Theological Tragedy in Dr.faustus by Christopher Marlowe


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Christopher Marlowe’s Dr.Faustus examines the tragic fall of Dr.Faustus , a talented and a well-respected German scholar at Wittenburg, feels despair and dissatisfaction because the limits of human knowledge; law, religion, medicine, and logic. He has learned everything he can learn, his ambition is to know more about the universe and its creation. All of these things have left him in satisfaction situation of what he has learned, so, he turns to the black magic. This essay shall explain power of the devil and his temptations and the process of making choice in the light of the free will.

To make the idea clearer, we should focus on the cultural debates on freewill between Desiderius Erasmus, the leading Renaissance Humanist in his time, and Martin Luther, instigator of the Reformation. In 1524, Erasmus published a tract De Libero arbitrio (On Free Will) then in 1524, Luther published his riposte De Servo Arbitrio (On the Bondge of the Free Will). The debate between the two scholar was the dilemma of the nature of the free will and its relation to salvation. Both scholars wanted to reform the doctrine of free will in the catholic church. Erasmus believed that salvation could be reached through believing in God and doing good works in life to gain one’s salvation, while Luther believed that the free will is nothing but a God’s grace and we are predestined to be damned or saved through God’s grace, Luther denied the concept of free will. Luther said that ‘ I say that the man without the grace of God nonetheless remains the general omnipotence of God who effects, and moves and impels all things in a necessary, infallible course; but the effect of man’s being carried along is nothing—that is, avails nothing in God’s sight, nor is reckoned to be anything but sin.” He also said that “ All the passage in the Holy Scriptures that mention assistance are they that do away with “free-will”, and these are countless … for grace is needed, and the help of grace is given, because “free-will” can do nothing”. While Erasmus said that “

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Dr.Faustus feels despair and dissatisfaction of his knowledge, Faustus delivers his first soliloquy. He curses each study; logic, because he has mastered its “chiefest end,” medicine because there is no doctor can give him mortality or rise the dead people, law, because it “aims at nothing but external trash” (and theology because sin cannot be avoided and its consequences are too hard. Faustus decides to leave all everything and devote himself to get power through the black art. He praise the” necromantic books” in order to learn unlimited power and knowledge. Then he invite two magicians Valdes and Cornelius to visit and instruct him to the world of the black art “ Their conference will be a greater help to me/Than all my labors, plod I ne’er so fast” His despair and dissatisfaction lead him to think away from faith. Although God is absence in the play but he sends to him the Good Angel many times to convince him to not give up on faith, while Faustus is waiting to the magician to arrive, The Good Angel and Bad Angel enter. The Good Angel asks Faustus to leave the idea of the black art and read the Bible instead of reading that bad kind of books “O Faustus, lay that damned book aside,/ And gaze not on it, lest it tempt thy soul,/ And heap God’s heavy wrath upon thy head while the Bad Angel encourages him to go forward and tells him the kinds of power and treasures that he will gain. The Good Angel stands for redemption and faith while the Bad Angel stands for Faustus’s desire and greed. Faustus delivers his second soliloquy imagining all kind of powers and knowledge the black art will give him “pleasant fruits and princely delicates”. So Faustus ignores the Good Angel’s advice and he intends to continue the path to the black arts. Valdes and Cornelius arrive and they are so interested in Faustus intention, these two characters in their encouraging for Faustus stand with the devil. The two scholars who wonder the development in Faustus’s character shows us how much he was famous for his knowledge and his interest in knowledge.

As G.M.Pinciss in his essay “Marlowe’s Cambridge Years and the Writing of Doctor Faustus” suggest that “Now questions of grace and salvation came to the fore- questions that would be of particular interest to the young Marlowe: Who were those elected to be saved? How could they know? How could salvation be assured? Could it be won or lost? Were some born reprobates, inevitably to be damned, and if so, when did God make this determination and why? These are indeed what were called ‘deep points.

Mephastophilis rejects to answer Faustus’s question about the creator of the universe because if he answers that God created the universe then God must be awesome. Mephastophilis only talk about the bad things because if Faustus knows the greatness of God, it would be threaten to Lucifer’s and Mephistopheles’s hold upon Faustus’s soul.

Faustus’s path to his tragic falls develops so quickly, he starts to prays and sacrifices to the devils, drawing articles and calling many devils by name, including Mephastophilis. When Mephastophilis appears, Faustus asks him to go away and come back in a different shape “Thou are too ugly to attend on me”. Faustus orders Mephastophilis to do all what he wants but Mephastophilis says that he cannot do so without the permission of Lucifer and the devils appear to anybody call them when he leaves God and Christ in the hopes of getting the person’s soul. For when we hear one rack the name of God,/Abjure the Scriptures, and his savior Christ, We fly in hope to get his glorious soul. Faustus starts to ask about the angel’s fall and the darnation, Mephastophilis answers that Lucifer and other angels were expelled from heaven for their pride and being away from God is a sin without redemption. Mephastophilis asks Faustus to stop asking him about hell because being cast out of heaven is so painful. From this point, Faustus could thing about the horror of being away from God but his pride makes him blind and he does not understand the terrible reality of hell because his only interest is to gain power and his greed for power grows more and more by asking Mephastophilis to propose a deal to Lucifer that Faustus will give Lucifer his soul in return for 24 years with Mephastophilis as his servant, “Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer,/Seeing Faustus hath incurred eternal death/By desperate thoughts against Jove’s deity:/Say, he surrenders up to him his soul/So he will spare him four and twenty years,/Letting him live in all voluptuousness,/Having thee ever to attend on me,/To give me whatsoever I ask,/To tell me whatsoever I demand,/To slay mine enemies, and aid my friends,/And always be obedient to my will. Faustus delivers his third soliloquy, insisting that the deal is worth the power he will gain and saying, “Had I as many souls as there be stars / I’d give them all for Mephastophilis” .

Faustus for the first time in the play, he considers the way of redemption and turning back to God but he immediately gives up on the idea saying, “The god thou servest is thine own appetite,” Again the Good Angel and Evil Angel appear and as the previous time The Good Angel tries to convince Faustus to repent, pray to God again and think of the beauty of heaven. Despite the fact that God does not contact directly to Faustus but for the second time he sends The Good Angel to him, till now there is a way to redemption. On the other hand The Evil Angel continues to tempt Faustus by telling him about the wealth and powers. Faustus is so excited about the power he will gain through his pact with Lucifer. Mephastophilis arrives with the news that Lucifer has accepted the bargain and Faustus must sign the deal with his own blood which symbolizes his total agreement. Once Faustus signs the agreement, the words homo fuge appeared on his arm (Latin for” flee, man). Faustus wonders where he could flee to” id unto God, he’ll thrown me to hell.” ) Faustus is aware of his sin yet he is still fascinated by the power of the devil. After gaining his new power, Faustus asks Mephastophilis about the location of the hell, Mephastophilis answers that hell has no exact location saying , “hath no limits” . Faustus does not believe in hell although Mephastophilis says that he himself is a proof of hell’s existence because he is damned in hell. When Mephastophilis gives Faustus a book contains spells to raise up the spirits, knowledge of the planets, the heavens, and all plants and trees. The mention of heavens makes Faustus debates repenting and renouncing the black art saying, When I behold the heavens, then I repent,/And curse thee, wicked Mephastophilis,/Because thou hast deprived me of those joys. . The Good Angel and The Evil Angel appear again. The Good Angel encourages Faustus to seek redemption and ask for God’s forgiveness, while the Evil Angel says that God will not forgive Faustus. Faustus decides not to repent and Mephastophilis answered for all his question but not the one about who made the universe. Faustus thinks again to repent and the Evil Angel tells him it is too late to repent while the Good Angel says,” Never too late, if Faustus will repent. (5,254)”. Faustus cries for Christ to save his soul, at his invocation of Christ, Mephastophilis appears with Lucifer and another devil telling him not that Christ cannot save him and he should stop thinking about God or heaven anymore then Lucifer shows Faustus the Seven Deadly sins; pride, covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, and Lechery.

