Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is a play that depicts the tragedy of a notorious German doctor, Dr. Faustus, who seeks a newfound knowledge and power. They are both such significant influences that they pushed Faustus to hand over his soul to the devil. After striking a deal with Lucifer, Faustus commits the ultimate sin. Not only did he give himself to the devil, but he willingly abandons his obedience to God. The Good Angel struggles to shift Faustus's decision before he signs his soul away, but the instantaneous gratification of power, knowledge, and wealth blinds him. Although hell is seen as a state or condition, Faustus craving to better himself creates a path to his own personal hell, even though Mephostophilis tries to help him, he turns away and ignores him only to meet his ultimate demise.
Faustus’s craving for knowledge itself is not dreadful, but what it pushed him to do is appalling. Marlowe's play implies that there are boundaries and limits to appropriate knowledge. The yearning to learn is not naturally wrong, but Faustus seeks to know too much. In his last line he seems to acknowledge this, “My God, my God! Look not so fierce on me! Adders and serpents, let me breathe awhile! Ugly Hell, gape not! Come not Lucifer! I’ll burn my books! O Mephostophilis!” (Marlowe 5.3.194-197). Doctor Faustus is no longer satisfied with his vast skills, so his solution is to turn to black magic, which offers him unfamiliar knowledge and power.
As he takes action for himself, the story progresses, and his actions turn against him, and he opens his eyes to the horrendous consequences that await him. His downfall was ultimately created by his craving for knowledge and power. Knowledge is undeniably power, but how do we know what is considered too much? Mephostophilis does not describe hell as an established or definite physical thing, person, or place, but instead as a state or condition. “Think'st thou that I, that saw the face of God, And tasted the eternal joys of heaven, am not tormented with ten thousand hells,” (1.3.75-81) In the eyes of Mephostophilis any place that is deprived of the presence of God is considered hell.
Therefore, the ultimate punishment someone can sustain is refusal from the presence of God. Mephastophilis reveals his horrors regarding his own experience to Faustus. He reveals the actions that allowed him to also pledge to Lucifer and mentions his “ten thousand hells” that torture him and even tells Faustus to abandon his “frivolous demands.” (1.3.78, 80). Mephastophilis finds it hard to acknowledge and accept Faustus’s delighted dismissal of hell. Although Faustus is deserving, Mephastophilis is more deserving of empathy because when he tries to explain to Faustus what commitment to Lucifer truly looks like, he says, “What, is great Mephastophilis so passionate for being deprived of the joys of heaven? Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude, And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess.” (1.3.81-85).
Mephastophilis attempts to help Faustus make a better decision and push him in the right direction because he knows the terrible reality. Faustus announces that he does not believe in hell, and Mephastophilis declares that hell is indeed genuine and very horrendous. Mephastophilis even says “O Faustus, leave frivolous demands, which strikes a terror to my fainting soul!” (1.3.80-81). Mephastophilis realizes that he had made a mistake and regrets making it; therefore, he recommends Faustus not to make the same mistake he made, but Faustus makes it nonetheless.
This play shows a conflict between opposing forces, holiness and sinfulness. It represents the good and bad decisions people make every day regardless of the known or unknown consequences. The plot focuses on the conflicts of a single man. Also, the diction and intricacy of the sentence structure contribute to the unfortunate, extravagant tone expressed throughout the dramatic tragedy.
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