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During Christopher Marlowe’s time and for centuries before then, “pride,” or self-centeredness, was considered one of the “seven deadly sins.” It was in fact considered the root of all other sins. In other words, every other sin was believed to result from a kind of selfishness that prevented a proper and worthy focus on God. Pride actually appears as a character in Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus not only as one of the seven deadly sins but as the first of the sins presented. This order of presentation is not an accident but was in fact entirely typical of the way the sins were usually presented when they appeared as characters in medieval and Renaissance literature. Standard Christian theology taught that all sin resulted, ultimately, from self-centeredness.
Doctor Faustus’s own pride appears throughout the drama. Consider, for instance, the scene in which he first summons a demon to be his servant. When Mephastophilis does appear, the first thing that Faustus tells him is that he should improve his appearance, since “Thy art too ugly to attend on me.” This statement reflects not only Faustus’s pride but also his tendency to make very superficial judgments. Faustus should know that Mephastophilis will remain spiritually ugly no matter how acceptable his external appearance may be.
While Mephastophilis is off-stage, improving his appearance, Faustus displays his pride once more, this time by congratulating himself on the efficacy of his magical powers. He praises Mephastophilis for his “obedience and humility” (two traits that Faustus himself sorely lacks) and then proceeds to praise himself some more:
Now Faustus, thou art conjurer laureate
That canst command great Mephastophilis.
He reveals his pride again when he tells Mephastophilis that the latter’s job will be to do anything Faustus tells him to do, and he is a bit surprised when Mephastophilis reveals that he came to earth not because of Faustus’s magical spells but simply because he had heard Faustus “rack the name of God.” However, instead of responding to this revelation as a reason to feel humble, Faustus essentially ignores Mephastophilis’s comment as well as the implied warnings the demon now gives him.
Although Mephastophilis makes it clear that hell is hardly an appealing place, Faustus boastfully (and stupidly) declares (speaking of himself in the third person), “This word damnation terrifies not him.” Later, he also arrogantly refers to “these vain trifles of men’s souls.” When Mephastophilis explicitly reveals that Satan fell because of “aspiring pride and insolence,” Faustus fails to see the obvious relevance of this remark to his own attitudes and behavior. Later, when Mephastophilis himself expresses regret that he followed Satan and was thus condemned to hell, Faustus accuses him of being weak and cowardly. Faustus arrogantly advises the demon to “Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude.” But Faustus’s supposed strength is actually a reflection of his pride and spiritual weakness.
In short, practically every statement Faustus makes in the play reveals his pride in one way or another, just as his statements usually also reveal his foolishness.
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