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Analysis Of The Demise Of Doctor Faustus English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2537 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is an enduring work that merits inquiry against a contemporary backdrop. QUOTE The play has been scrutinized against its Elizabethan background since its first publication in 1604, and while a degree of understanding of 16th century England is required, the play’s relativity is still pertinent. To examine Faustus as a modern individual, Carl Jung’s model of archetypes can be used to gain a more comprehensive view when compared to conventional methods of analysis. At the play’s conception, Faustus possesses many qualities of a “wise old man,” the Jungian archetype characterized by intellect and pride; a character usually depicted as a “magician, master, teacher, [or] moralist” (Chalquist 1). Faustus, however, cannot truly be considered a “wise old man” because he never integrates his anima. The anima, in Jungian psychology, is the feminine embodiment within a male. In developing the anima, one must progress through four stages: Eve, Helen, Mary, and Sophie, before ultimately becoming in tune with emotionality and spirituality (Jung 1). Throughout the course of the play, Faustus shows that he has great difficulty with anima development and frequently succumbs to his desires, indicative of the Eve stage. Additionally, Faustus gives in to the flaws inherent to the “wise old man.” Faustus falls victim to ego-inflation, a dangerous byproduct of great intellect in which knowledge is valued for authority. This ego-inflation impairs Faustus’ judgment and causes him to desire power. Also, Faustus cannot come to terms with his shadow, the repressed weaknesses within his psyche. This manifests as Faustus’ wasted potential and his failure to repent and end the contract between himself and the devil. Ultimately, Faustus’ lack of integration with his anima, tendency to succumb to ego-inflation, and inability to conciliate with his shadow side lead to his eventual demise.

Above all, Faustus’ descent begins with his ineptitude in controlling his desires. The first stage of anima development, Eve, deals with the task of controlling an object of desire. Faustus is initially drawn “to arcane magic…motivated by anima impulses” (Golden 207). Faustus believes that by fulfilling his desires and practicing necromancy, he can gain power:

These metaphysics of magicians

And necromantic books are heavenly…

Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.

O, what a world of profit and delight,

Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,

Is promised to the studious artisan!

All things that move between the quiet poles

Shall be at my command. (Faustus.I.i.79-87)

Faustus has thus found a way to achieve power, albeit at a terrible price. Faustus seems to weigh the benefits of gaining power and facing God’s wrath, as indicated by the Good Angel, Evil Angel scene in Act I. However, he shortly succumbs to his desires of “orient pearl…secrets of all foreign kings…and [reigning] sole king of all [the] provinces,” indicating his infantile level of anima development (Faustus.I.i.115-126). As Faustus turns to magic and summons Mephastophilis, he sets the stage for his ultimate demise. Faustus has no desire to first examine his own strengths and weaknesses, and as Joseph McCullen astutely notes, “without adequate self-knowledge, a man has insufficient ability either to govern himself, or to interpret and use other knowledge wisely” (McCullen 7). Hence, Faustus’ non-integrated anima, contributes to his indecisiveness in putting his powers to use. Instead of gaining political power or acquiring luxuries, Faustus uses his contract to entertain himself and others by summoning spirits or playing practical jokes. In addition, he tries to acquire a wife from Mephastophilis, noting that he is “wanton and lascivious, and cannot live without a wife” (Faustus.II.i.588-589). However, Faustus is easily talked out of wanting a wife by Mephastophilis and is content on having a devil dressed as a woman. He does not value a wife for a meaningful relationship. If Faustus had possessed an integrated anima, he would have been able to view women as insightful, self-reliant, and virtuous beings who have both positive and negative characteristics. Conversely, Faustus is only concerned about the physical nature of women and is fixated on the beauty of the devils dressed as women. In particular, Faustus is attracted to Helen of Troy. Carl Jung alludes to Helen of Troy in his stages of anima development. Helen is the second stage, representing the realization that women have the potential to be successful in life and that women can be intelligent and self-sufficient (Jung 1). Faustus, however, does not seem to come to this realization. He does not attempt to acquaint himself with Helen nor even hold a meaningful conversation with her. Faustus’ sole purpose in summoning the spirit of Helen was to satisfy his adolescent desires. Faustus is so infatuated with the physical beauty of Helen that he does not realize he will lose any chance at repenting if he kisses her because she is a devil. The Elizabethans believed that there were three unforgivable sins: despair, suicide, and physical contact with a demon. Marlowe’s Faustus would have understood this and realized the consequences of his actions (Cruttwell 86). Faustus chooses to kiss Helen and seals his fate:

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Her lips sucks forth my soul: see where it flies!

