Doctor Faustus as a Dignified Demise

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Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus illustrates the fall of the plays central figure dramatically, yet grants Faustus a degree of dignity by allowing him the consciousness to retain his integrity throughout the play. Marlowe has designed Faustus as the ‘modern man’, endowing him with the resolve to stand by his pact with the devil – ultimately leading to his demise. Due to his stubbornness, he refuses to repent, but nonetheless explores the possibility. He believes that his actions in signing the pact are enough for him to be damned eternally. Despite his obvious doubts at times, Faustus does nothing more then dabble in the concept of repentance, resulting in the image of the tragic hero, plagued by his own blindness until the end.

From the outset, even prior to the signing of the pact with Lucifer, Faustus refuses to investigate the possibility of repentance. He believes that he is already damned for having summoned Mephistopheles; and his short soliloquy at the beginning of the scene allows him to vocalize his resolution to the reader. Faustus refuses to waver from his course once the events have been set in motion. He turns his back on God and entreats himself to Belzebub, illustrating just how naïve his character can be, ignoring even the slightest possibility of redemption and assigning himself whole-heartedly to Lucifer and his lesser devils: “Despair in God and trust in Belzebub! / Now go not backward. Faustus, be resolute!” Faustus’ decision to stand by his choice is admirable despite its negative nature. Marlowe allows Faustus some degree of resilience by impressing upon us the image of Faustus as a man of his word, and not just a naïve overreaching scholar obsessed with his own desire for power.

Faustus repeatedly reassures himself that he cannot repent. As the voices of the Good and Bad angel periodically reappear, the same argument repeats itself. The Good Angel assures Faustus in its typically powerless words that he can still repent and the Bad Angel with an authoritarian tone, declaring Faustus already a spirit hence beyond redemption: “GA: Faustus, repent: yet God will Pity Thee! /BA: Thou art a spirit: God cannot pity thee!”

Faustus’ mind is very easily annexed by the stronger words of the Bad Angel, albeit after a brief moment of confusion and sympathy for the Good Angel’s cause. The repeated arguments between the Good and Bad angels remind us of Faustus’ choice and that he does still have the power to repent, but the arguments turn into somewhat pointless explorations of human naivety, as the outcome is forever the same. “GA: Never too late, if Faustus will repent.

BA: If thou repent, devils will tear thee in pieces.
GA: Repent, and they shall never raze thy skin.”

While his brief sympathies with the idea of repentance damage his resolve, he never does go through with the act, and for the majority of the time, he stands by his choice, although heavily influenced by Mephistopheles and the other devils.

Faustus’ dignity sustains some damage during the course of the play, primarily during the middle scenes. These describe how Faustus squanders his power, falling into what is seen as slapstick and cheap tricks used for a few laughs and making a mockery of the sanctity of ones soul and how much Faustus sacrificed for his powers. During these events we envision Faustus as a fool, who sold out from high philosophy and ultimate questions to mere farce and comic. What little dignity which Faustus has is tarred and feathered during these scenes, disposing of his desires to change the world and replacing them with pranks on the Pope. In what is clearly an attack at the Catholic religion and a testament to the devil’s power, an exorcism is executed on Faustus and Mephistopheles, resulting in miserable failure and yet more demeaning acts by the protagonists. The failure of the exorcism illuminates the power evil has over traditional faith, a brave scene for Marlowe to depict at the writing of the play,...
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