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How does Marlowe's Doctor Faustus compare to Shelley's Frankenstein?

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scout | Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

Posted March 17, 2009 at 3:07 AM via web

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How does Marlowe's Doctor Faustus compare to Shelley's Frankenstein?

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ecofan74 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted June 18, 2010 at 8:50 AM (Answer #1)

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Both Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus and Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein treat some of the same themes, specifically the question of intellectual pride.  In Doctor Faustus, the title character, after seeking power in the knowledge available in the normal courses of study (philsophy, theology,natural philosophy, et al.), makes a bargain with Mephistopheles, a representative of the devil.  According to this bargain, Doctor Faustus would have access to the forbidden knowledge of magic - the only kind of knowledge that grants him power - for the period of 24 years. Doctor Faustus feels that he deserves to have this knowledge; he expresses no gratitude for having it.

The power that Doctor Faustus has as a result of this bargain is literally the power to shape the world - to alter God's creation.  He even goes so far as to alter the course of the river Rhine.  In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the title character seeks comparable knowledge.  In the search for that knowledge, he displays the same kind of intellectual pride that Doctor Faustus does.  In successfully reanimating human tissue, Frankenstein assumes the power of God to create life.  Ultimately, like Doctor Faustus, Frankenstein alters God's creation. 

The respective demises of the two characters serve as warnings to the readers.  Doctor Faustus squanders his "power," and in the last lines of the play, finally expresses regret for what he has done, going so far as to warn the reader to heed his example.  Frankenstein, in a very similar way, is made to regret his presumption, as his creation kills him.  His pride, or the result of that pride, punishes him.

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