JamesB. Harr III
BritishLiterature – ENG-241-002
DoctorFaustus’ Magic Supernatural or Trickery?
Atthe outset, understanding exactly how the magic that ChristopherMarlowe uses in Doctor Faustus surfaces in work is necessary.Moreover, how the magical being in Faustus arises and what could haveprovoked his desire to gain his supernatural powers. Faustus upon hisstudy of the different fields of knowledge, he feels dissatisfiedwith the acquired knowledge. As a result, the penchant to necromancydevelops in him. The journey starts with the Doctor directing hisservants to beckon German magic experts, Valdes and Cornelius. Thetwo magicians are the one who introduces the whole concept of magicto Faustus. With time, Faustus consequently engages his necromanticskills which he gained, experimenting unsuspecting victims (Davidson515).
Theexperimentations start with incantations whereby Mephistophelesappears as a devil. As one of his initial ploys, he directs the devilincarnate to reappear as a friar. Subsequently, he discovers that theappearance of Mephistopheles, the devil incarnate is not due to hisconjuring but rather it is common place for him to appear wheneverone blasphemes the Trinity. Such a case in a way prepared him torealize the consequence of his undertaking (Cox133-135).
Theencounters of Faustus continue with him now wanting to get deeperinto the art. The visit to the pope and the taunting that he and hisservants give to the pope, and his friar`s show how magic is used toimpart his influence to religious leader. Thus, the powers of evilare manifest through the doctor who engages the pope in magic taunts.For example, he would cause the disappearance of plates as well as ofself from the presence of the pope and his Friars (Davidson 516). Healso visits the Alexander the great and equally offers a few of histaunts to the servants. Consequently, a servant grows horns and inanother instance, one of the horsemen’s horses ends up as a bundleof hay.
Faustusthen trades his soul to the devil in the exchange with the absolutepower given to him. At the course of his life, as Faustus approacheshis death, there are persuasions from the two sides of after-life,the good and the bad angels to encourage him to accept offers thatbring on board to him(Davidson 515-518). Faustus falls prey to thedark angel who was consequently leading him to play pranks on theprominent personalities of the time(Davidson 514). Magical tricksthat cover the entirety of the literary work as we observe DoctorFaustus bring fresh grapes in the winter, conjures up an apparitionof Hellen Troy, and other similar occurrences, which seem to cementthe magical capabilities of the doctor. In brief, this overview isnecessary in understanding the place of magic as applied in the book,whether it is supernatural or mere trickery and pranks on his victimsand what role it plays in the building of the book (Davidson 514).
Firstly,Christopher Marlowe uses magic to demonstrate the nature of evil inthe society of the literature. In so trying to prove the nature ofevil, the book strips the sin to its simplest essentials and the evilnature that associates with it. The way in which magical tendenciesbegin to emanate in Doctor Faustus is necessary as a way ofdemonstrating the subtlety and innocence that evil comes with.Faustus simply seems to be dissatisfied by the nature of the mostnatural things which were otherwise good. In its magical nature, theevil comes and is most attractive and enchanting. At the course ofthe evil, it appears exciting to possess such powers. Thus theconsequence of these supernatural powers would go a long way inending up making him even want more of the magic (Warren171–175).
Thelong-term consequence of the magic seems already authored if notaccurately sketched from the time Faustus begins to gain interest.Such a scenario is equivocal to the Christian doctrine ofpre-destination. Thus, it seems the nature of the desire to becomemagically was born long before Faustus began undertaking any of themany fields of study he is well versed with (Warren172).
Also,as a demonstration of the nature of evil using the supernatural, themagical pranks that Faustus employ seem to be in need of tauntingthey that he thinks are his enemies. Naturally, the magicians want toshow his powers by causing the trickery of the pope and the friars orthe horse-courser. Naturally, this was used to reflect evil ascausative to the natural instinct of evil that wants to revenge orcause harm to them that our enemies or people who deserve resistancein some way. Presumption and desperation, as evil naturally portraysare demonstrated in Christopher Marlowe’s book as we see the doctoralso despair to have something that would satisfy his soul.Unluckily, this desperation leads the doctor to sell his souleventually (Warren172-175). What does this say about the supernatural and itsrelationship nature? Both of them thrive most in desperation wherethere is a hope that the supernatural would answer the spiritualills. However, the evil as well leverages itself as being capable ofcausing the supernatural to happen (Warren172). In essence, such is not true but rather the consequence of whathappens. The magic of Doctor Faustus demonstrates this when weobserve the appearance of Mephistopheles disguised as the apparitionconjured by Doctor Faustus yet in the real sense he appears wheneverone curses the Trinity (Cox123). Marlowe thus uses the magic to demonstrate the nature of evilas disguised as our capabilities.
Moreover,the nature of sin is to cause its bearer to have high expectations onits outcome only to find that the consequence of evil is unexpectedlyadverse than initially thought. Right from the inception of DoctorFaustus escapades, and his interaction with the devil, the magicianrealizes that the possibility of a bad bargain for him was staring athim. Deliberately, the author tries to rubber stamp his thought thatsin falls way below what the evil doer expects. Right from learningthe limitations of Mephistopheles to the acquisition of a devildressed up as a wife and presented to him by Mephistopheles, DoctorFaustus is not capable of satisfying his wanton desires which hewould like to use his magic to meet. The consequence of this factbrings to us the possibility of Doctor Faustus having gotten himselftricked into a deal where he got peanuts for his traded soul (Warren175). Doctor Faustus at some point seems to scorn the information fedto him on astronomy since he initially had acquired such knowledgethrough the study of law, physics, and philosophy (Davidson515). What causes him to scorn the knowledge offered byMephistopheles is the thought of how trivial and mediocre thisinformation was. Thus, Marlowe passes across the idea that the magicgiven to Faustus are petty and capable of not giving one the expectedsatisfaction. In essence, the magic used demonstrates how low levelthe outcome of evil is as compared to the expectation it gives to itspursuer.
