In The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Dr. Faustus’ yearn for knowledge (and ultimately power through knowledge) leads him to pledge allegiance to Hell, and sell his soul to the devil. Likened to Icarus’ story of flying too close to the sun, throughout the play it becomes clear that Faustus’ yearn for knowledge and power is his fatal flaw. His mastery of all subjects leads him not only to think of himself as supremely intelligent, but furthermore leads him to question that which should not be questioned. Ultimately Dr. Faustus realizes his errors, but due to the severity of his decision he cannot repent, and is doomed to eternal damnation. Throughout the happenings of the play, it is clear that the absolute power inherited by Faustus corrupted him beyond forgiveness, by man, angel, or devil.
Throughout the beginning of the play Faustus continually questions the notion of sin, wondering why sin exists in the first place if it is so terrible, as the all-knowing God must have known that sin could be committed, and therefore should have obliterated it at the Creation. During his opening soliloquy, Faustus fights with the notion of sin, and the punishment for committing it: “The reward of sin is death? That’s hard” (I.40). During this soliloquy, Faustus contemplates the ambiguity of sin, in that all people die, so what further punishment could sin possibly incur? Furthermore, Faustus looks at sin from the beginning of time, since the Creation. He argues that, since God created all being, He therefore created sin; hence sin cannot be such a terrible thing if it was deemed necessary to existence by the Creator Himself. It is in this false belief that Faustus lets his hubris take over his actions and decisions, sealing his fate in Hell. Furthermore, during a dialogue with Mephastophilis, Faustus remarks, “Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine / That after this life there is any pain?” (V.132). At this point it is clear that Faustus believes not in the afterlife, and due to this he sees no reward for good behavior nor punishment for sin after death. Mephastophilis attempts to dissuade Faustus from such ways of thinking, remarking, “But Faustus, I am an instance to prove the contrary; For I am damned, and am now in hell” (V.135). Although Mephastophilis explains that Hell is not a place, but is rather a state of being, Faustus is too set in his ways to be swayed from his beliefs. Through his actions and decisions, it is clear Faustus’ thirst for power has thoroughly corrupted him, and has made him blind to that which should be obvious. So wrapped up is Faustus in his beliefs that he pledges complete allegiance to Lucifer, and looks upon his teachings as, ironically, Gospel. He vows to Lucifer “Never to name God, or to pray to him,/ To burn his Scriptures, slay his ministers,/ And make my spirits pull his churches down” (V.268-271). His alliance with the devil is clear evidence that Faustus has become corrupt beyond all possible repentance.
Ultimately, Faustus’ inherited knowledge leaves him empty, in that he really has no purpose in his life. He is left to play practical jokes on people through use of his magical powers, actions which are hardly that of a man of such intelligence. It becomes clear that Faustus, though he now can get whatever he wants, is waning in life, and his eternal damnation is imminent. When the clock strikes midnight, devils come to carry him away to Hell. Although throughout the play Faustus was given multiple warnings about his ultimate fate, it is not until his final living moments that he realizes the error of his ways. “Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer! / I’ll burn my books-ah, Mephastophilis!” (XIII.112-113). After cursing everything on Earth and in Heaven, and allowing himself to be persuaded to ally with pure evil, Faustus believes that a final moment of repentance will be enough to save him from his evident fate. Although his mouth utters words of hope for salvation, it is clear that these are the words of a desperate man who has lost everything.
Ironically, Faustus’ vast knowledge ultimately blinded him, and made him most ignorant of all. He believed that, upon his final hours, all his past sins would not come back to haunt him, and he would simply cease to exist. However, as the devils come, they ravage his body, a symbol of his eternal damnation. Dr. Faustus, although a very intelligent man, lost sight of his morals in exchange for extreme power and knowledge, and in doing so loses his soul.
Labels: Analyzing The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe