole play. Though he does consider it very heavily, he still decides not to take that route. Ultimately, at his final hour of his contract, he gives in and wants to repent but it is too late. It seems as though he wanted the experience of wielding unimaginable power for as long as he could, and not pay a toll for it.

Duality of Human Nature

- Within the play, Faustus is constantly debating with himself whether to serve as one of God’s follower or to join Lucifer’s influence. His struggle is seen throughout the play and could be symbolized through the use of the Good and Bad Angels. Both angels appear while Faustus is in deep thought, and could represent his mind in two distinct shades: Content and Lust. The angels urge him take a path that is opposite of the other. An example of this would be an attempt to repent with Christ, or to continue the betrayal of God. The Good angel encourages Faustus that what he had before was all that he would need. However the Bad angel discourages the other route, and points out that Faustus may have been in too deep to repent, which is also a foreshadowing of his oncoming doom.

Absolute power Corrupts Absolutely

- Early within the play, Dr. Faustus ponders about what he plans to do with the power he seeks. He imagines wealth and he also has the desire to plunge into the mysteries of the universe and its creation. However, once he obtains the dark magic with limitless restrictions, his visions virtually disappears and is blinded by the power he has. Instead of using that power for milestones or advances, he uses it to prank the Pope, and an innocent horse courser. He supports the devil by using his magic and ironically, the option of redemption remains open. It wasn’t just the power that corrupted him, it was also how he behaved once in control of his power. By gaining so much power, it softened Dr. Faustus and hindered him so deeply that he no longer kept his scope of ambition, but instead replaced it with the delight and desire of a child: to do Pranks on other people.

Science and Profit

At the very beginning, Dr, Faustus is angry that human knowledge can only penetrate so far. The knowledge of medicine, the advances in research, and the evolution of logic all benefit the human race. Yet, when Doctor Faustus is in control of magic, it has a reverse effect, and science over all is ignored. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus points out a moral tale about wanting more than what is already given. However, when lust for knowledge cannot be controlled, and new discoveries are made, repercussions are eminent. Through Doctor Faustus, the reader receives hints that, some things are best left undiscovered.

Word Count: 1477

Page Created by Andy Nguyen
Last Updated: 6/2/10 at 8:05 P.M. PST

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