Nature and limits of human desire - Sample Essay
Having read Dr Faustus, the main themes are fairly obvious and the state of Faustus’ soul and the exploration of human desire are certainly two of these. The two ideas, however, are connected in the fact that human desire is a part of someone’s soul, that is to say the ‘moral and emotional part of a person’ (Oxford Dictionary). The reason I highlight this point is because it would be impossible to determine which of the two themes in question where of a higher interest to Marlowe without paying attention to this fact and the fact that a person’s soul will limit their desires.
While doing this I will also pay attention to Marlowe himself, his own life and the time in which he lived in an attempt to predict which theme was more important to him personally, therefore adding to the evidence I will gain from the text. At the beginning of the text Faustus’ opening speech ‘is devoted to working out logically why he is willing to sacrifice both the road to honest knowledge and his soul in favour of more power’ (www.
gladstone. uoregon. com). So right from the beginning it is fair to say that Marlowe, and Faustus, are definitely more concerned with ambition and the fulfilment of human desire; in Faustus’ case (at this stage of the play anyway) this seems to be the need for everything; riches, power and knowledge: O what a world of profit and delight, Of power, of honour, of omnipotence Is promised to the studious artisan! (I, 53-55)
Faustus himself seems to rule out the question of concern for the state of his soul from the beginning; he does not seem to care about the consequences and is happy to give up everything he has ever worked for in order to turn to witchcraft and therefore ‘live in all voluptuousness’ (III, 92). Mephastophilis even warns Faustus not to take the path he is choosing, but Faustus only curses him for his sorrow on ‘being deprived of the joys of heaven’ (III, 84).
This idea of striving to be greater is part of Faustus’, and man’s, natural greed; it is part of our human desire to be the best and the question Marlowe asks here is: would we give up everything we believe in, in order to gain what we desire? Faustus is considered the most learned man in Germany and sees two choices: to remain where he is today or to make himself even greater and answer that question incorrectly! So, we can see that during the first three scenes Marlowe definitely begins to examine human desire.
Marlowe and Faustus have both discarded with Faustus’ soul, but has Marlowe done this because it is not his main focus and is so moving the theme to one side from early on in the play? Marlowe seems to have created Faustus at a time where he has already made up his mind what to do; the first speech is simply justifying his actions. If Marlowe was concerned with Faustus’ soul then perhaps he would have started the play at the point where the idea of witchcraft first occurred to him and so would have spent more time weighing up the consequences of such an act instead of just concentrating on the life long desires he would be able to fulfil.
Faustus knows full well the penalty for sinning (‘The reward of sin is death? That’s hard. ‘ I, 40) but he takes the view that everyone must sin ‘And so consequently die. ‘ (I, 45). At the time Dr Faustus was written there were a number of different religious beliefs on how to seek pardon from God. The Calvinist belief was that God condemns people from birth, and only the chosen ones can seek repentance, on ‘the other hand, the Catholic church and the more moderate Protestants, whom Marlowe followed in this instance, declared that grace was obtainable by any man who really sought it,’ (Kocher, 109).
Marlowe allows Faustus to fail to realise that all he has to do is have faith in God and repent in order to gain pardon and because of this his soul is lost from the beginning. Faustus’ soul maybe lost from the beginning but there are still doubts in his mind of whether he made the correct choice, and there are points in the play in which he considers repenting, but for whatever reason, which I will look at later, decides he cannot. It is very possible that Marlowe wrote Dr Faustus in order to spite those around him, ‘those’ being the humanists of the time.
‘… Marlowe was not a Humanist, as evidenced by how clearly the tragedy that was Dr Faustus exemplified the downfall of a humanist and reinforced themes which conflicted with the basic tenets presented by Renaissance Humanism. ‘ (www. gladstone. uoregon. com). Marlowe has created a man who would be considered an ideal of humanism and damned him to eternal suffering; considering that during Marlowe’s life if you were not a humanist you were generally outspoken this would not have been a mistake on his part.
His character’s downfall is due to the fact that he is a human; and the reason this causes his downfall is because of his natural animalistic instincts to gain power. This is something that a humanist would loath to be said, Renaissance Humanists ‘tended to emphasise the values achievable by human beings’ (Abram, 83) they also considered humans to be ‘reasoning creatures’ and tended to downplay the ‘animal passions’ of them.
Renaissance Humanists cherished the idea that men could improve themselves through education, and so would be horrified that Faustus was trying to improve himself by gaining an education in the worship of the devil. This brings up the possibility that Marlowe was, perhaps, not interested in either Faustus’ soul or the ‘nature and limits of human desire’ but wrote this play merely because he enjoyed being controversial and to do this he had to focus on human desire and behaviour.
Having said this Marlowe’s life and interests could be quite important to this essay in determining whether he cared more for the examination of the nature of human desire or for Faustus’ soul. Having read about him it is easy to say that he would care more for the nature of human desires, not because he shows interest in this topic but because from the things he said and from the way he died people get the idea that he did not care about the state of anybody’s soul! Marlowe is considered an atheist (‘Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest’ www. wwnorton.
com), and it has been suggested that, if you ignore the humanist qualities of Faustus, he modelled the character on himself (‘… in more specific ways Marlowe must have recognised in Faustus his own counterpart. ‘ Boas, 208). Faustus certainly had some of the same desires as his creator, Marlowe like most Renaissance writers had a keen interest in the ancient Greeks and Romans, and their ideas. When Faustus asks to go and visit Emperor Charles V and raises the spirit of Alexander the Great it could just be Marlowe’s way of celebrating people he admired.
When Faustus asks Mephastophilis to bring him Helen of Troy this could well have been one of Marlowe’s own desires for she ‘is a symbol of the ideal of beauty of pagan Greece, [and] well loved by Marlowe. ‘ (Kocher, 115). Her being one of Faustus’ desires is an anti-Christian idea, and Marlowe expands this idea by getting Faustus to visit the Pope and harass him. The reason these points in the text are important is because they fit with what we know of Marlowe. Perhaps part of the reason he is so interested in human desire in this play is because by using Faustus he is acting out some of his own wishes and thoughts.