Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

The truth that ambition and desire for material objects does not always satisfy the soul is a major theme depicted in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The poem on page 93, lines 96-113 is the essence of this theme. It describes Faustus meeting, what he believes, is the icon of perfection. This perfection is a mere human women, yet, to Faustus, she is worth his life. Marlowe’s use of syntax and diction, allusions and references, and other literary devices throughout this monologue give support to the theme while adding rich symbolic images.

The first example of diction in the monologue is the use of the saying, “the face that launched a thousand ships” (l. 96). This is a commonly applied expression when speaking about Helen of Troy. Throughout the play, Faustus fluctuates between the use of advanced and lesser vocabulary. Here, he is so shocked by Helen’s beauty that he knows nothing else but this typical phrase. This implies that Faustus is in a state of hypnosis. He is taken over by Helen’s beauty, and in the process, loses his soul. Another illustration of the trance Faustus is in, is by the use of alliteration in the first two lines of the poem.

This device causes the reader to read the lines more slowly. The pronunciation of words in a moderate fashion suggests this trance, and makes the rest of the passage more comprehensible. In contrast to the first two lines, the rest of the section can be read more easily and therefore, faster. Few caesuras are utilized in this part, making the paragraph flow better. The quick pace of the these lines indicate excitement on Faustus’ part. If this is the case, it is understandable how he loses his soul without resistance.

The last line is brought back to a slower pace. The word “paramour” lends itself to a laggard pronunciation, which enforces Faustus’ realization that his soul has been taken. This is all due to Marlowe’s choice of words and sentence structure. Because the reader can experience Faustus’ state of mind through the writing, they can relate to the upcoming circumstances. Faustus’ excitement of the need for the material aspects of life, lead to his downfall. Allusions and references also add to the comprehension and depth of this piece.

Many references are made to familiar Greek mythology characters, including Paris, Menelaus, Achilles, Jupiter, Semele and Arethusa. The incorporation of Paris, Menalaus and Achilles are used purely for historical relevance. Faustus compares himself to Paris, saying he would allow his native land to crumble as Troy did in the story of the Iliad. His mentions of Menelaus and Achilles are as competitors in war. He says he will, “combat with weak Menelaus” (l. 105), and “will wound Achilles in the heel” (l. 107). These references may make Faustus appear strong, but in fact, they prove his weakness.

First, he describes Menelaus as weak, substantiating that Faustus wouldn’t have to be strong to overpower him. Subsequently he admits that he would wound Achilles in his heel. It is noted that Achilles’ heel was the most fragile area of his body. This, too, confirms Faustus’ weakness. He couldn’t fight a fair battle and win, so he fought weak and helpless characters. This is symbolic of the state Faustus is in. Faustus could not fight Lucifer and win. Lucifer was not weak like Menelaus and did not have a fatal weakness like Achilles. Therefore, Faustus lost this battle, and in turn, lost his soul.

The references to Jupiter, Semele and Arethusa deal with the metamorphosis that has been apparent throughout the play. While Faustus has made his own transformation from the beginning to the end of the story, so too have the characters he describes. Jupiter’s transformation was into some inconceivable being which Semele requested to see. In his transformation, Jupiter killed Semele as she became incinerated at his sight. Comparable to this myth, Faustus was the one who asked Mephistopheles to allow him into the depths of the underworld. Because of his wish, he was indefinitely damned to hell.

Similarly, Arethusa was transformed into a fountain when she fled from a man who pronounced his love for her. The man followed her and later became the river that flowed into her fountain. As with Arethusa, Faustus tried to run away from the devil, but landed up becoming closer to him. As with both of these stories, the need for material is always paired with evil and condemnation. Other literary devices that Marlowe used to impart the theme are paradoxes, hyperboles, litoties, and the juxtaposition of the two. In essence, the entire play is a paradox. It is a religious novel questioning religion.

Inside the story lies another paradox; Faustus asks for unlimited theological knowledge from a supreme being who cannot speak about God. The passage on page 93 is a paradox as well. Faustus asks the devil to give him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, in return for his soul. For this gift, he promises to stop asking for redemption from God. Yet, when he comes face to face with Helen, he begs her “make me immortal with a kiss” (l. 98). This is the kiss that steals his soul away from him and eventually dooms him to hell. Because Helen is hinted at as being a demon, their kiss makes him cursed.

In the Catholic church, relations with a demon is unpardonable, and in turn kills any chance of Faustus being redeemed by G-d. Because he wanted Helen for her material beauty, he had to sacrifice his soul. When he finally does sacrifice his life to Helen he gives a brief cry for help. He underestimates the damage he has done and screams, “Her lips suck forth my soul. See where it flies” (l. 99)! He returns to her asking her to kiss him again, soon forgetting the damage he has done. This example of a litotie is contrasted with Faustus’ hyperbole of Helen’s magnificence.

The juxtaposition of these concepts against each other prove that Faustus cared little for his spiritual body, and more for Helen – the material body. Marlowe’s use of strong literary devices in lines 96-113 on page 93 greatly supported the theme that only striving for material objects will only lead to harm. Faustus exemplified this theme in his Helen of Troy monologue, where he asked for her in return for his soul. In the end, Helen took Faustus’ soul, leaving him with neither, the material pleasures, nor a spiritually complete life.

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