Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus - Corrupted by an Insatiable Desire for Knowledge, Wealth And Power
The Renaissance period is characterized by a grand desire for acquisition of knowledge and a passion for emerging individuality. "Scholars and educators . . . began to emphasize the capacities of the human mind and the achievements of human culture, in contrast to the medieval emphasis on God and contempt for the things in this world" (Slights 129). However, the whirlwind of change brought on by the budding ideas of Humanist thinkers was met with a cautious warning by one the greatest writers of the era. Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus acts as mask, containing and disguising the dramatist's criticisms of Renaissance thinking.
Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus is, in many ways, reflective of humankind's struggle to balance new ideas with existing traditional thoughts as the world neared the 17th century. At the time this play was written, "Elizabethans saw the world as a vast, unified, hierarchical order, or 'Great Chain of Being,' created by God" (139). At the very depths of this hierarchy lay the innate objects and at the top sat God and the angels, with the plant and animal kingdoms falling somewhere in the middle. Humans were believed to sit just above the animals, as they possessed souls and free will. It is said that humans could develop and reside "a little lower than the angels" or degenerate and fall to the level of the animals (139). Faustus is striving to rise towards the angels in his quest for human advancement, but ironically, he ends up plummeting to the depths of Hell.
The drama Dr. Faustus illustrates Marlowe's two main concerns for the human mind at the turn of the 17th century: First, humankind's desire for excessive knowledge, wealth and power may transform an individual into a wicked person, and second, humankind's desire for this knowledge, wealth and power may push the people away from their Creator.
Marlowe's protagonist is a learned scholar who is driven by an insatiable desire for more knowledge, more wealth and more power. After preaching of his academic successes, he exclaims, "Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man" (Barnett 104). He is frustrated by the stagnation of his knowledge declaring "then read no more, thou has attained that end" (104) and decides "both law and physic are for petty wits" (106). He desires " . . . a world of profit and delight,/Of power, of honor, of omnipotence" (105). His lust for knowledge through magic evolves into greater goals to use the "black sons of hell" (155) to gain physical wealth by stealing gold from India and to "ransack the ocean for orient pearl" (106). After speaking of wealth, he yearns for power stating he wants to be sole king of all the German states when he says
I'll levy soldiers with the coin they bring
And chase the Prince of Parma from our land
And reign sole king of all...