Dr Faustus Critique Of Arbitrary Power English Literature Essay

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Some of the central ideas that Marxism maintains are that human beings are not free and independent agents, acting as individuals with limitless choices, but 'it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but the social existence that determines their consciousness'; this links to the play when we are shown that Faustus tries to turn away from old medieval ways of being in his quest for more knowledge. Faustus is a man who is fated to fall even before the play begins- the path he chooses and the pact he makes with the devil are an inevitable outcome and will lead to his destruction. However, some could be argue that the choices Faustus makes are indeed out of his own free will and derive from his dissatisfaction with the world around him and his need to know more. Or perhaps it is God himself who controls Faustus' fate. It could be said he is an unforgiving power and made man to fail and disobey, and so maybe Faustus has no real choice at all and lives life according to God's command as outlined by the Calvinist faith.

In many ways, we could see Faustus as a man trapped between two complex ideas. On one level, he is a Renaissance man who wants to know more than his society permits, similar to Icarus whose 'waxen wings did mount above his reach'. Faustus is a man who wants to challenge boundaries (the concept of transgression is a key one in gothic literature); he is dissatisfied with all the branches of learning, 'Wouldst thou make man to live eternally…/Then this profession were to be esteemed' and in many ways, it seems he feels alienated from the world; that intrinsically, he is alone and segregated from his closed minded society. It is the possibility of necromancy which erases this sense of alienation and fills the hole that society has created. It's as if the whole world has been opened up to him, 'tis magic, magic that hath ravished me'. On the other hand, he is trapped within a Calvinist mindset in which he has no free will and lives his life according to a predestined set of rules. Marlowe presents Faustus as struggling between an ideal of individualism and the need to adjust to the social structures of his society. There is an implicit need to conform to the ideals of his own society deeply embedded in its religious belief, and the social concepts of attainting wealth and status, as Faustus himself says 'heap the gold…/What a world of profit and delight!' Faustus' desire to attain this power by turning to necromancy requires him to dissent from God and from the established order, yet this wasn't praised in Marlowe's era. As Marx himself said, 'Religion is the opiate of the masses'- religion is used to pacify the people and to make them dependant on it, yet Faustus' desire to dissent from God shows that he will not allow this to happen to him.

Faustus' struggle between conforming to either a Medieval or Renaissance society is mirrored in the form of the play. Marlowe has fused together characteristics of a morality play and a tragedy. He offers a didactic moral in the Epilogue, 'Regard his hellish fall, /Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise…/To practise more than heavenly power permits' to warn us of God's power and that if you refuse human limitation, you will be punished. However, typical of tragedies, Faustus is condemned and dragged down into hell, he will therefore live a life of eternal suffering. It seems Marlowe has produced a morality tragedy in which Faustus is presented as a tragic hero, and so we are encouraged to sympathise with his plight. Although we know from the outset that Faustus is destined to fall, there are times in the play when we believe that he may be saved; for example, when the Old Man tells Faustus 'I see an angel hovers o'er thy head' it is as if God is there protecting him, yet this is all an illusion.

Through the structure and organisation of scenes we get a real sense of Faustus' lack of power in the play. Mephistopheles is on stage for the majority of the scenes, at times accompanied by Lucifer; but God is never there. Instead, Marlowe uses the Good Angel and the Old Man to represent him; yet they, unlike the evil characters, have no authority over Faustus. At the start of the play after Faustus has dismissed all the branches of learning, and decides to turn to necromancy, the Good and Evil Angels appear. They both refer to Faustus' choice, encouraging him in their separate ways; yet the Good Angels words are punishing, '…lay that damned book aside…/And heap God's heavy wrath upon thy head!' unlike the Evil Angel's, 'Go forward Faustus in that famous art…' whose words are enticing and alluring; this is further emphasized through the alliteration. It seems the Good Angel offers submission, unlike the Evil Angel who offers progress- and this is what Faustus wants. The structural positioning of the Angel's words is also significant as the Evil Angel speaks last and so his words echo in our, and Faustus' minds. It appears that Faustus is offered a choice through what the Angel's say to him, yet due to the structure, it seems Faustus has no real choice at all.

Similarly, in Act 2 Scene 3, Faustus seems disappointed with Mephistopheles answers to his questions about how the world was created and so the Angel's appear again, and this time the Good Angel has the last words, 'Repent and they shall never raze thy skin'- it seems Faustus has the ability to turn to God again, 'Ah Christ, my Saviour!' yet he does not come; only Lucifer and an array of the seven deadly sins. This highlights that even through the repositioning of the Angel's words, there is still no chance of Faustus being saved. God does not come- perhaps this links to God being an unforgiving power, or that he is insignificant against Lucifer. Yet, we could argue that God is there at times in the play when Faustus needs help most. As Mephistopheles encourages Faustus to sign his soul over to the devil, the words 'Home fuge' which translate to 'O fly man' appear on his arm. We can link this to the reference to Icarus in the Prologue which reminds us of Faustus' supercilious nature, and the fact that he will be damned. More importantly, perhaps this inscription is a sign from God, warning Faustus to stop in this evil art and save his soul before it's too late.

In many ways, it can be argued that Dr Faustus is a play which is greatly influenced by the social, historical and economic forces of Marlowe's society. Faustus' dissatisfaction with the world and the branches of learning derives from the very rigid and religious society which was present at the time. Society seemed to focus more explicitly on religion and the rules of conduct it proposed rather than giving people the ability to explore the world and discover new and interesting ways of living.

Yet, we could argue that the choices Faustus makes throughout the play are indeed out of his own free will, that Faustus is in control of his fate and that there is no supreme power telling him what and what not to do. Or perhaps we could argue the complete opposite; that everything Faustus chooses to do throughout the play which result in him being dragged to hell are all part of a predestined path which is inescapable, as suggested by the Calvinist faith. Possibly what Marlowe aims to highlight in his play, is that Faustus' turning to God and signing his soul over to the devil is fated to happen due to the society Marlowe has created for him; and that throughout the play, Faustus is in fact controlled by higher, more powerful figures, i.e. God, thus suggesting that he has no control over his own life or the terrible death he is destined to suffer.