October 27

Doctor Faustus, II

The Limits of Ambition?

Note the contrast between Faustus's magisterial and powerful expression of his desires and the often unimpressive ways in which he actually uses his powers.

What happens to the imperialism of the imagination?

One last question: What is the significance (scene 12, lines 68-70) of Mephastophilis's explicit comments on the limits of hell’s powers over the human soul.

Faustus and Forgiveness

The Deadliest Sins

Faustus’s inability actively to seek divine forgiveness is linked to Pride and Despair--in Christian theology, the two worst sins:

  1. Pride makes an individual deny God, reject his authority, and set his or her own will and desires higher than God's commands
  2. Despair functions as a kind of inverted pride—the assumption one is such a great evil-doer that one has no hope of winning divine grace and mercy.

Despair involves setting limits on divine mercy, willfully alienating oneself from God's love, forgiveness, and grace.

The Imaginative Role of Classicism

For Faustus, classicism offers a discourse in which to frame fantasies of an alternative universe where the Christian notion of damnation does not apply. Recall Faustus attempting to substituting Elysium for Hell or embracing Helen as an alternative to saving his soul.

Implications of the Helen Sequence

Is Faustus embracing a succubus?

Faustus’s Final Night

Note Marlowe’s revision of the conventions of the morality play: This is no Everyman settling his accounts with God. Consider the significance of

Faustus's Final Speech

The closing soliloquy, which balances scene one's opening soliloquy, telescopes his final hour into a final speech.

We don’t see Faustus actually burning in hell--we see the agony of the anticipation of the agony. He is in some sense already in hell; it is an internal condition. Hell has become a state of mind.

In lines 87-92, consider the supreme irony of Faustus's begging for some limit, some end to the term of his damnation (cf. his opening soliloquy's repeated articulation of his frustration with the boundaries and limitations of his knowledge).

A Few Final Questions

Or as one student cleverly stated the question: Is Doctor Faustus a morality play or an immorality play?

Consider also the play’s fascination with magic (which Faustus describes as his "art").