A Question Of Knowledge in Doctor Faustus
In the play Doctor Faustus, the main character deals with a desire to contain more knowledge– it drives him to the need of repenting. Throughout the play he battles with his thoughts to do so. Marlowe is trying to show through the play if the quest of knowledge hints unalterably to God, Faustus, a non-spiritual man, can only go down in despair.
Just before the devils take the quintessential Renaissance man, Doctor Faustus to hell, he recites this detailed speech. This passage lacks rhyming words, but is rich in imagery. The progressions of ideas are rich in emotion. The speech contributes to the play because we finally witness raw emotion and pleading for a life. Earlier, we get an egotistical yet non confident man who battles with himself. Faustus realizes he has one hour left to live, and he must say what is on his mind before he is taken away. He describes the scene, believing the clock will “strike” at eleven as his time comes to an end. When he says “O I’ll leap up to my God!” “Who pulls me down?”( 13.57.9) He is pleading with God to save him. He asks him to bring down his time in hell to a thousand years or a hundred thousand years.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the noun firmament means the arch or vault of heaven overhead, in which the clouds and the stars appear, the sky or heavens. In modern use, it is used only in poetry or rhetorical. The implication of the word stems from the book Genesis, where God created the firmament to help separate the source of rain from the underworld. It describes the importance of Christ’s blood to Faustus, as he sees it with the firmament. The word firmament in the speech tells that Doctor Faustus can feel Christ’s blood- it is close to him. He believes Christ’s blood will save him, and that is essential to the play. Yet, there is a force that stops it from happening. The firmament is his salvation, his last resort of “repenting.”
He believes with Christ’s blood, he can be saved- his chance of repenting can appear. He pleads with Lucifer to spare him. The stars to him have guided him in his life and lead him to his demise. His constant yearning to advance has caused him to make reckless decisions. This brings us to his ending line: “Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer! / I’ll burn my books—ah,
Mephastophilis! (13.57–113) “I’ll burn my books,” shows that his desire for gaining limitless knowledge was what caused him to make the pact with Lucifer. This was the quintessential spirit that began during the renaissance period but looked down upon the “evil” idea of pride.
We can get a sense of the drama and heartache from Doctor Faustus, due to Marlowe’s rhetorical sophisticated writing. He rambles, desperately trying to find a way out of the mess he made. He realizes at this line that he cannot escape: “No, Faustus, curse thy self, curse Lucifer, / That hath deprived thee of the joys of heaven.” (13.57.110)This passage seems to be about the mistake Dr. Faustus has made on one level. One can question why Doctor Faustus did not repent earlier: Why is this the first time he is seeking a way out? When it is certainly too late? His cries to Christ go ignored- if this were a true Christian play, Faustus could have repented at any time. While this play is deemed a “Christian tragedy” he still could not repent. But as he is being carried off to hell, he decides he must give in to the Christian view if he wants to save himself. But now, still being alive, he is damned. Can we conclude that there were signs in which Christ told Faustus not to repent?
Mid speech we get a detailed description of how his body is being carried off to “heaven.” “My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths, so that my soul may but ascend to heaven.” (13.57.104)One can tell he is asking for care, perhaps an easy treatment when he leaves. If God does not have mercy on his soul, than he would prefer to live in hell for a thousand years. On another level, however, it seems to be about man’s battle with himself. If a person is truly not happy in their own skin, and don’t possess the crazy desire to be the “best,” they will suffer. They will suffer just like Doctor Faustus. Doctor Faustus was so caught up with wanting “more” out of life and the limitations of human knowledge that he lost what was truly important. He didn’t appreciate what he already knew- his greed and excessive pride ultimately killed him.
The reader wonders if Faustus has learned his lesson. One minute he is pleading for time to slow down, and the next asking Christ for leniency. He makes himself believe that hell is not so bad or it does not exist. While the gates of hell or firmament are opening, he cannot fathom the idea that his conscience has played him. Marlowe insinuates that Faustus’s self-delusion endures even during his emotional last speech. Being too involved with Lucifer has made him come to the realization he will never be able to break free from it all. While he is remorseful, he realizes his chance of repenting is impossible.
The play, Doctor Faustus, by Marlowe shows the emotional battle the character has with oneself. He cannot believe that he desire for knowledge could drive him to despondency. While he seems unspiritual at first, the image of firmament and Christ’s blood shows how in times of desperation one may turn to spiritual guidance for salvation.
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