I think that Faustus has a lot of chances to be redeemed but his greed for power makes him blind for the God’s forgiveness, as McCullen says in his essay “Dr Faustus and Renaissance Learning” that “Faustus is still at liberty to decide how far he will pursue this dangerous course.Even a limited understanding of spiritual wisdom would enable him to make a wise choice, for in reply to his questions, Mephistophilis gives answers which could be taken as moving arguments against self-damnation. He states that Lucifer, the angel most loved of God, was damned because of his aspiring pride and insolence. Lucifer is, in effect, a mirror in which Faustus could see himself. But he is so blind that he is not even moved by the involuntary outburst of Mephistophilis”.

In the twelfth scene when Mephastophilis are with many scholars, one of them asks him to conjure up Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. An old man enters and tries to make Faustus repent and he tells Faustus that he sees an angel over Faustus’s head offering him mercy,” Ah stay, good Faustus, stay thy desperate steps!/I see an angel hovers o’er thy head/And with a vial full of precious grace/Offers to pour the same into thy soul!/Then call for mercy, and avoid despair.” Pincess sees that “The ending of the play merits especially close attention, for it focuses explicitly on the conflicting Calvinist and anti-Calvinist Views” , according to the Old Man, Faustus can be saved if he asks for God’s mercy. Pincess continues his idea that “The anti-Calvinist, emphasizing the hero’s need to turn to God and believe in his forgiveness, can, of course, be countered by stressing those elements that make Faustus seem more a Calvinist paradigm. Read in that light he is quite simply one born a reprobate who will feel God’s ‘heavy wrath.’ He was damned from birth.. The old man is another character shows Faustus the way to redemption but Faustus says that he wants to repent but Mephastophilis calls a traitor. Faustus apologizes from Mephastophilis and asks him to make Helen his lover so her beauty will clear his anxiety about his deal with Lucifer. Helen appears and Faustus begs her for a kiss to “give me my soul again. While Faustus is busy with Helen, the old man enters again and group of devils come to harm him but he is sure that the power of God is greater than the one of devils. The old man is like the Good Angel, a way to show the God’s mercy and forgiveness but Faustus is more interested in pleasure with Helen than redemption.

Faustus is in despair as the end of his pact with Lucifer is coming. Faustus says that he is a sinner and the scholars ask him to seek God’s forgiveness but Faustus replies that God cannot pardon him. When Faustus realizes that he has only one hour left to live, he cries to God for help and asks the earth to gape open and save him from hell; “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. . Faustus continues praying for God and cursing Lucifer and himself but the midnight comes and Faustus despairs then Devils arrive and carry Faustus off while he is crying and promising to burb his book; “Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer!/I’ll burn my books—ah, Mephastophilis!

Faustus has reaches his fall deriving from his ambition and his desire to strength his power and knowledge. Although all the warning about the horror of hell even from Mephastophilis and the attempts of the God Angel, the old man, the scholars at the end to make Faustus repent and pray for God’s forgiveness, Faustus thinks many times about the redemption but he quickly gives up on the idea of redemption and continues his bargain with Lucifer. The chorus announces that Faustus is gone and says to the audience to take Faustus’s downfall as an example of the danger of trying; “unlawful things,” and never listen to the devils who tempt human beings “to practice more than heavenly power permits,” (Epilogue, 8).

As Pincess thinks that “In the final analysis, then, Marlowe’s drama can be appreciated as the product of a number of forces-the controversy between Calvinists and anti-Calvinists that must have impressed him deeply during his years at Cambridge” .

In conclusion, to read Dr.Faustus under the influence of Luther’s idea on free will leads to that Dr. Faustus is damned from the beginning because God did not give him salvation. So, whatever Dr.Faustus does to be saved is useless as God’s grace was not given to him. While reading Dr.Faustus in the light of Erasmus’s idea on free will, God gives Faustus many chances to redeem himself and be saved and Faustus had the free will to redeem and asking for salvation but he chose not to redeem , he choses to be damned through his pact with the devil. In my opinion, Christopher Marlow’s Dr. Fauatus shows the human being’s state in the Reformation period struggling the idea of the existence or the absence of free will. I also see the theological tragedy of Dr.Faustus as a moral play that gives a lesson to us in not giving up on God’s mercy whatever the temptations of the devils are and even the devils are God’s creatures and he damned them into hell for disobeying his disciplines.


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