Marlowe manipulates this struggle between the aspirations of character of his time and the implications to Christianity in relation to its doctrine of heaven and hell.
The Damnation of Faustus
By Troy E. Marlow, Student
Marlowe manipulates this struggle between the aspirations of one character of his time and the implications to Christianity in relation to its doctrine of heaven and hell.
The Damnation of Faustus' Fate Concerning Free Will and Personal Responsibility
Troy E. Marlow
It can be argued that Doctor Faustus is damned from the moment of conception. His innate desire for knowledge inevitably leads to his downfall. He represents the common human dissatisfaction with being human and the struggle of accepting our lack of omnipotence and omniscience. Marlowe manipulates this struggle between the aspirations of one character of his time and the implications to Christianity in relation to its doctrine of heaven and hell. Indeed, Doctor Faustus asks for more than what was intentionally made available to him through God's plan, yet it was God's gift to him of his intellect, that tempted him to search beyond his appointed realm of knowledge. Faustus, through his own free will, decides to trade his soul with Lucifer in order to gain the answers to the questions of the universe. According to the divine plan ideology of Catholic doctrine, his decision worked into the cosmic outline. The divine application of his decision implies that there are benefits or rather some other importance, outside of the connection to Faustus, of his selling his soul. This lessens the impetus behind his decision because of the emphasis on universal application as opposed to the immediate ramifications to Faustus, the human being. Therefore, one can argue as to where the responsibility or fault lies concerning Faustus' fate because of the presence of other forces who may have influenced his decision. However the responsibility for his choice remains his and his alone.
Faustus sells his soul for what he believes to be limitless power, with the full logical, as opposed to emotional, knowledge as to consequences of such a transaction. He knows the stakes of his gamble with the devil. His extensive education and his cultural environment have certainly alerted him as to dangers associated with necromancy and Lucifer.
In Faustus' first speech he declares his desire to enter into the underworld of scholarship outside of the Christian realm, through experimentation with sorcery, incantations, etc.:
These metaphysics of magicians
And necromantic books are heavenly;
Lines, circles, letters, characters-
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires. (I.i, lines 47-50)
He believes that all other areas of scholarship such as philosophy, law, medicine, and divinity are ineffectual, thereby leaving black magic as the consummate learning experience since it will bestow upon him great power:
O, what a world of profit and delight
Of power, of honor, and omnipotence . . .
A sound magician is a demi-god! (I.i, lines 51-60)
"Divinity, adieu!" he says (I.i line 49). Faustus' confidence and almost cockiness in his decision cannot be doubted. After signing his contract with the devil, his blood congeals too quickly thus implying his natural physical hesitance to this deed. In other words, if man is made in the image of God, despite his fall and original sin, there remains a measure of divinity in him, which is displayed by his blood congealing too quickly and thereby impeding this unholy act. Nonetheless, Doctor Faustus is unaware of this fact. Already he has contradicted and insulted his colleagues, family and so forth by his contract. This is known to Faustus. However, whether he has consciously and seriously contemplated these negative results, remains open ended. It is possible that the prospects of this deal created such an emotional frenzy that he overlooked the outcome.
It appears that Faustus has an unshakable constitution. However this is untrue. When Mephostophilis is sent to Faustus, (he is to serve as Faustus' servant or genie) he is resent to Hell because his shape is not pleasing to his master. This is the first sign of weakness in Faustus' resolve.
Faustus' demand of a new appearance for his devil-servant is a sure sign of his diminishing determination. Mephostophilis appears as devil, which to an Elizabethan audience, is a personage with red skin, horns, hooves, and a tail. The devil returns again as "an old Franciscan friar." This image is one of a harmless, peaceful man. His preference for this innocuous and namely religious figure shows the reader that Doctor Faustus does not have an iron will. Faustus is conscious of and thereby responsible for his choices and eventual damnation. However, by his choosing Mephostophilis to change his form, he is almost sugar-coating or mitigating the reality of having a real devil serve him with all of the implications that are associated with Lucifer, evil, etc. He is living a life of denial.
