The Sympathy for Evil in Paradise Lost and Faustus
Abhorrent judgments abound these days. Violence. Hate. War. Political insanity over authority. It all seems so negative. Events and such individuals become more disturbing than the last, and this initiates the loss of hope. Nevertheless, what if things are not as bad as they seem? What if the view about what is occurring in the world is warped by the very means by which one learns about it? Therefore, in the novel ‘Paradise Lost,’ written by John Milton and in the play, Doctor Faustus, written by Christopher Marlowe, both texts promote main characters, Satan and Faustus, who seem unlikely on taking a step towards a moralistic and holy direction. However, these figures are eventually perceived the opposite instead when their motives exhibit qualifying and laudable characteristics, which brings upon the underlying idea that there is a veil of goodness that evil appears within. This further demonstrates the revelation that the people who seem unruly end up being not as terrible as one might have hoped— in turn, creating a more in-depth idea: through what is initially heinous, is something guileless and naive in the end.
In Book One of the novel, ‘Paradise Lost,’ Satan and a group of angels are condemned from Heaven as they transpired to avenge the heavenly kingdom and affirm their defiance against God by creating their militia. Satan declares that through this event, those who have fallen with him to Hell, shall ‘wage by force or guile eternal war / Irreconcilable, to our grand Foe, who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy / Sole regaining holds the tyranny of Heav’n’ (Milton 121-124). Upon this statement made by the sinful leader, Satan is discerned as persistent in trying to promote how it is necessary for retaliation against God. In using Heaven as an analogy to ‘tyranny,’ he is trying to coerce the fallen angels in concluding that the holy domain was an oppressive regime— therefore, there should not be minuscule traces of sadness as to why any of them were cast out in the first place. This speech manifests a profoundly immoral occurrence that should have never crossed the mind of any individual— consequences that can ultimately end in mishap upon the angels that are co-siding with Satan as well. This initial portrayal of him paints a gloom-ridden and obstructive picture that is beyond redemption. Nonetheless, the audience recognizes that through this scene, Satan holds a malicious persona who is out for revenge for openly resisting what rules and regulations Heaven holds. It is unlikely for someone to commiserate anybody who does not respect a divine, authoritative power.
Although Satan was deemed ignoble for planning such a contemptible occasion against God, and for the reason he had been redirected to Hell, he later ignites solace feelings when he perceives his new surroundings. This change in the outlook of the new and upcoming leader of the underworld, advances upon the idea that what was seen as corrupt in the beginning, in turn, reveals how a greater good is disguised beneath all that was irreverently characterized. For instance, by taking in and adjusting to where he now belongs to, Satan finds that ‘Hell / [Recieves] thy new possessor: one who brings / A mind not to be changed by place or time… / And in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n’ (251-255). This exhibits Satan’s prevalent thoughts in bringing hope to not only himself but for those who descended alongside with him— that Hell can still be just like the same as Heaven, and still lead with integrity. This allows the readers to feel sympathetic for him because he upholds the burden that now awaits him; he is unable to avoid the unexpected change in his life, as it is these events that challenge and force him to step out of his comfort zone. By understanding how Satan feels at this particular moment, the readers can conclude that he is in a difficult predicament. If he were to ignore or hide away from this inevitable challenge of change, he denies himself the opportunity to prosper.
Concern and the ability to show compassion towards Satan continues when he reaches the Garden of Eden and sees Adam and Eve. He grows to feel despair and bitter that God has placed the couple in a wondrous place, whereas the misery of Hell accompanies him wherever he attends. For example, when Satan finally approaches his current condition and undertakes the appalling effects that Hell offers, he lets go of his aggrieved reactions and considers repenting for what he has done: “But say I could repent and could obtain / By act of grace my former state; how soon / Would heighth recall high thoughts” (93-95). Through this moment, the readers can recognize that Hell is, in fact, cumbersome and emotionally draining Satan. He reflects upon his current condition and the thought to feel remorse for his actions crosses shortly. This allows others to feel sorrow for his misfortune and make of his situation a lot more concerning.
The purpose of placing evil in a sympathetic manner is to indicate that despite the atrocities a person with wicked traits commits, it is also someone many people can understand. Satan is not the total embodiment of evil nor a baseless, insane opposer, but a flawed individual who took the rails on the wrong side of life and has progressed too far to return to their previous state. Portraying evil in a sensitive light, elicits reactions from both the character and audience, earning whom many considered a beguile individual, a grudging place in the readers’ hearts. Having not only this information of the person this character used to be, living through the gameplay itself is what makes them sympathetic. The readers understand and pity him because they were able to see his turning points.
In another literary text, the play, Doctor Faustus, contains a character, Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil in order to gain the powers of divinity. This statement alone already places the character in a negative standing as he commits to something very sinful. Normally, when a figure performs any bargain with the devil, they are promptly written off as an abomination to the greater good. As this pact immediately prepares to settle in, Faustus begins to augment in curiosity and acts haughtily upon the concept of religion when he asks Mephistopheles, a demon under Lucifer’s rule, a question on what Hell is: ‘Come, I think hell’s a fable’ (22). The readers can see that arrogance can create evil objectives in a man, persuading him to rise beyond what he is higher—to become something that he thinks he deserves (alchemy and knowledge of the dark arts in this case), even though he should have known better.
Although Faustus sold his soul to the devil, his motives for doing so, and his actions afterward do not necessarily fall into the characterization of a ‘bad guy’ after all. Even though he cast his soul to Lucifer, and in ways acted imperiously, that does not change what he still is — human. During the scene where Faustus is overfilled with the worry of being damned to Hell, he cries out, ‘On God, whom Faustus has abjured! On God, whom Faustus hath blasphemed! Ah, my God, I would weep! But the devil draws in my tears’ (49). This specific moment implies the regret that Faustus feels, and the audience comprehends the aghast emotions that are running through his mind as he certainly does not want to seek Hell. Many evidently can find that Faustus was a man who did not intend any harm. He solely wanted ‘demonstrations magical, that [he] may conjure in some lusty grove, and have these joys in full possession’ (10). As the readers are provided with context for his melancholic emotions later, it is what makes his sacrifice so meaningful. Faustus wants to have full and ultimate autonomy on learning whatever it is that he desires, but in performing a pact with the devil, he restricts himself in every way. Nonetheless, the final act of knowing, the revealing of him as a sympathetic character, is what elevates him from being someone with that the reader can look down upon, to one they can admire.
Evil eventually gains the empathy of those who would never be expected to earn over. The point and purpose of why people sympathize with the exhibition of evil are because of their point of view — readers are more tuned into the anguish they are experiencing. Many are biologically inclined to want and need to understand others’ pain. In reading these two literary texts, analyzing how these two characters, Satan and Faustus, appear to be defeated, the moment of their demise pulls the reader’s focus intensely. In other words, the experience of a heightened sense of awareness, as it pertains to the pain, allows anybody to better assess their fate. Things, people, events, that are synonymous with corruption, are not that far off from a normal person. Therefore, the nature of evil reconciles alongside with an understanding of compassion, as it shares similar struggles as the audience, but on a more extensive scale.
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