The Devil On Your Shoulder
Christopher Marlowe’s play entitled, Doctor Faustus, tells the story of a curious and ambitious man who has grown tired of focusing on all of the traditional areas of study, and wishes to learn something less known by others. Faustus is intrigued by magic, and after convincing his friends to teach him the black arts, he is able to summon a devil, known as Mephastophilis. In exchange for 24 years of servitude from this devil, Faustus is told he must sell his soul to Lucifer and face death as soon as the years have been served. Throughout the play, Faustus struggles with being overcome by his overwhelming desire to obtain knowledge of dark magic and hold power that he did not have before, while also feeling remorse and the need to repent as the Good Angel and the Bad Angel both guide him in different directions, even though the evil within him eventually wins out. As humans we are constantly torn between what is right and wrong, and overcome by both good and evil, which makes Faustus a more human-like and relatable character who grapples with choosing the right path that can eventually dictate one’s future once turning back is too late. Although the Good Angel and the Evil Angel are both physical characters within the play, they both serve to further represent the divided nature that is not only within Faustus, but within all people as the choices we make in life are guided by both our desires and our morals, while we face consequences accordingly.
In Marlowe’s play, the Good Angel often tries to steer Faustus away from being drawn to anything that could threaten his relationship with God, and his ability to seek salvation. When Faustus encourages his friends to teach him about magic and the black arts, the Good Angel tells him to “lay that damned book aside, and heap God’s heavy wrath upon thy head” (1.70-72). The moral conscience within Faustus is warning him about venturing over to the dark side, as he clearly has some reservations deep down about going through with his goal. Understanding the power of what he has unleashed, Faustus momentarily decides to quit his misdoings, as the Good Angel encourages him to “repent, yet God will pity thee” (5.188). Regardless of his thirst for dark knowledge and power beyond others, Faustus still has good that exists within him that conflicts with his immoral tendencies. When Faustus questions whether or not it is too late to return back to God and ask for forgiveness, the Good Angel assures him that it is “never too late, if [he] will repent” (5.253). Although his inclinations toward evil have drawn him in, Faustus seems to wonder if it is the right path. Faustus’ dark side may have a stronger hold on him, but his morality still questions his decisions throughout the course of the play.
Many times in the play, Faustus is intrigued by his potential to invoke evil and dark abilities, as he tries to quiet the good within him that tells him to turn back. When Faustus is deciding between selling his soul to Lucifer or reclaiming his faith in God, the Evil Angel reminds him to “think of honor and wealth” (5.21). Faustus is unsure of which path to take, but his longing for power and recognition seem to weigh more heavily than his need for salvation, although he does stop to question whether his dark deeds are worth it. Once Faustus becomes seemingly resolute in his decision to ask for God’s forgiveness, the Evil Angel demands that he “shall never repent” (5.193). Faustus is torn between which way to go, and his desires and his conscience pull him in different directions. Part of him wants to turn to God, while the other, and stronger, part of him wants to continue with what he has started. Filled with eventual regret and fear of losing God’s favor, Faustus wishes to take it all back, but the Evil Angel tells him it is “too late. If thou repent, devils shall tear thee in pieces” (5.252,254). The evil voice in Faustus’ head speaks louder than the moral one, as he ignores the doubt that he is feeling. Unsure of which way to go, Faustus stays on his dark path, which seems easier than undoing his wrongs that he may subconsciously think are too late to right as he finds himself getting caught deeper and deeper in dark endeavors. Faustus feels inside that he has gone too far, and his soul has passed the point of repentance.
Both the Good Angel and the Evil Angel in the play help to resemble the divided nature of Faustus’ mind, while also demonstrating the divided nature that is within all of us, as we struggle to decide which voice inside ourselves to listen to. As he deeply contemplates selling his soul to Lucifer in exchange for Mephastophilis’ servitude and access to his dark desires, Faustus battles with his own thoughts as he tells himself, “‘be resolute; why waverest thou? O, something soundeth in mine ears; “Abjure this magic, turn to God again’” (5. 5-7). Faustus is a relatable character in this scene as his indecision and doubt prevent him from knowing which path to choose. His desires and his morals are conflicting, as many times in life we find that what we want is not always what is good for us. The Good Angel and the Evil Angel come into the scene following Faustus’ voicing of his reservations, and both try to persuade him in different directions, resembling the divided way in which his mind guides his actions and tries to work through decisions. When reading books about the dark arts, Faustus declares to his devil, “when I behold the heavens, then I repent, and curse thee, wicked Mephastophilis, because thou hast deprived me of those joys” (5. 176-178). Faustus is deeply intrigued by the dark arts and the ability to seek out other forms of knowledge not accessible to others, but he also has a sense of goodness in his heart and a feeling of remorse as his morality sets in. The Good Angel and the Evil Angel enter into the scene again to discuss whether or not Faustus should repent, as Faustus has dark desires he wants to fulfill, but also has a fear of turning his back on God (5. 188-189). We all make decisions in life where we have conflicting voices in the back of our minds telling us what to do, and there is going to be some days where we listen to the darker one and pay the consequences, and days where the good wins out.
Despite the Good Angel of his mind telling him to turn back to God and repent, Faustus gets his consequence of eternal damnation after the 24 years of servitude have been completed by Mephastophilis. Although Faustus had many chances to undo his wrongs and look to God for forgiveness, it is hard to not feel bad for him as he finally realizes the permanence of the choice he has made. His will is divided by both good and evil, which is a realistic and human-like portrayal of a character trying to figure out which way to go, as we all have opposing forces in our heads that do not always agree. No matter how badly the evil forces in Faustus’ head cause him to wish to submit himself to Lucifer, the good side of him questions his decision constantly. People are rarely all evil, nor all good, and Faustus is a character who embodies both, as most people do.
Christopher Marlowe’s play, Doctor Faustus, successfully displays a character who embodies the divided nature and will that is within most of us. Faustus continually makes decisions based on the devil on his shoulder, but he constantly doubts himself. Whether it is his strong desire to gain power and knowledge that he seeks from selling his soul, or his fear that it is too late to turn back, Faustus stays on the path of following Lucifer, rather than looking to God for salvation, even when he faces doubts. Although the Good Angel and the Evil Angel are both physical characters in the play, they appear in scenes only when Faustus has second thoughts about submitting to the devil. These two characters further resemble and bring to the life the divided will of Faustus as their arguing lines back and forth reveal the tendency for humans to be both good and evil, as we have to choose between right and wrong to find the correct path. Faustus eventually finds himself submitted to eternal damnation, when the power of the choice that he has made brings a dark consequence.
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