He denies the existence of everything: his eventual torture in hell, the validity behind Mephostophilis' description of hell, his own eminent damnation if he does not repent, etc. He alienates himself from men, society and indeed the world. The only aspect of his life, which he does not deny, is his present physical reality. Indeed, his willingness to sell his soul not only stemmed from the omnipotent knowledge but also from the riches and pleasures:
I'll have them fly to India for gold,
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,
And search all corners of the new- found world
For pleasure fruits and princely delicate . . . (I.i lines 79-82)
Faustus, while having his share of physical benefits, asks Mephostophilis about the heavens, its purpose, the powers of God and Lucifer etc. However, his questions are not of scientific value but rather of a teleological nature. The answers to these questions are not found through Mephostophilis, Marlowe or anyone else. These are questions of faith. A modern man like Faustus cannot receive answers to these questions, thus nullifying his initial reasoning for his deal with the devil. Faustus realizes this when he is met with the impotence of Mephostophilis' answers, which consist of his solely saying that man can be saved by faith alone.
Faustus is reminded of what he has alienated himself from, namely the Christian faith. The learned fool begins the realize the error of his ways. This results in a series of attempts to repent. He sees that he is the only one responsible for his present condition of life. He begins to curse his life:
When I behold the heavens, then I repent
And curse thee, wicked Mephostophilis,
Because thou hast deprived me of those joys. (II.ii, lines 1-3)
The desperation which results from the self-revelation of his personal damnation manifests into foolish parlor tricks for nobility, tricks performed upon the Pope, and impressing royalty and scholars alike with his with omnipotent-like knowledge. He has become, in essence, a cheap nightclub! This transformation certainly displays a poor usage of free will. Faustus initially misuses his free will by deciding to ally with Lucifer and later by abusing his new-given knowledge. He does not use it for good works or apply to it to anything that benefits mankind.
His final damnation not only results from the iniquitous acts that he committed throughout his life, nor his contract with the devil, but rather his pride is emotion that condemns him to eternal hell. Again, this emphasizes how his damnation results from his own personal choices made by his own free will more than anything else. Faustus would rather retain his pride than submit and admit that he is at fault. He blames his parents, predestination, and appeals both to Christ and Lucifer:
. . . O my Christ!-
. . . O spare me my Lucifer!-
You stars that reigned at my nativity
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
. . .Cursed be the parents that engendered me! (V.ii, lines 154-187)
Faustus would rather go to hell and rule, as opposed to going to heaven and obeying God, yet he does not realize that ruling in hell is akin to serving. His lack of faith, coupled with the belief that he is too great of a sinner to be saved, completes the damnation. Therefore the fate of Doctor Faustus is sealed by Faustus himself and his misused free will. Marlowe allows us to explore the artistic presentation of the issue of free will.
A further investigation into free will, reveals that the will, which is supposed to be the savior of the individual and represent the trust of the higher power in human intellect to make rational decisions, ironically is not entirely conditioned by the individual but rather by society. One human being's free will is varied from the free will of another. The accepted Western definition of "free" is not being under the control or power of another person or entity. According to this meaning, the will is indeed not free. This controlling factor is the sensibilities or emotions. I think that the sensibilities effect the mind and the rational thinking process. Faustus' initial excitement about the prospects of omnipotent learning and unlimited physical benefits outweighed the cultural and religious ethics that he had been exposed to during his childhood and adulthood. This mirrors how one can caught up in the moment. His sensibilities clouded his rational mind. Francis Bacon describes the untrustworthy nature of the mind under the sensibilities:
The mind, when it receives impressions of objects through the sense, cannot be trusted to report them truly, but informing its notions mixes up its own nature with the nature with the nature of things.