Come, Helen, come give me my soul again.

Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips,

And all is dross that is not Helena. (Faustus.V.i.1359-1363)

Faustus’ lack of an integrated anima causes him to overlook the results of kissing Helen as he still acts on impulsive desires. Faustus cannot “come to terms with what Jung calls the anima or ‘soul-image.’ Indeed, he cannot hold on to his soul, has not made it his; it is at the mercy of idealistic fantasy” (Golden 207). As Marlowe ironically noted, Faustus’ soul is sucked by Helen because he has just lost his last chance to repent and save his soul.

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Correspondingly, Faustus is corrupted by his propensity to overlook consequences and crave power due to his ego-inflation. At the commencement of the play, Faustus is examining possible vocations yet dismisses many due to his ego. Faustus examines the areas of philosophy, medicine, law, and religion but finds that they are beneath him. Faustus casually rejects philosophy, saying that he has reached its extents, and it can offer him no more. He acknowledges that medicine can offer him power to save individuals, but it cannot allow him to “make men to live eternally, Or being dead, raise them to life again” (Faustus.I.i.54-55). Faustus rejects a profession that would give him some power because it does not fit his conception of enough power (Sachs 632). Further still, Faustus rejects the study of law, and even insults the subject as a “study that fits a mercenary drudge, Who aims at nothing but external trash-Too servile and illiberal for me” (Faustus.I.i.64-66). Faustus has excessive pride and strives to gain more power. As with a contemporary man, Faustus’ “desire and expectation run wild, causing him to lose the ability to see wholes yet making it easy for him to analyze out of existence whatever does not agree with his hubris” (Golden 203). This notion is clearly demonstrated in Faustus’ evaluation of theology. Faustus reads the line “Stipendium peccati mors est.” and comes to the following conclusion:

The reward of sin is death: that’s hard.

“Si peccasse negamus, fallimur,

Et nulla est in nobis veritas.”

If we say that we have no sin,

We deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us.

Why then, belike we must sin,

And so consequently die. (Faustus.I.i.70-75)

Faustus inaccurately surmises that everyone sins and must be rewarded with death. However, he takes the excerpt out of context of the original passage. The passage goes on to note that if one repents and trusts in God, eternal life will be granted. As Kenneth Golden noted, Faustus has taken one line out of context and is now unable to see the big picture. This manifests as a recurring issue throughout the play. Faustus is giving multiple warnings to repent in the form of miracles, people, and events, yet he chooses to disregard each of them because he does not realize the true power of God. Faustus rejects the power of God because he believes that it will impede his quest for more power. Faustus does not want to be limited by sin or aspects of Christianity. “The primordial sin of Faustus is in his state of mind, not in his actions. His pact with the devil and his ultimate damnation follow inevitably from his despair no less than from his pride, as does his desire for power” (Sachs 633). The ego-inflation inherent to Faustus causes his desire for power and his ultimate damnation. Faustus turns to necromancy after rejecting other subjects because it is the only study that his pride will allow him to undertake. Furthermore, Faustus’ ego prevents him from seeing the true nature of his punishment. When Mephastophilis answers Faustus’ question about hell and notes that, “Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed In one self place, for where we are is hell,” Faustus simply responds by dismissing hell as a fable (Faustus.II.i.567-568). Even before this, Faustus was quick to dismiss pain in hell as “trifles and mere old wives tales” (Faustus.II.i.582). This is yet another example of Faustus condemning himself because he overlooks the consequences of his actions. Ego-inflation blinds Faustus, and he wants all of the benefits of selling his soul without any retribution. In a contemporary sense, Faustus is “like modern man, who must possess the power of the hydrogen bomb, yet cannot dodge the great correlative danger of planetary suicide…he calls the military buildup ‘a deed in the name of peace’ -an obvious example of neurotic ‘doublespeak’ (Golden 205). Hence, the ego-inflation within Faustus causes him to act for power without adequately addressing the foreseeable and likely consequences of his actions.

