Pride: The Tragic Downfall Of Faustus Essay, Research Paper
?Pride: The Tragic Downfall of Faustus?
Christopher Marlowe?s Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is about a man who seeks
power that comes from knowledge beyond the human realm. Throughout the story, the
seven deadly sins are shown and have an impact on Dr. Faustus during his search for
ultimate power. However, it is one of these vices of the seven deadly sins that plays a
particular and key role in his demise. Pride, creates Dr. Faustus? inability to repent,
therefore ultimately resulting in his death. ?His fall is caused by the same pride and
ambition that caused the fall of angels in heaven, and of humanity in the Garden of Eden?
(Abrams 768). Faustus? fall is foreshadowed during his first encounter with a devil,
inquiring of the reason for Lucifer?s exile in hell.
FAUSTUS. How comes it then that he is prince of devils?
MEPHASTOPHILIS. O, by aspiring pride and insolence
For which God threw him from the face of Heaven. (scene 3, 66-68)
An eternity in hell becomes Dr. Faustus? fate, a fate determined by his own
irrational decisions. Although he is a well-educated scholar, traits of arrogance,
selfishness, and pride hinder his judgment. Dr. Faustus? troubles begin when he craves
power and knowledge beyond human capacity. Bored with his great knowledge, he wishes
to find another subject to study to pacify himself and achieve happiness.
FAUSTUS. Then read no more, thou hast attained the end;
A greater subject fitteth Faustus? wit. (scene , 10-11)
By making a deal with the devil, Faustus trades his soul for satisfaction, and a greater field
of study. He is selfish–wanting knowledge, power, and fun without having to work or
take responsibility for it. As result of his selfish desires, he signs a contract with his blood
trading his soul for his desires, eternal peace for eternal anguish, thus beginning his
Throughout the twenty-four year period in which Faustus has power and
knowledge, his pride is constant and emerges in several scenes. Evidence of this
threatening pride begins as early as the prologue when the chorus compares Dr. Faustus
with Icarus, their similarity being vanity.
CHORUS. Excelling, all whose sweet delight disputes
In heavenly matters of theology.
Till, swollen with cunning, of a self conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And melting heavens conspired his overthrow. (prologue,18-22)
This excerpt suggests, that like Icarus, Dr. Faustus? pride will lead to his overthrow. Other
examples of Faustus? arrogance are the scenes in which he comments on the things that
the devil shows him. Several times in the play, Faustus remarks that hat Mephastophilis
shows or tells him could easily be figured out by his own student, Wagner.
FAUSTUS. Tush, these slender trifles Wagner can decide! (scene 5, 222)
To make a statement such as that is egotistical, and typical of his character. Other
statements that Dr. Faustus made in which his egotism is apparent are as follows:
FAUSTUS. I charge thee to return and change thy shape,
Thou art too ugly to attend on me; (scene 3, 23-24)
FAUSTUS. Come, I think hell?s a fable.
Thinkest thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That after this life there is any pain?
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives? tales. (scene 5, 126-134)
In these examples, Dr. Faustus clearly regards himself on a higher level than hell and its
devils. He will allow Mephastophilis to be his ?servant?, but only in a more becoming
shape, even though it is Mephastophilis that brings Faustus his magic. Furthermore,
despite Mephastophilis? warnings, Faustus is oblivious to the dangers about him; he
believes nothing will or can happen to him. It is the notion of near superhuman power that
Faustus possesses that creates this unmovable pride. Faustus believes he is all-knowing; if
anything was wrong, he would perceive it.
The arrogance that hinders Dr. Faustus? judgment continues as the play
progresses, and it is depicted in several scenes. Faustus wishes to visit the Pope, as he
feels he is entitled, and during this encounter in which Faustus is invisible, he grabs and
important dish meant to be given to the Friar.
POPE. My Lord, here is a dainty dish was sent to me from the bishop of
FAUSTUS. I thank you, sir. [snatch it] (scene 7, 62-64)
It is the extreme pride of Dr. Faustus that leads him to believe that he is more deserving of
the special dish than the Pope. Faustus also reacts in the same manner with the
horse-courser. Instead of selling his horse made of magic for a fair price, he insists on
more money than the courser can afford.
Throughout the play, Marlowe combines these shameful displays of pride with
several interventions between Faustus and the Good and Evil Angels. During these
encounters, Faustus is asked and given the chance to repent to receive God?s forgiveness
and release from his contract with Lucifer. However, he reacts negatively to the Good
Angel?s advice and is tempted by the Evil Angel?s persuasions of worldly possessions and
power, to maintain his pact with Lucifer.
GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus think of Heaven, and heavenly things.
EVIL ANGEL. No Faustus, think of honor and wealth.
FAUSTUS. Of Wealth! (scene 5, 20-22)
Despite his agreement with the devil, Faustus is a free individual. However, Faustus was
too stubborn and overcome by his pride to realize his freedom, and therefore does not
repent. He is again unconcerned with the fate that lies ahead of him. He believes himself
to be so powerful that there is no pain in hell capable of harming him.
FAUSTUS. What god can hurt thee, Faustus? Thou art safe,
Cast no more doubts. (scene 5, 25-26)
The level of pride that Faustus contains at the end of the play is still abundant, and at this
point, it is too late for him. In his last words, Faustus finally realizes the terrible fate upon
him and admits his vulnerability asking for mercy on his soul, but only to lessen the pain of
FAUSTUS. O God, if thou wilt not have mercy on my soul,
yet for Christ?s sake, whose blood hath ransomed me,
Impose some end to my incessant pain:
Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,
A hundred thousand, and at last be saved. (scene 13, 87-91)
With the closing of the play as Dr. Faustus is sent to hell, there are many ironic details
evident. The main one is that despite his great knowledge and power, Faustus makes the
most unwise decision. Repenting to Mephastophilis instead of God, he gives up everything
for nothing in return. In all his years with his new knowledge and power. He did nothing
of significance, he merely played tricks and showed off his new talents. Marlowe?s play is
full of irony depicting the downfall of man riddled with sin. The underlying theme however
is that, like Icarus and Lucifer, Dr. Faustus allows his pride, a key to most tragedies, to
become excessive and ultimately it is his downfall.
Marlowe, Christopher. ?The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.? The Norton Anthology
of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
Inc., 1993. 768-801.