Analysis of the Actions of Macbeth and Doctor Faustus
Many scholars have debated whether the actions of Macbeth and Doctor Faustus in Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s plays come from the characters themselves or whether they were following a predetermined fate. In the play The Tragedy of Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, each character’s destiny, or fate, seems to be predetermined by the supernatural and unpreventable by any actions meant to stop it from occurring. The concept of fate is a large component in many Aristotelian Tragedies, such as Macbeth.
However, in the tragedy, The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (commonly referred to as just Doctor Faustus), written by Christopher Marlowe, Faustus’s actions show a theme of free-will repeated throughout the play. His actions lead him to live a life that many envied, but to die a death without repentance that none desired. Throughout the Renaissance, due to the greater access to knowledge, new emphasis was added to the role of the individual’s free will while less emphasis was placed upon the divine.
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Christopher Marlowe’s work, Doctor Faustus, demonstrates this new trend in free will as Faustus made his own choices which determined his terrible fate. As a result, the active role of God was limited in the play while the Devil’s presence was emphasized through the will and ambition of Doctor Faustus (Engberg). Because of his self-reliance, God’s influence decreased in the mind of Faustus, who wished to gain power through knowledge, not theology. Consequentially, the acts of God dwindled to the point where they were virtually nonexistent throughout Doctor Faustus.
According to Engberg, Faustus is “flagrantly disobedient, disrespectful and unloving toward God. ” However, even though Mephistopheles wishes to bring Faustus’s soul to Lucifer, he still is completely honest to Faustus and does not attempt to trick him; he even attempts to dissuade him from making the deal that will put him in hell for eternity. Mephistopheles tells Faustus of the misfortunes of hell by stating: Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand Hells In being deprived of everlasting bliss? (3. 76-80) In fact, the aspect of the story where Faustus chose to trade away his immortal soul to the devil shows Faustus’s free will. In essence, it is a statement about the freedom of choice. In that moment when he cut open his arm to condemn himself to an eternity in hell, he made a personal decision about the future of his life. He, Doctor Faustus, controlled his own soul. He had the free will to choose to live his life as he pleased and to die as he pleased.
Throughout the whole play, Faustus is torn between the wish to repent and save himself from his eternity in purgatory and the wish to keep following Lucifer and have earthly power. He shows his indecision and his eventual acceptation of his choice to be dammed by stating: Now, Faustus, must thou needs be damned? And canst thou not be saved? What boots it then to think on God or heaven? Away with such vain fancies and despair, Despair in God and trust in Beelzebub. Now go not backward. No, Faustus, be resolute. Why waverest thou? Oh, something soundeth in mine ears