Is John Faustus, in Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus, blinded by pride? Why does he make such absurd and tragic choices?
The title figure of Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus is a man blinded by pride almost from his very first words. Worse than displaying mere pride, however, he displays intellectual pride – a corruption of one of the greatest gifts given to humans by God: the gift of reason. Renaissance Christians would have recognized immediately that Faustus is a man afflicted by pride. And, since pride was considered the root of all other sins, they would have expected Faustus’s fate to be ultimately tragic (although mixed, perhaps, with ridiculous comedy in the meantime, since pride can lead either to tragic fates, to foolish conduct, or sometimes, as in Faustus’s case, to both).
What is most surprising about Faustus’s situation is that he remains stubbornly proud until the very last moment. The pride that has caused him to make so many absurd choices throughout his life leads him to continue to make absurd assumptions and choices until the very end, when he is dragged off to hell. Many specific pieces of evidence in the final scene indicate the depth, and the persistence, of Faustus’s pride. They include the following:
- Faustus announces that he has just one hour to live (13.58), when he might potentially live much longer if he were just willing to ask God for forgiveness.
- Faustus assumes that he “must be damned perpetually” (13.59; emphasis added), when in fact this is by no means a foregone conclusion.
- Faustus once again assumes that he “must be damned” (11.68; emphasis added), another foolish assumption. Ironically, his sense that he will inevitably be damned is rooted in his pride, since he seems to assume (at times) that his sins are so great that God cannot forgive them. He thus presumes to limit God’s power.
- Faustus, proudly unwilling to accept his personal responsibility for his predicament, tries to blame that predicament on the stars (81), his parents (103), and even Lucifer (104). Rarely and only erratically does he admit that he is the cause of his apparently impending damnation.
- Faustus often talks in the final scene about the possibility of repentance and forgiveness, but he never actually repents and never actually asks for forgiveness. He seems so proudly obsessed with histrionically lamenting his supposed fate that he never even tries to pray to God.
Christian theology in the Renaissance taught that all fallen human beings are afflicted with pride. Pride caused Satan to be expelled from heaven, and pride caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from paradise. Faustus, of course, having studied theology, knows this, but he conducts himself as one of the most foolishly proud characters in all of Renaissance literature.
The lesson of Faustus's pride is emphasized in the play's final lines, in which the Chorus comments on the intellectual
. . . deepness [that] doth entice such forward wits [that is, ambitious minds]
To practice more than heavenly power permits.