In Christopher Marlow’s seventeenth-century play, Faustus, hubris leads to his own downfall. The protagonist is a scholar whose arrogance and pride compel him to make a deal with the devil and maintain the hubris until his death and damnation, despite repenting and receiving salvation. A change in Faustus’s character, gaining excessive pride, causes him to misuse his abilities in magic. At first, Faustus wants to learn the art of magic to gain knowledge, travel the world, and answer his questions. However, hubris changes Faustus into using magic for trickery, wealth, and for his own entertainment.
Hubris causes Faustus to ignore redemption and remain in the evil pact with Lucifer, the devil. By the end of the play, Faustus realizes it is too late for salvation with God and his soul will be forever captured by the devil. Faustus has many opportunities to ask for forgiveness and repent. Though in every situation, he is tempted by the magic and its treachery because of hubris. Multiple times, a good and an evil angel appear to Faustus who acts as his conscience. The good angel advocates salvation and Faustus deliberates repenting. The evil angel, however, mentions the wealth Faustus can have with magic. In one conversation with the angels, Faustus is easily persuaded:
- GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus, leave that execrable art.
- FAUSTUS. Contrition, prayer, repentance! What of them?
- GOOD ANGEL. O, they are means to bring thee unto Heaven!
- EVIL ANGEL. Rather illusions-fruits of lunacy, That makes men foolish that do trust them most.
- GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus, think of Heaven and heavenly things.
- EVIL ANGEL. No, Faustus, think of honour and of wealth. [Exeunt Angels.]
- FAUSTUS. Of wealth! Why the signiory of Embden shall be mine. When Mephistophilis shall stand by me, What god can hurt thee? Faustus, thou art safe: Cast no more doubts. Come, Mephistophilis, And bring glad tidings from great Lucifer; (Marlow 1.5 ln.16-30).
Faustus’s hubris overwhelms him and he decides to continue practicing magic. He believes his wealth from the devil is more important than asking for forgiveness and living a free after-life. His pride causes him to choose wealth over freedom because that gives him more power. Yet, in the end, power will not save his soul but instead, destroys it. Faustus’s flaw, hubris, is also portrayed when he uses magic for trickery rather than knowledge. Faustus uses his powers to travel around the world and insists on invading the Pope’s chamber to play a practical joke. He taunts the Pope and friars by intercepting plates of food and punishing them for crossing themselves. Faustus’s hubris is blatantly illustrated while gleefully laughing with Mephistophilis. The friars enter to sing the Dirge:
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- FAUSTUS. What, are you crossing of yourself? Well, use that trick no more I would advise you. [The POPE crosses himself again.] Well, there’s the second time. Aware of the third, I give you a fair warning. [The POPE crosses himself again, and FAUSTUS hits him a box of the ear, and they all run away.] Come on, Mephistophilis, what shall we do?
- MEPHIST. Nay, I know not. We shall be cursed with bell, book, and candle.
- FAUSTUS. How! bell, book, and candle,-candle, book, and bell, Forward and backward to curse Faustus to hell!
- Anon you shall hear a hog grunt, a calf bleat, an ass bray, Because it is Saint Peter’s holiday. Re-enter the Friars to sing the Dirge.
- FIRST FRIAR. Come, brethren, let’s about our business with good devotion. They sing…
- [MEPHISTOPHILIS and FAUSTUS beat the Friars, and fling fireworks among them: and so exeunt.] (Marlow 3.3 ln. 80-105).
This scene shows that Faustus has complete disregard for Catholicism and the religious establishment. Faustus’s pride causes him to use magic for his own entertainment. He is no longer using it to fulfill his curiosity or to expand his knowledge. The hubris triggers Faustus to go into a “downward spiral” to his own destruction. By the last act, Faustus’s hubris completely overpowers him and he himself commits devilish acts. The job of the devil is to torment and harass the people who are not devoted to the devil. Faustus imitates this harassment when the knight doubts his abilities to perform magic. By doubting Faustus, the knight shows his disbelief in the devil as well. While Faustus conjures the spirit of Alexander the Great for the Emperor, the knight is uncertain of his power:
- FAUSTUS. My gracious lord, I am ready to accomplish your request so far forth as by art, and the power of my Spirit, I am able to perform.
- KNIGHT. I’faith that’s just nothing at all. [Aside.] …
- KNIGHT. Thou damned wretch and execrable dog, Bred in the concave of some monstrous rock, How darest thou thus abuse a gentleman? Villain, I say, undo what thou hast done!
- FAUSTUS. O, not so fast, sir; there’s no haste; but, good, are you remember how you crossed me in my conference with the Emperor? I think I have met with you for it.
- EMPEROR. Good Master Doctor, at my entreaty, release him: he hath done penance sufficient.
- FAUSTUS. My gracious lord, not so much for the injury he offered me here in your presence, as to delight you with some mirth, hath Faustus worthily requited this injurious knight: which being all I desire, I am content to release him of his horns: and, sir knight, hereafter speaks well of scholars. Mephistophilis, transform him straight. [MEPHISTOPHILIS removes the horns.] Now, my good lord, having done my duty, I humbly take my leave (Marlow 4.3 ln. 83-100).
Faustus’s confrontation with the knight shows the pettiness of his arrogance. Faustus’s pride forced him to act devilish. The knight did not believe in Faustus’s abilities and therefore did not believe in the devil. Faustus punishes and torments the knight by putting horns on his head. Faustus even reprimands the knight’s behaviour and warns him to respect himself and consequently the devil. Portrayed by the character of Faustus, hubris causes his damnation. His pride in his abilities to perform magic leads Faustus on a slow descent toward hell. When Faustus changes and uses magic for trickery and evil, he is responsible for his own destruction. He is too fascinated with the power, wealth, and entertainment magic gives him. He dismisses the idea of salvation because it pales in comparison to the fortune he has with the devil. Only when it is too late, does he realize that he has caused his own demise and now must live with the consequences?
Marlow, Christopher. Faustus. New York: Prestwick House Inc, 2007. Metacognitive Paper
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