Discuss knowledge as a theme in Doctor Faustus.

In Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe presents human knowledge as having clear limits that no one should go beyond. When Faustus does so, he acts out of pride and ambition much more than a true thirst for knowledge, but in the end, it costs him his soul, and all his knowledge has come to naught.

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Knowledge stands as a primary theme in Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus. Faustus is a scholar who has (so he thinks) probed the limits of human knowledge. He knows about everything from medicine to law to theology, but he is not satisfied. In his pride and ambition, he wants more and more knowledge, and he is no longer content with mere human knowledge. He wants to plunge into the hidden arts, the dangerous world of magic, especially necromancy (raising spirits from the dead).

Faustus begins to experiment in magic and, through his blasphemy, draws to himself the demon Mephistophilis. Faustus sees an opportunity to gain the knowledge he so desires, and he makes a deal with the devil. In exchange for Faustus's soul, Mephistophilis will serve Faustus for twenty-four years. Notice something, though: Faustus isn't really seeking knowledge anymore by this point. Rather, he wants power. He wants to be better than other people. He plays a series of tricks on people just for the fun of it, just because he can. He brags to his fellow scholars and even conjures up Helen of Troy just to impress them. They are, understandably, far more disturbed than anything else. In the end, of course, Faustus loses everything, including his soul, and all for the “knowledge” he thinks he wants so badly and then misuses.

Throughout Marlowe's play, then, we learn that knowledge has well-defined limits that human beings must not cross. We also learn that crossing those lines is more about the desire for power than the thirst for true knowledge. Finally, we learn that too much “knowledge” will backfire on a person especially if it is misused. Indeed, Faustus may have knowledge, but he lacks the wisdom to use it well and within the limits set by God for the good of human beings.

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