Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overly Ambitious Fool?

Scholarly Origins

Faustus is a scholar who debates between following good and evil but ultimately is won over by greed. Both a good angel and a bad angel influence him. They give him the same amount of advice. However, in heaven Faustus finds nothing of interests. In hell he finds riches and most of all knowledge. I believe that it is Faustus’s thirst for knowledge that truly drives him to seek out the dark arts.

Faustus’s Thirst for Knowledge

Faustus has been brought up as a scholar. He has excelled in his studies and has earned the name of Doctor. Faustus is skilled in many languages and is competent in many subjects such as physics and mathematics. However, he is dissatisfied with the amount of knowledge available to him.  I think that Faustus definitely equates knowledge with power. He wants to become a more powerful man and therefore thirsts for the next thing to boost his worth. The good angel implies that Faustus was once involved in theology. However, even then he scorns divinity and turns to magic to solve his problems. He wants riches, but even more he wants to be able to control spirits.

Link to Genesis

When Faustus is turned towards the dark arts, he appears to be mirroring the events inGenesis that led Adam to taste of the
tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mephistopheles and the serpent appear to be the same force of temptation. They are both sneaky and cleaver and have the ability to influence others. While both Adam and Faustus learn great knowledge after turning their backs to god, they regret it in the end. Also, they are both punished severely. All of these links between Genesis and Dr. Faustus appear to have been made intentionally by Marlowe.

Faustus’s Tragic Flaw

Faustus shares many qualities with the heroes of Greek tragic. First off, he is grand. He sells his soul to Lucifer which an act that rivals Oedipus gouging his eyes or Heracles killing his family. Also, he has a tragic flaw, which is his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Like Prometheus, he doesn’t think ahead to way the consequences of his actions with the immediate benefit of the act. For example, he sells his soul to Lucifer in order to gain immediate power for twenty-four years and yet he once the term is over he will regret making this grim deal.

Evil’s Appeal

Faustus believes that he has nothing to gain from attempting to gain entry into heaven. Although he listens to both the angel of good and the angel of evil he is more persuaded by the evil angel. This is because the evil angel tells him what he wants to hear. He lures him in with stories of knowledge and power. Faustus is not made of strong moral fiber. Others easily persuade him.  Also, Lucifer acts almost comical when he comes to visit Faustus. He puts on a show and definitely appears as an entertainer. His theatrical personality also serves to lure in Faustus.

Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overambitious Fool

Especially in an academic setting, it is difficult to blame Faustus when his only crime is to want to have more knowledge. He has basically read all the books and is eager to
transcend the boundary of current human knowledge. Understandably, some may view him as a hero for pursuing his passion despite the cost. However, I believe that in the end Faustus is an extremely flawed character. He is unable to feel content with what he has. He has a high position in society, and because of his doctorate he should also be well of financially. Perhaps Faustus serves as a metaphor for something that is overambitious to the point of being greedy and gluttonous.  Depending, on your personal perspective, you may choose to see him as a hero or a fool or something else entirely.

How would you describe Faustus?

5 thoughts on “Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overly Ambitious Fool?”

  1. Throughout the play I was at odds about whether or not Faustus was an intelligent hero or an overly ambitious fool, as you phrase it. Like many of the heroes we read about, Faustus has the highest highs and lowest lows. Maybe, as we discussed in class today, Faustus does not achieve the respect he clamors for, but even in his position as a glorified jester, he achieves more notoriety and fame than he ever had before in his life as a scholar. Lastly, whether or not someone is a hero should have at least a little bit to do with their demeanor. Faustus’ actions were heroic and cool because he did things that no mortal ever likely did, but as he cries out for help and tries to repent as the devils pull him to hell, he seems more like a fool to me. His body of work is heroic, but his regrets and general “wuss” attitude towards the end of the play leave me wondering about what he should be viewed as.

  2. I agree with Paul above with questioning whether Faustus is a hero or just a fool. It’s very hard to tell however I think that in the end I have decided that he is a fool. He is very selfish and makes a deal in order to gain more power and respect, and also get whatever he wants. He is also a doctor and extremely smart and doesn’t put any of that to good use. He only cares about himself and makes a big fool of himself for this. In the end, when the devils are putting him to hell he apologizes and regrets what he did which makes him look even worse then he already does. Someone can do bad things and still be a Hero (for example Othello) however, Faustus isn’t a hero at all.

  3. I find it very interesting where this conversation is going. Paul I think you make a Great hero point, Jessica you too, emphasizing the fact that Faustus succeeds on a large scale, but acts as what you determine a “wuss” in that he cries and complains as result of being dragged to hell. I would just like for a second for us to put ourselves in Faustus’s position. You are smart, you are pretty, you’re handsome, and people flock to you as result of your new-found knowledge. This is what Faustus is experiencing, it seems as though Faustus is an extremely knowledgeable guy, but becomes so engrossed in the quest for knowledge that he gets stupid. I know its a funny thought, but just think it out. It is possible that knowledge can lead to ignorance? and ignorance of what. In hubris, I feel as though Faustus thought he could he double dip. and when it was all said and done he tried to cast one last attempt to get back on the good side, an unsuccessful attempt of course. (I feel as though this duality definitely has a purpose)

  4. I think that Faustus can neither be classified as a hero nor an overambitious fool. He is ambitious, but too much so; however, he does share some qualities with heroes, as you mentioned in your argument. Faustus seems to be somewhere in between the two. There are shades of gray for virtually everything, and although the main characters of a play are usually deemed either good or evil, Marlowe actually leaves a lot of that classification for the reader to determine over the course of the play, which allows for shades of gray. Faustus is certainly an interesting case study, because the duality of his nature makes it nearly impossible to determine whether he is good or bad, as Paul mentioned above.

  5. I agree that Faustus can not be classified as a hero nor as an overambitious fool. He overreaches his boundaries which can be considered heroic but his attempts to outsmart the devil and his eventual pull into hell deem him a fool. They gray area mentioned by Meaghan definitely exists, as Marlowe does not specifically classify Faustus as a hero or a fool.

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