The Ambitious Quest for Forbidden Knowledge: A Deep Dive into the Tragedy of Doctor Faustus

As everyone is mindful that the tragedy of “Doctor Faustus” was written in 1592 by one of the most reputed playwrights in Elizabethan era, called Christopher Marlowe. He brings out the tragical and the miserable fate of the protagonist, Doctor John Faustus through his masterpiece. When considering the character of John Faustus, he is a theologian who carries a doctorate on his account which was awarded by the University of Wittenberg. According to the renaissance view, Faustus’s character agitated against the boundaries of medieval knowledge.

As above-mentioned, Marlowe initially opens his play by defining Faustus as a theologian who is thirst for new knowledge. Even though his father did not have the potential to upbring his life, he worked hard and he becomes “grac’d with doctor’s name.” Marlowe himself explicates that Faustus is “swollen with cunning of a self-conceit.” This apparently explains how ambitious, knowledgeable and on the other and how arrogant he is. Due to this over-ambitiousness, he starts studying the necromancy to pursue his ultimate detriment. The chorus itself declares that “nothing as sweet as magic is to him.”

Before going into necromancy, he started learning new aspects on different subjects which he wanted to pursue accordingly. Firstly, he started studying logic or “Aristotle’s works.” As a result of being a good debater, logic was not enough to make him satisfied. Secondly, he started considering “Galen’s physic” or medicine. He thought that he would never gain more fame by being a doctor because he already carries a doctorate with him. He never started going through economy because he thought it was a corrupted zone. Thirdly, he started pursuing “Justinian law” but he could not be able to get satisfied by the subject as he thought the law was for “mercenary drudge” and was “illiberal” for a gentleman like him. “Divinity” is the last subject he learnt that does not cross the human capabilities. He left the subject as he never wanted to agree on forgiving for sins.

After not being impressed by these subjects, he eagerly craved for necromancy because being a magician sounded “a mighty god” for him. Then, Faustus pursued necromancy with the help of his friends, “Valdes” and “Cornelius.” He summoned the devil “Mephistophilis” though necromancy to gain all the “voluptuousness” in the world by demanding his service to him. At first sight, Faustus did not believe that the hell is “a fable.” Therefore, Faustus commanded Mephistophilis to ask his master “Lucifer” to “spare him four-and-twenty years” without having second thoughts on his life. Likewise, Faustus only wanted “honour” and “wealth” to lead his life. In order to gain the requested service, Faustus wanted to sign “a deed of gift” with his “own blood.” He agreed to cost his soul to the great Lucifer to obtain twenty-four years of service from Mephistophilis.

After gaining the service, Mephistophilis swore on hell and Lucifer to provide anything Faustus need even before he blinks. However, he went seeking further knowledge with Mephistophilis around the world. He was taught cosmography as in the play it states, “the elements, such are the heavens” to define the examples for cosmography. Besides, Faustus learned about “erring stars” and “their motions upon the poles of the zodiac” through astronomy. After all, he eventually started travelling around the Europe by “a chariot burning bright” that was “drawn by the strength of yoked dragon’s necks.” He travelled from Germany, then to France, and to Italy. In Italy, he tricked “his holiness”, “boxed his ear” and he “snatched the dishes” around the table through the power of invisibility. When discovering further in the play, one can find that Faustus summons the “chief spectacle of the world’s pe-eminence,” “Alexander the Great” to enlighten his knowledge. In the meantime, due to questioning Faustus’s power, Faustus implants a pair of “horns” on knight’s head. In this situation, Faustus says that he doesn’t only give knight the horns as a revenge but also to “feel on his head.” Thus, one can identify how arrogant and impatient Faustus is through this incident. After getting over the knight’s issue, Faustus plays another trick on “horse courser” by offering him a horse made of hay. At the same time, when the horse courser finds out the trick he has undergone, he goes for a refund but Faustus again plays a trick using an artificial leg. Also, when he met the duchess of Vanholt, he amused her with “ripe grapes” he fetched when it was off season.

After amusing with his all-necromantic powers over the years, Faustus himself reminds that it has been come to the last few days of his life. However, he had plenty of chances to accept redemption yet he never cared for it. From the very beginning, there had been a conflict between the good angel and bad angel in convincing Faustus’s redemption. Anyhow, before Lucifer enters the scene, it was Faustus who rejected the repentance. Most of the times, the good angel asked him to “think of heaven and heavenly things”, instead he always went through the bad influence of bad angel and sometimes through Mephistophilis’s advices. In the end, the old man even asks him to “call for mercy, and avoid despair.” However, when Faustus was considering to ask for mercy, he felt that God “strecheth out his arm, and bends his ireful brows” towards him. At last moment only he felt asking for salvation but he was really delayed. He asked to reduce his time in hell by “a hundred thousand” to “a thousand years” because he could be saved without being punished further. At the final strike of the clock, he cursed himself by understanding his guilt for depriving “the joys of heaven” and he embraces the horrified damnation by screaming out to death, “ugly hell, gape not, come not, Lucifer.” In sum, one can identify that seeking the knowledge beyond human capabilities leads to an undeniable tragic Faustus should have accepted his place in the universe without challenging it.

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