The sensibilities are the distorting and uncontrollable factor, which causes the subconscious compromising of the will. This occurs because within the inherent limitations of being a human being, a cultural force affects the sensibilities in one way or another. The ideal free will, would be one independent of all external influences in anyway by any other force, namely cultural tainting. This sociological aspect carries with it limitations and hindrances in themselves. These limitations include social taboos, prejudices, stereotypes, etc. These cultural taboos and such, structure one's thinking to the exclusion of any number of ideas, people and even their initial introduction to a new life philosophy. Thus, without the individual's consent or awareness, he or she is denied the very free will to make the choice to have an ideal free will, i.e. being free of cultural hurdles. Conversely, this ideal state of free will would reduce humankind to a being without a culture, a history and namely an identity. Without his cultural identity and rearing, Faustus would not have had a basis with which to function as a human in society. His lack of true free will reduces his responsibility in his final damnation.
The question of why some people break the codes, taboos, break tradition, fall in love with the wrong person, etc., stems from the conscious desire to go against the grain of society. The very subconscious sensibilities that allow humans to function on a basic level allow people to make conscious decisions to sell their soul to Lucifer, to join a gang, to be an eccentric, and so forth. Faustus, just like all human beings, retains the capacity to break rules and do what is frowned upon by society. This usually results from the conscious desire to be outlandish, or by a great emotion whether it be love, greed, jealously etc. One needs to have a strong conviction of some sort in order to defy society. Additionally, individual rearing may advocate the act of challenging society. Therefore, Faustus is aware that he is refuting everything that he has learned but the reality of his choice is unknown to him. Indeed, the idea that end justifies the means, motivates many radical personal acts.
The realization of the full implications of one's actions does not always surface in the decision making process, but usually appears to the subject eventually. When one thinks of Faustus, Macbeth, or Romeo and Juliet, each had intense emotional desires that outweighed the immediate ramifications of their specific decisions. Their wishes were ones that involved an unusual strength of conviction. Doctor Faustus' cultural upbringing informed him that dealings with the devil were abhorred and would lead to eternal damnation. The religious aspect of Faustus' life cannot be ignored. His mind tells him that his pact with the devil is wrong, but his cravings override his mind's first instinct, thus creating a complete contradiction. This contradiction is a very potent one. It demonstrates the power of the sensibilities and great desire over the mind, within a situation as morally volatile as that of the devil and dealings with such respectively.
One's senses or logic are influenced by one's cultural, socioeconomic and historical background. This results in differences among the senses, namely in contrary perceptions. Indeed, clashing perceptions exist among those whose backgrounds have been identical. These assorted viewpoints inevitably result in a variety of judgments and lifestyles, thus negating the idea of one true way to live one's life. All humans are individuals and individuals possess distinct needs. Hence, Faustus and others may not be suited to one specific method of life. Therefore, not only is the free will hindered, but also the values of that society may not be acclimated to that individual. This can be seen as another reason as to why characters such as Faustus and others oppose society. It is true that no one society is personally tailored to one's needs, but one's upbringing does teach humans to fit in with the crowd. Human nature tends to be that of a gregarious creature, which advocates trying to follow the herd and acclimate. Thus, much of what one does can be seen as against their judgment. However, the degree to which Faustus and the populace can realize this limitation of their wills, remains to be determined. Usually upon severe realization, one breaks away from society and rebels.
On one level, people are aware that society effects their lifestyle, character, etc. Nonetheless, the inherent limitations such as: a hindered will, the divine plan, original sin, etc., are harder to observe. Yet the sensibilities impair the ability to initially recognize the aforementioned confinements.
The universal plan ideology of Catholicism suggests a path for which Faustus' life is to take but does not elucidate a specific conclusion of one's life. Therefore free will is left as the individual determination of one's life. It is inferred that Faustus' exchange with the devil was a gift to him, in that he willingly accepted the pact. Though, this refers back to the original assumption that his free will is not ideally free. Therefore, his senses, distorted by the sensibilities, effected his decision to make that pact, thereby creating a decision not wholly true to his nature.