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Finally, Faustus’ inability to come to terms with his shadow side secures his fate. The shadow, in Jungian psychology, represents a part of the unconscious mind comprised of repressed weaknesses. If Faustus most closely resembles a “wise old man” without an integrated anima, his shadow most closely resembles the “puer aeternus” or eternal boy (Jung 1). The archetype of a “puer aeternus” is characterized by an adolescent man, unable to grow up and tackle life’s challenges (Chalquist 1). Faustus’ twenty-four years of possessing his powers represents his shadow side, which stands in stark contrast to his previous, studious life. This shadow seems to manifest itself as Faustus’ lack of taking any significant action with his powers. In the beginning of the play, Faustus brags of how he will implement significant changes with his powers, yet by the end of the play, Faustus has simply used his powers to entertain himself and others. A notable example of this occurs when Faustus chooses to summon the spirits of Alexander the Great and his paramour for the king. Faustus summons spirits not to learn from them but to shows others that he has such power. Faustus takes his frivolous deeds to a new level when he uses his powers to humiliate a knight who had quarreled with Faustus in front of the king. Faustus places a pair of horns on the knight’s head for the sole purpose of embarrassing him. Shortly thereafter, Faustus returns him back to his original state at the request of the king (McCullen14). Had Faustus come to terms with his shadow side, he would have been able to use his powers for meaningful acts instead of wasting them on frivolities. Additionally, the text suggests that Mephastophilis can be seen as a shadow side to Faustus:

Especially in the earlier, clearly Marlovian portions of the play, Faustus is the brave, disdainful skeptic and freethinker, the man of pride and intellectual power. Yet, at the same time, he displays a certain tenseness, evidence of the inner turmoil caused by the sapping of psychic energies by the inflation of his ego. Mephistophilis, on the other hand, is a compensatory element, the opposing side of Faustus’ ego. Against Faustus, the power hungry, prideful, caustic, sensation-oriented skeptic-we see Mephistophilis, in some major speeches as… the humble, totally sincere, feeling-oriented Christian, albeit a belatedly converted one. (Golden 206)

Hence, Mephastophilis can be seen as a manifestation of Faustus’ repressed weaknesses. Mephastophilis acts sincerely and even warns Faustus against selling his soul. Of course, Mephastophilis’ pleas fall to deaf ears as Faustus is blinded by his pride and ego-inflation. In a sense, Faustus never “comes to terms” with Mephastophilis, which is why he can never repent. Whenever Faustus comes close to repenting, he is swayed by Mephastophilis. Near the end of the play, Faustus encounters an old man sent by God who tries to convince Faustus to repent. The old man tells Faustus that there is still hope and that he can still repent. However, when Faustus tries to repent, Mephastophilis interjects and calls Faustus a traitor, proclaiming that he will “arrest thy soul For disobedience to my sovereign lord. Revolt or I’ll piecemeal tear thy flesh” (Faustus.V.i.1333-1335). Mephastophilis preventing Faustus from repenting is showing how Faustus is at odds with his repressed side and is thus unable to repent. Faustus is also impeded by his own disbeliefs. The repressed weaknesses within Faustus cause him to be skeptical of repentance. In some situations, Faustus cannot comprehend that he can be forgiven because he is blinded by the disbelief repressed within him. The belief of repentance is overwhelmed by the disbelief that he has already sinned and his soul already belongs to the devil; as such, Faustus continues to renew his contract with the devil whenever he wavers:

Sweet Mephistophilis, entreat thy lord

To pardon my unjust presumption,

And with my blood again I will confirm

My former vow I made to Lucifer…

Torment, sweet friend, that base and crooked age,

That durst dissuade me from thy Lucifer,

With greatest torments that our hell affords. (Faustus.V.i.1336-1344)

This is ultimately the undoing of Faustus. Faustus was given many opportunities to act and repent, yet he cannot make a conscious decision to follow through with the act of repentance. Since Faustus cannot come to terms with his shadow,


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