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«Dr. Faustus: theist or atheist? *Shah Mohammad Sanaul Karim Assistant Professor, English Language & Literature, International Islamic University ...»

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Journal of Education and Practice www.iiste.org

ISSN 2222-1735 (Paper) ISSN 2222-288X (Online)

Vol.6, No.6, 2015

Dr. Faustus: theist or atheist?

*Shah Mohammad Sanaul Karim

Assistant Professor, English Language & Literature, International Islamic University Chittagong, Chittagong,



**Fawzia Fathema

Lecturer, English Language & Literature, International Islamic University Chittagong Chittagong, Bangladesh fawzia.fathema@yahoo.com ***Abdul Hakim (Corresponding Author) Assistant Professor, English Language & Literature, International Islamic University Chittagong, Chittagong, Bangladesh hakim_cueng@yahoo.com Abstract Dr. Faustus is the greatest but the most controversial of Marlowe’s plays. Among the causes of controversy, whether Dr. Faustus is an atheist or theist deserves utmost attention. This paper is intended to deal with the issue.

Though at various stages of the development of the action, Dr. Faustus abjures Trinity, resorts to necromancy, becomes guilty of demoniality, for which he is called an atheist, the intensity of his later wish for having redemption and the destruction of his self makes him emerge as a theist. Without these qualities, Dr. Faustus is said to the embodiment of the character of Christopher Marlowe himself, who was an atheist or a member of an atheist group. Therefore, it is also an object of discussion to correlate Dr. Faustus with Marlowe.

Christopher Marlowe’s contemporaries give the testimony that both the man and his writings are iconoclastic and profoundly irreverent – both are influenced by charges “monstrous opinions”, “vile heretical conceits” and “diabolical atheism”1. Una Ellis-Fermor called Doctor Faustus “perhaps the most satanic play in literature”2. His name is often linked with so-called “school of night’, a number of intellectuals keeping Sir Walter Raleigh at the center, which had a reputation for dangerous free thinking, and even for atheism 3. A manuscript of a heretical treatise “Denying the Deity of Jesus Christ our Savior” was found as one of the belongings in Kyd’s room and Kyd, before the interrogators, stated that the blasphemous document was not to him but to Marlowe 4.

Marlowe, later on, was accused not only of holding and producing treasonable atheistic opinions, but also of motivating others to the same beliefs 5. All these views have developed because of identification of Marlowethe man with the dramatic supermen who are his tragic heroes-Faustus and Tamburlaine for example.

Faustus, the inordinately ambitious hero, denounces God, blasphemes the Trinity and Christian doctrines and sells out his soul to the Devil to gain super human powers and to live a life full of voluptuousness for twenty four years.

He finds out the limitations of formal academic studies. He takes up Philosophy, medicine, law and theology one after another and gradually rejects each of them as unsatisfying. In the very first monologue Faustus tells us:-------------- Divinity adieu!

These metaphysics of magicians, And necromantic books are heavenly;” (lines 48-50; scene-1) 6 “A sound magician is a mighty God;

Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity”. (lines 62-63; scene-1) His rejection of theology (divinity) makes him appear as arrogant and proud. He turns a deaf ear to the earnest appeal of the Good Angel to “lay that damned book aside” (line-70; scene-1) and is won over by the allurements of the Evil Angel who tells him:Be thou on earth as Jove in the sky, Lord and commander of these elements.” (lines- 76-77; scene-1) It is Faustus who utters such blasphemous words as:Had I as many souls as there be stars, I’d give them all for Mephastophilis.

By him I’ll be great emperor of the world.” (lines- 102-104; scene-3) Journal of Education and Practice www.iiste.org ISSN 2222-1735 (Paper) ISSN 2222-288X (Online) Vol.6, No.6, 2015 Thus, Faustus abjures God and Trinity willingly and is determined to surrender his soul to the Devil. Faustus utters- “consummatum est” (line-74; scene-5) after signing the bond with his own blood and this expression is nothing but blasphemous irony. In course of discussion with Mephastophilis about hell and heaven Faustus tells him:Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine That, after this life there is any pain?

Tush, there are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.” (lines- 133-135; scene-5) This is blasphemous according to Christian theology. Again, what happens in Faustus- Pope encounter in the first scene of Act-iii is extremely crude, vulgar and blasphemous. Invisible to all, Faustus enters into Pope’s privy chamber, irritates, teases and troubles the Pope and his party and snatches the away cups and dishes from his hand and even manhandles in a nasty manner. Such a scene can come solely from the pen of an abject atheist.

In the life of Faustus, the sin of pride is the root of all other sins. Moreover, he commits it formally and deliberately, without the shadow of an excuse or reason. That is, it is not one of the sins committed in actual life, where some excuse, in however small a measure, is always to be found. This sin might be termed as the very fountain of many other sins.

Frankly speaking, he receives diabolic visits and he is going to be dragged down to hell and Mephastophilis informs him Solamen miseries socio habissue doloris (line- 41; scene- 5).

He shows defiant outlook:Come, I think hell’s fable” (line:

- 127; scene:-5) “This word damnation terrifies not him” (line -58; scene- 3) He further saysFor he confounds hell in Elizium.

His ghost be with the old Philosophers.” (lines- 59-60; scene- 3) His pride is at such a point that he refuses to bow to external authority of any kind.

Mephastophilis, who along with Lucifer and Beelzebub, is already damned in hell, feels tormented “in being deprived of everlasting blisse” (line -80; scene -3) and experiences “terror” in his “fainting soul” (line-82; sceneBut Faustus, like an atheist, which may arouse either hatred or contempt, mocks:What is great Mephastophilis so passionate?” (line-83; scene- 3) “Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude, And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess” (line-85; scene-3) Marlowe’s Faustus is damned. He is living on the earth only to exemplify, to show in reality, in part, the sufferings of the damned. He has made himself one with the devils as far as he possibly can. To an extant, he is one with the Devils. He maintains relation with hell, association with Devil, exactly as they are: not by browbeating and prohibitions, but by his own free will. He feels drawn to evil. The Devils have put themselves in such a way that they can desire only what brings them misery. If they had, for example, the scope to escape from hell they would not welcome it. It is a place only of suffering, which happens because of the loss of heaven.

A state of violent discord and disorder prevails in Faustus’ soul. The following passages convey such feelings allegorically.

It is not only Lucifer who drags a reluctant Faustus from thoughts of heaven:Faustus:

- Ah Christ my savior! Seek to save Distressed Faustus’ soul!

Lucifer:-Christ cannot save thy soul, for he is just.

There’s none but I have interest in the same.


- O who art thou that lookst so terrible?


- I am Lucifer” (lines- 258-263; scene-5) “Lucifer:

- We come to tell thee thou dost injure us.

Thou talkst of Christ, contrary to thy promise:

Thou shoulds’t not think of God; think of the devil, And his dam too.” (lines-265-268; scene-5) Faustus also drags himself. Lucifer is here playing a double role: he is devil, but also he is part of Faustus, who is thus an agent as well as victim in his own torment. It is not, for example, only Lucifer and Beelzebub who forbid him to continue the study of “Astrologie”; it his own evil will, which has already determined not to embrace the truths to which astrology is leading.

–  –  –

Faustus craves a wife and gets one. But she proves stuffed with fireworks and ends up in smoke: “A plague on her for a hot whore”, he cries, and must therefore content himself with the “fairest courtesans”.

Faustus’ fleshy desires are satisfied, but the result is that his spiritual desires, as they are the more isolated, become the more insistent. The devil, having already supplied a book of spells, of planets and of herbs, is summoned to dispute of ‘divine astrologie’. The joy of learning, however, is no more permissible to Faustus than that of domestic bliss; for, if pursued in due order and in the proper temper, it can lead to one thing only- the knowledge, the love and ultimately the vision of God. And all these, along with goodness, he has renounced.

He no longer feels the need to review and prove into the sciences so that he may discover how and where to employ and place himself. He is distracted in his outlook and enterprise. He has denied external authority. His conscience is put to sleep. Using the useful arts, he will become a magician and will enjoya world of profit and delight, Of power, of honour, of omnipotence”.

He will be not only king or Emperor, but a “mighty god.

Faustus might learn a lesson, if he would listen, that far from receiving the power of “mighty God” (line-62;

scene-1) with which he flattered himself and made himself virtually blind. There are still situations to which he must be humbled and submitted. He is to receive nothing but a price. As it is reflected, as his soul is capable of glory, it is capable of sin and damnation. Both suggestions are brushed aside; the price, he makes it clear, is to him as little as no price, for men’s souls are “vain trifles” (line-61; scene-3). These or similar words he repeats on all occasions. When Mephastophilis seems to bargain with him- bids him to consider the bargain, Faustus wishes to concludeBut may I rise up spirits when I please?” (line-86; scene-5) “Then there’s enough for a thousand souls.” (line-88; scene-5) The first six and half lines of scene -5 employ the rhetorical technique of second person self-address, a technique which Marlowe frequently uses in the play, particularly in those speeches where heavy is put upon Faustus’ inner turmoil. And, while it is agreed with W. W. Greg7, Michael Keefer8, that the question mark at the end of line 2 in the A text is probably intended not as an interrogative but as an exclamation point- thereby contributing to the emphatic statement of Faustus’ present condition- even if the mark means interrogation, the resulting rhetorical question only contributes to the development of the speaker’s persona.

It is a persona characterized by confidence, keen observation, frequent resort to the imperative mood and presumption. He presumes to know Faustus’ state of imminent and irrevocable damnation, and thereby constructs a superficially logical critique of Faustus’ tendency to cast doubts to turn his thoughts toward God:What boots it then to think of God or heaven? (line-3; scene-5) which is followed by the preemptory “Away with such vain fancies and despair!

Despair in God and trust in Beelzebub” (line- 4-5; scene-5).

This command makes it clear that within the implied mental world of this persona, thoughts of God are mere “fantasies” when conceived by an abandoned soul, and should by replaced with acts of “trust”: specifically, trust in demonic beings such as Beelzebub, who is like Mephastophilis and Lucifer, but unlike God and Christ and do in fact appear during the play. Unstated but implicit is the understanding that it does “boot”- it does avail to think of and trust in demons. This sort of notion gives the implication of atheism in the life of Dr. Faustus.

Again the sin of demoniality is seen in his intimate cravings addressing Helen- “Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss” (line-83; scene-12) and “Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips, And all is dross that is not Helena!” (lines- 86-87; scene-12).

Thus Marlowe is an atheist and Dr. Faustus, also for all these causes, is branded as an atheist. But, though Marlowe was an atheist, Dr. Faustus, if looked at minutely and differently, it is found that, was not an atheist’s work. “Richard Hooker could have used it as and exemplum to teach the correct Christian path to God. Luther, Calvin, Knox- the founders of European Protestantism- have not found anything inflammatory in it. Marlowe’s play is in no way destructive of the basic tenets of Christianity. On the contrary, it enforces and illuminates those very tenets.”9 Journal of Education and Practice www.iiste.org ISSN 2222-1735 (Paper) ISSN 2222-288X (Online) Vol.6, No.6, 2015 It is true that Faustus puts his will against that of God. He plays this role because of temptation- “Is that the reason he tempts us thus? (line-4; scene-5)” But as he is in this state, Mephastophilis, knowing his victim, states in an aside- “I’ll fetch him somewhat to delight his mind”. (line-81; scene-5) Thus, Mephastophilis, deliberately offers Faustus sensual satisfaction in order to divert his attention, distract his mind from spiritual concern, which might, of course, lead to repentance. This is a basic one in the play, and an understanding of it will eventually enable us to interpret truly the episode of Helen of Troy. Whenever there is danger from the Devil’s viewpoint, Faustus turns to God’s mercy. The powers of Hell deaden and crush their victim’s conscience by providing him with some forms of sensual satisfaction.

By the end of the fifth scene, Mephastophilis tells Faustus- “thou art damn’d. Think thou of Hell! (line-248;

scene-5)”. And the magician once more characteristically blames Lucifer’s servant for his plight- “Tis thou hast damn’d distressed Faustus’ soul. (line-252; scene-5)”. Again the protagonist is in spiritual distress. The Good Angel tells him there is still time to repent, to be back to God. But, the Bad Angel threatens, “If thou repent, devils will tear thee in pieces.” (line-256; scene-5). Whenever Faustus calls upon his Savior for help, Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mepahstophilis enter. Lucifer appears in a menacing, frightening and dreadful mood. “O, who art thou that look’st so terrible?”- asks Faustus. (line-262; scene-5).

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