Faustus is in many ways a victim of circumstance. The circumstance of his rearing, his privilege, and gender, afforded him the knowledge to be able to formulate the sophisticated questions he asked of himself and of the world. Indeed, without his background, his fate would have been altogether avoided. The divine plan asserts that it is part of God's plan that he is to be educated, but it is his responsibility to efficiently utilize the gifts bestowed upon him. Therefore, Faustus can be held accountable for his actions and decisions. His damnation reminds me of the Elizabethan saying "absolute power, corrupts absolutely." However, his damnation personally touches all that viewed Marlowe's play. The heavy hand of Christian dogma, clashed with the emerging human curiosity and science, caused a feeling of displaced loyalties within society. Today we face the same religious and scientific dilemmas. We ask ourselves should there be a limit to human curiosity? This very curiosity stems from the same powerful desires that fueled Faustus. The responsibility of the results of our society's decisions, is the Achilles' heel of exploration. We ask ourselves, if we can live with ourselves. It is the end of Faustus that haunts us, as we develop the next atomic weapon, sustain a brain dead person....
Doctor Faustus (after thought)
After our class discussions, I now believe more strongly that Marlowe was creating a greater satire of Catholicism than I had originally thought. The Catholic Faust is a character who, in many ways, epitomizes the desires of the Renaissance man, in that he is not content with his own knowledge. Nor is he content with the whole body of knowledge that the human race possesses. He desires to know that which is fathomed to be known by God alone. Faust's own superhuman abilities to be able to master the areas of medicine, theology, law and logic are not sufficient. He believes that with the addition of the "forbidden" knowledge, he will have a new challenge, which in it itself is tempting enough since earthly knowledge was of no further interest to him.
Upon the acquisition of his new knowledge, resulting from a pact made with the devil, he asks all of the questions that have baffled and intrigued him, i.e. questions concerning about space, heaven, hell, etc. He travels to many foreign lands and combs the planet, in a thorough search for answers. However, this thirst for knowledge is soon exhausted as he turns to utilizing his power to impress the aristocracy and swindle common people alike. Faust's knowledge does not serve as a tool of power, when contrasted to the meaning of power being defined as the unselfish and benevolent application of knowledge in order to benefit humankind. On the contrary, he uses it to become a member of court, by entertaining nobility by conjuring up famous dead legends and playing parlor tricks such as the placement of horns on people who have displeased him. This power is that of the nonsensical, of uselessness and waste. Indeed, his slapping of the Pope and the hiding of his wine and meat, are hardly what can be deemed as good works of faith.
Faust's faith in God is somewhat reawakened when confronted by the sporadic suggestions of returning to the faith and renouncing the devil, in order to save his soul. He considers repentance but believes that his deeds are too corrupt to ever be forgiven. However by his own momentary wavering in belief, one can infer that Faustus has not given up his faith in God; rather the desire to know that which was forbidden, which in many ways resembles the biblical Adam and Eve story, overrode any other prior religious commitment. Doctor Faustus' life ends with his sole request for God's forgiveness, as he waits in agony for the devils to bring him to his final damned fate.
The question remains why was Faustus damned if the supposition of his existing faith is correct? The damnation of Faustus was complete. Though he possessed faith, he did not perform good works, which according to Catholic doctrine are essential for salvation. The epistle of James, supports this hypothesis:
What good is it my brother and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have the works?. . . So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. . .For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.
Catholic theology truly has strong ties to the story line and eventual damnation of Doctor Faustus. As Corpus Christi College in 1587 suspected Marlowe's conversion to Roman Catholicism, one in the modern age would also question this change of heart. The fate of Faustus reinforces Catholic beliefs. The search for knowledge, which was that of pride, and faith without good works, would both lead to eventual and eternal damnation. On the contrary, one could argue that Marlowe was illustrating the cruelty of the notion that faith alone was not enough to secure one's salvation, merely by Faustus' tragic end in itself. However, by taking into consideration Marlowe's possible sympathizing with Catholic dogma, it can be inferred that much of the ideology of the character of Doctor Faustus, indeed was the direct product of Marlowe's own religious beliefs.