The Limited Omnipotence in Dr. Faustus
When an audience looks at Christopher Marlowe as a writer in Doctor Faustus, they might believe the play is a discussion on religion. The discussion in Faustus is the decision of what to believe in, whether it may be a polytheistic or monotheistic religion. Dr. Faustus represents man’s discontent with being human and the struggle of accepting the lack of omnipotence and omniscience. In Faustus, he is repeatedly questioned on his belief in his knowledge of magic, good, and evil. Faustus wants all this power and ability but to achieve this he must have knowledge in the power or religion.
However, Faustus’s downfall is not his power but his knowledge in the power he possesses which is in the end limited. As one can see in Stephen Orgel’s Essay Magic and Power in Doctor Faustus, Orgel points out that Faustus did not really bargain much in his deal with the devil and he really did not know what to ask for in the end. He has all this great knowledge but he is not ambitious enough to really embrace the power he has just been given. In this brilliant play by Marlowe, he challenges the audience to look within and choose whether having great knowledge leads to a fulfilling destiny.
In the beginning of the play, the audience finds Faustus in his study, going over logic, medicine, law, religion, and magic. In the play, he only studies these subjects half way thinking he understands what he is reading by receiving all the knowledge but not really grasping the whole picture. For example, when looking at religion Faustus reads in the Bible from Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is Death…” Faustus stops in the middle of the verse and concludes that when we sin we must die an everlasting death.
However the rest of the verse goes “ …but the gift of God is eternal life,” Faustus knows that studying leads to knowledge of the truth, but if he only concludes on only half of the subject knowledge is nothing because of the truth he wants to believe. Faustus’ narrow-minded conception is his great downfall. As Orgel puts it, “Faustus himself is a hero and a clown because he has unbounded ambition and an insufficient imagination. ” Faustus insufficient imagination is shown when he dives into magic. Magic deals with the body, the intellect, and the infatuation on material things; which is a retreat from reality and responsibility.
This power has no rules it is a free will power to do whatever, whenever. Faustus’ greed for power to live in an indulgent life leads him astray to make the pact with the devil. When summoning Mephistopheles he expresses his desire to live a fulfilled life, to be the emperor of the world, to control nature and to obtain the full knowledge of the universe. Orgel states, “The fantasies of unlimited power are consistently scaled down in the play; until they finally seem to represent something that really ought to be obtainable do you have to make a pact with the devil just to get a decent job or someone to go to bed with? Orgel has a point because the unlimited power ends up having so many rules and regulations to follow.
Faustus initial instincts in the beginning of the play when presented with the dark magic power are altruistic. Before Faustus makes his deal, he proclaims “I’ll have them wall all Germany with brass, / And make swift the Rhine, circle faire Wittenberg. / I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk,/ Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad. / I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,/And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,/ And rein sole king of all the provinces. The promise of restoration for the people of Germany, for the reclaiming of his homeland from an emperors and the church’s rule are all empty promises. Everyone one time or another wanted to do something great for someone else but it turns out to be something very different, which leads to a big disaster. Faustus has all great intentions however; his selfless ambitions eventually become selfish for his own personal enjoyments. One of Faustus’ ambitions is to become emperor freeing the people from the reign of Prince Parma.
A heroic gesture at first until Faustus decides he does not want to be the emperor but be the emperor’s entertainer. After saving making a big fool of the pope and saving Bruno, the emperors pick for the next pope, Faustus’ uses this gesture as an inside invitation to get close to the emperor. Does he forget the power he has because he could be emperor in a blink of an eye then everyone would want to be on “Great Faustus” good side? However, Faustus uses his power for entertainment by conjuring the spirits of past great emperors like Alexander the Great, and the great emperor Darius.
This allusion almost put the emperor into frenzy because he looks up to these great emperors. Faustus also plays a trick on Benvloio because he was in disbelief of Faustus’ magic. The emperor’s court believes that Faustus is doing all theses trick by himself but Mephistopheles is really the one doing all of these magical things according to Faustus desire. Because Faustus gave his soul to the devil, Mephistopheles does not care what Faustus does because after his contract is up, Faustus souls is Mephistopheles. Faustus greatest desire is not ruling the world its revenge, and sexual subversion from religion.
Faustus eventually wants a wife but Mephistopheles will not allow that because marriage is a sacred (godly) thing. This is just one example of how Mephistopheles led Faustus astray from the real power and truth. Mephistopheles substitute for Faustus desire for a wife is a promise to bring a new girl everyday only for Faustus’ sexual pleasure. However, Faustus does not settle with a real women but a figure of a women. The figure of a woman meant a mere image that cannot be touched or loved just some image to admire. In Faustus final hours he requests to see Helen of Troy but he cannot touch her at all because she is a spirit in figure.
If Faustus were smart, he would not let this rule stand in the way because he believes to have power over Mephistopheles so if Faustus wants Helen of Troy to sleep with he gets it. The audience can see Faustus’ ambitions being twisted to more ambitions that are not committed to a particular thing; he wants to fly, to go to Rome, to be invisible, to humiliate the pope, to be mischievous without consequences. Eventually all Faustus wants is to study the knowledge of the universe which Mephistopheles brings him all the books in the entire world to study.
Faustus has a lack of imagination but maybe it is not imagination but his scholarly lack of originality. In the end does Faustus make a great bargain with the devil was it a waste of twenty-four years? Audiences can agree that Faustus becomes immature with his power so his bargain seems to be a waste of time. If it is true that, doctrinally, Faustus cannot repent, it is a doctrine that Faustus is either unaware of or denies. What he says, several times, is that he is afraid to repent, afraid that the devils will tear him to pieces if he does-as if this were worse than, or different from, being carried off to hell .
In the final moment of frustration, seeing Christ’s blood stream in the firmament and convinced that ‘One drop would save my soul,’ Faustus calls out ‘I will leap up to my God: who pulls me down? The play is in this respect much more a temptation than a warning We see that we could do it better, make bargain and get away with it, have the world and have repentance too. The greatest danger is not damnation, its human envy. For all the play’ talks of power, its principle theme is survival.