The concept of Humanism in Christopher Marlowe's play "Doctor Faustus"
It was possible to talk about a God-centered world before the 15th century. The creator was the focus of all activities and nothing good prevailed without that deity inspiring all aspects of life. Then, slowly a change started to get into the culture and intellect of the people. This change began because some members of the clergy and of the government journeyed to Italy and saw amazing things happening in the arts and academics. However, there was a lot more than culture or education getting a modernization. Instead, there existed a new curiosity to see of what the human individual was composed. Suddenly, humanism was born, a real movement that would change the world forever. It was now possible to say that man, as an individual, became very important. The purpose of education turned out to be public service instead of its use to learn more about God. Christopher Marlowe, in “Doctor Faustus” uses humanism as the basis for his work. The central focus of that humanism, which was pride combined with Faustus’ arrogance and never-ending ambition, causes him eternal damnation because he actually sells his soul to the devil. Because of Faustus’ desire to be more powerful than any other man, he follows the forbidden realization of the black arts and does not care if those consequences mean dying in hell.
With the concept of humanism, worldly concerns impact men and the opportunity for vanity is shaded and soon revealed in Faustus’ case as well. Certainly, the man was well gifted with arrogance, which is evidenced early in the text as he talks to himself in his study considering different fields of knowledge. First, he considers logic and attributes in Aristotle’s works: “Yet level at the end of every art, / and live and die in Aristotle’s works” However, instead of seeing this as a very important discipline, he mocks at its insignificance: “Affords this art no greater miracle?” It appears that Faustus thinks he has mastered this art and that of medicine, law and divinity, as well, but does not think he has accomplished enough. For instance, he has become a great physician, but still has no power over life and death. Moreover, without that power, not only he can never save anyone else, but also he will have to die as well. He realizes there is no escape from this great horror of death because the consequence of sin is death. Every human sins, as he learned through his knowledge of divinity and says: “Why then belike we must sin, / and so consequently die”. After this realization he thinks there might be a way in which this death could be decreased or at least delayed for a time.
This idea suddenly has Faustus’ mind spinning, for his arrogance is only rivaled by his extreme ambitious nature. He figures out that man, using only his own power, can only die as he expects: “Ay, we must die an everlasting death”, but he believes if he uses the art of magic, he could become like a demi-god and gain so much power. “O, what a world of profit and delight, / of power, of honor, of impotence / is promised to the studious artisan! So Faustus’ great ambition pushes him to the greatest level. After calling the demon Mephistopheles, Faustus is soon ready to swear his oath of loyalty to Lucifer, the prince of the fallen angels. In exchange for his soul, he makes his demands of twenty-four years of life filled with power and luxury: “Say, he surrenders up to him his soul / so he will spare him four and twenty years” We can see how Faustus is fully committed to his ambition by giving his soul to Lucifer.
The power of rule is too strong as Faustus ignores the forbidden aspect of experimenting in black magic and begins the process of taking power from Lucifer. His faith in this magic is so strong; he thinks he can even make demands of Mephistopheles. However, this is Lucifer’s agent and he lets the Faustus know that he himself is governed by the higher-ranking devil: “I am a servant to great Lucifer, / And may not follow thee without his leave…” There are signs throughout the text in which Faustus knows he is under the attack of completing this soul-sale arrangement. It seems that he is not as sure of wishing to belong to Satan. The ending of his twenty-four years and his oath dragging him to Lucifer to burn in hell can be shown as en example. This is seen as he questions Lucifer’s position of Mephistopheles: “How come is it then that he is prince of devils?” Faustus wants what the black arts will give him and ignores Mephistopheles’ warning.
Now, Faustus suddenly has more power than he can ever imagine having before he sold his soul and cries out: “How am I glutted with conceit of this! / shall I make spirits fetch me what I please”. Faustus plans to use his magic to obtain that power no mortal man should have. In fact, the only normal request Faustus makes is to ask for a wife. Ironically, Mephistopheles cannot produce a human woman as a bride because he would be going against free will. Since the helper demon cannot grant this wish, he knows he must keep Faustus content in all other matters else and decides to bring in the Seven Deadly Sins outlined. Pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony envy and sloth are the downfall of all humans and with these Faustus will open the door of the powers he is wishing. Faustus is so oppressed with the Seven Deadly Sins that he performs a shameful trick on the pope, the leader of the Catholic Church. Then continuing his ridiculousness, Faustus conjures up Alexander the Great to entertain German Emperor Charles V in his court. It is not difficult to see that as more powerful he gets, the more brutal Faustus becomes and he claims to be happy.
In conclusion, Faustus’ humanism; the pride, arrogance and ill-focused ambition makes him perish in hell. On the last day and finally the last hour, he begins to get depressed knowing that his time was up. However, his arrogance also makes him think that surely Christ would not abandon him and allow him to be thrown into hell. In that last attempt to escape his destiny, he begs: “One drop would save my soul, half a drop; ah, my Christ – “, but it is too late. The gifts and knowledge he sought from the devil made him perish instead. If only Faustus had embraced the divine, instead of the secular, that humanistic understanding which places man as the center of the world. Faustus, for all his learning, never came to realize that the soul is the focus of all life. The physical body dies, but the inner soul does not, instead enters into another world; heaven or hell. The play clearly shows that unjust pride always comes before a fall. In case of Faustus, the fall is a continuous damnation in hell.