Additionally,magic is also used to show an antithesis to the Christian doctrine inMarlowe’s book. It is also used to stamp some Christian doctrinalissues. A good observation of the use of the supernatural would pointout on several doctrines that Marlowe seems to address beingessential to the Christian perspective. An example is the issue ofthe unforgivable sin of the devil that is evident in the life ofFaustus himself. Faustus desires snatch all he could from the controlof the Divine if he could (O`Brien3). He is willing to use whatever magic is at his disposal as long asit presents him with the possibility of becoming the one incharge ofthe controls of the universe. Such cupidity validates the humanreplication of Lucifer’s insolence, greed and pride summed uptogether. Just as Lucifer sinned by wanting to be equal to God,Faustus seems to have the same appetite for power and control, evenif it seems using magic (Davidson 517). The fall of Lucifer as anangel is almost observed in the Faustus as a man.
Thesupernatural is as well used to provide the characteristics of theheavenly beings. In some occasions, Marlowe uses his characters toshow a character of the supernatural. The corporeal state of theangels related to the doctor’s state as a magician is their abilityto causes one to acquire an assumed body, or to produce thehallucinatory visualization. Doctor Faustus exhibits this capabilityseverally throughout the acts (O`Brien6). The skills of angels and men to move the will by persuasion ismade clear. The way God moves the will is separated from this waythrough which angels and men can move the will as we observe Faustuspersuade himself to go ahead and sell his soul to the Mephistopheles(Davidson517). He even goes ahead to declare that had he possessed as manysouls as the stars he would still sell them all to the devil. Allthese acts are in pursuit of magic. The doctrine of redemptive graceand the incarnation of God is brought to light through theconversation of the magicians Wagner and Robin who converse on howmagic enable them to turn oneself to anything they would want(O`Brien6-7).
Also,the desire of Faustus to separate himself from God makes himsubhuman. Faustus’ ambition when he agrees to get into the contractwith Mephistopheles was filled with high expectations which includedgetting into a superhuman state. What happens, however, highlightsthe frailty of the magic and its incapability to salvage Faustus fromhis status to a better one. At the long run, the good angel offersFaustus a chance to be redeemed out of his state, but still, herejects the offer of redemptive grace. Faustus seems to disbelievethe possibility of getting renewed from his magical being (O`Brien9). He scorns the idea of god-redemption and opts to follow the darkangel instead (Cox123). The concept of redemption is further demonstrated by the factthat deliverance is always possible until one dies. It only losesplace upon death. Thus, the oscillation of Faustus soul betweenremorse and pleasure seeking when caught between the two angels showshow possible it is for him to repent as long as he still is alive.Despite his magical living, it is not over for him, and he couldalways get redemption and the despair brought about by his decisionto get into the diabolic agreement could be averted (Snyder572).
Ofnote also, is the fact that Doctor Faustus magic seems to be themimicry of biblical miracles and sacramental happenings. Observinghow Doctor Faustus would bring to scene fresh grapes at the dead ofwinter would be exemplified by the provision of food to the fivethousand as well as the provision of the manna to Jews in thewilderness. The desire for the deep things of the dark world and itspowers would be used to mock the Christian dogmas that were in placethat denied the Christians opportunity to read the Bible. Thesacraments and rites that Doctor Faustus goes through in hisinitiation and contracting in the magical world is a replica ofChristian sacraments such as baptism (Snyder570).
Inconclusion, the breathtaking truth that emanates from ChristopherMarlowe’s Doctor Faustus is that the doctor got a raw deal of thebargain to have supernatural powers. Despite having to sell his soul,he still does not get what could be said is sufficiently equivalentas magic. However, the supernatural power he gains from the deal ismainly used to taunt people and to play pranks on the unsuspectingpublic (Davidson515-519). The magic is however largely used as a symbolism whichMarlowe uses to develop a plot for the literature and to pronounceout the specified themes. He uses a tool to pass across some deeplyfounded truths especially on the nature of evil and some coreChristian doctrines (O`Brien7). Thus, the magic can pass as being supernatural and only withinthe control of Mephistopheles who uses it to manipulate DoctorFaustus.
Cox,Gerard H. “Marlowe`s ‘Doctor Faustus’ and ‘Sin against theHoly Ghost.’” HuntingtonLibraryQuarterlyvol.36, no. 2, 1973, pp. 119–137.
Davidson,Clifford. “Doctor Faustus of Wittenberg.” Studiesin Philology,vol. 59, no. 3, 1962,pp. 514–523.
Marlowe,Christopher. "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." TheNorton Anthology of English Literature.Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012.
O`Brien,Margaret Ann. “Christian Belief in Doctor Faustus.” ELHvol.37, no. 1, 1970, pp. 1–11.
Snyder,Susan. “Marlowe`s ‘Doctor Faustus’ as an Inverted Saint`sLife.”Studies in Philology,vol.63, no. 4, 1966, pp. 565–577.
WarrenD. Smith. The Nature of Evil in ‘Doctor Faustus.’” TheModern Language Review,vol.60, no. 2, 1965, pp. 171–175.
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