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‘Faustus is the sole architect of his own demise’. To what extent do you agree with the view that Faustus is fully responsible for his own tragedy?


Dr Faustus is a play that explores the consequences of transgression: hell. Therefore, it can be deemed that the Faustus’ tragedy is because of his transgression for the dark arts. At the start of the play, during Faustus’ soliloquy, he has no other disruptions of influences which leads him to say, ‘magic that hath ravished me’. Therefore, it can be seen that Faustus is fully responsible for his own tragedy. On the other hand, it can also be seen there are other characters that contribute to his tragedy being Mephistopheles and Lucifer who want his sole to ‘enlarge his [Lucifer’s] kingdom’. However, Faustus was ‘graced with doctor’s name’. Faustus’ intelligence should have warned him against the risk of transgression. As well as this, there are other characters such as the Old Man and Good Angel which try to lead Faustus to repent. This helps to identify Faustus’ tragic flaw who should have acknowledged the risk of eternal damnation much more unlike the audience of the time the play was written which would have strongly believed in heaven and hell.
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Faustus’ thrive for knowledge was the fatal flaw and consequence to his tragedy and therefore can be deemed his own fault. When first introduced to the dark arts, Fastus states, ‘this cheers my soul!’ Even before the influences of Mephistopheles and Lucifer, Faustus illustrates a strong passion for the dark arts which has not been provoked by anyone. It is Faustus that seeks the assistance of Cornelius and Valdes for a deeper understanding of the darks arts - not the other way around. For this reason, it can be seen that Faustus’ tragedy was his own fault: at the start of the play, he makes clear his intentions: to transgress. If he did not show these intentions for the necromantic books that are ‘heavenly’, Faustus would have most likely not become damned forever in hell.

On the other hand, other characters such as Mephistopheles entice Faustus into thinking that the consequence of damnation are not as bad as people might as first think. When asked what hell is like, Mephistopheles describes that, ‘this is hell, nor am I out of it’. The vague description of hell by Mephistopheles will give Faustus the impression that hell can be compared to that of living on Earth. However, what Mephistopheles means is that hell is the abundance of God which, if experienced, is eternal pain. The fact that Faustus has not ‘tasted the eternal joys of heaven’ makes him believe that hell cannot be that bad. This, therefore, gives Faustus an incentive to transgress towards his tragedy. The consequences of his actions, from Faustus’ perspective, is insignificant. However, as we learn at the end when Faustus’ time is up, ugly hell, gape not’, the vague description of hell is an understatement. When Faustus actually sees hell, he realises that it is far worse than Mephistopheles ever described it as. For this reason, Mephistopheles contributed to the damnation of Faustus. Although he did tell Faustus to ‘leave these frivolous demands’ making clear that Faustus’ demands are not worthy of damnation, if Mephistopheles truly wanted Fastus to not sign his soul to the devil, he should have told Faustus the true horrors of hell. With this statement, some Christians will say on the contrary that it is Mephistopheles' job to bring souls to hell. Therefore, if he turned away souls such as Faustus, Lucifer will be extremely angry: Mephistopheles tried to hint to Faustus as much as possible to not damnate himself without getting into too much trouble with Lucier.

There are characters in Dr Faustus which try to lead Faustus away from damning himself such as the Good Angel and Old Man. Throughout the play, the Old Man acts as a moral consciousness to Faustus, ‘I see an angel hover o’er thy head’. The Old Man always gives Faustus the chance to repent and at times, Faustus is close to repenting but is then enticed by shows such as the seven deadly sins, ‘O, this feeds my soul!’, and Helen. However, what makes Faustus the architect of his own demise is the fact that he wanted Mephistopheles to get rid of the old man, ‘that base of crooked age / That durst dissuade me from thy Lucifer’. At this moment in the play, the audience will truly gain the impression that Fastus is a lost soul: has wants to get rid of the only good thing that is preventing him from damnation. It wasn’t Mephistopheles who first gave the idea of torturing the Old Man. It was Faustus and for this reason, it makes clear he was responsible for his own tragedy: he was using Mephistopheles’ power for hellish reasons.

Ultimately, I believe Faustus is the sole architect of his own demise. Even though there are characters that want Faustus to become damned such as Mephistopheles, the evil angel, ’Faustus shall ne’er repent’, the reason for these characters wanting Faustus to become damned is because of Faustus’ original thrive for magic and dark arts. The first soliloquy of Act 1 Scene 1, I deem, to be the most important part of the whole play. Unaffected by no other characters, the audience will realise that Fausts wants to transgress even before having the temptations Lucifer and Mephistopheles. Faustus makes clear his intentions here too, ‘Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man’. This makes clear that even before reading the necromantic books, Faustus wants to become more than just a man - he has a large ego. For this reason, I believe Faustus is fully responsible for his own tragedy. It is his fault for finding an interest in the dark arts at the start of the play. It is his fault for summoning Mephistopheles. It is his fault for becoming enticed by evil spirits towards hell. It is his fault for becoming eternally damned.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

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