The Deeper Meaning of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus
I do not agree with the frequently repeated comment that Doctor Faustus is an anti-intellectualist play that preaches that curiosity is dangerous. It is all too easy to see Faustus as the scholar, seeking knowledge, and his desire for knowledge that leads to his downfall. To confine the play to something so narrow is to ignore the deeper meaning behind the play. I believe that this deeper meaning is more important than the superficial idea that curiosity is wrong. I believe that the deeper meaning behind the play is the idea that in loosing sight of the spiritual level of existence, we loos sight of God. In doing so, we can no longer see God's mercy and love, and so ignore it. In ignoring it, we deny it, and for this are we damned.
It is fair to say that Faustus represents the quintessential renaissance man - it is his thirst for knowledge that drives him into his pact with Mephastophilis, indeed it is the Evil Angel that best summarises this:
Go forward, Faustus, in the famous art,
Wherein all nature's treasury is contained:
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.
Scene I, lines 74-77
It is the restless spirit of the renaissance that drives Faustus to seek knowledge. He has already attained what he can through more conventional means, his "bills (are) hung up as monuments", and his "common talk found aphorisms". Faustus compares himself to the most famous figures of the classical period; to Hippocrates, to Aristotle and to Galen. He sees himself as having come to the end of what he can learn through his human tools; he needs something that will allow him to move outside the realm of nature, something supernatural, and therefore something evil. This is the reason why he came into contact with Mephastophilis, as he sought to use the new power that would come to him to further his own knowledge. It has been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely - this is what has happened to Faustus. He ceases to be the seeker of knowledge, but becomes a seeker of pleasure. One of the first things he wants is a wife:
... but leaving
off this, let me have a wife, the fairest maid in Germany, for I
am wanton and lascivious, and cannot live without a wife.
Scene 5, lines 139-141
This marks the descent of Faustus from the intellectual seeking pleasures of the mind, to the hedonist seeking more sensual pleasures. It is not for being intellectual that we start to dislike Faustus, but for the numerous foolish and irrelevant displays of his power that he undertakes, and eventually his pride.
This is exemplified by the sharp contrast between Faustus' intentions at the beginning of the play, and the deeds he performs during the play:
I'll have them read me strange philosophy,
And tell the secrets of all foreign kings.
Scene 1, lines 86-8
Instead of doing things like this,...