Is Doctor Faustus misled by the devil or willfully blind in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus?

Quick answer:

In Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Faustus is both misled by the devil and willfully blind. While the devil manipulates him, Faustus willingly seeks power through the black arts and dismisses opportunities for repentance. His scholarly background and calculated decisions indicate his deliberate actions. However, he's deluded about his control over the forces of Hell, misunderstanding the true power dynamics. Ultimately, his refusal of salvation stems from a fear of suffering, revealing his delusion about his pact with the devil.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Faustus is misled by the devil, because that is what the devil does—he is the Prince of Lies. But primarily and overwhelmingly, Faustus is willfully blind to his situation—he wants power, which is why he turned to the black arts to the begin with, and even the good angel who...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

arrives to persuade him against selling his soul while Faustus is negotiating with the devil can't sway him. Faustus willfully stabs his own arm and writes out the pact with the devil in his blood. He wants to be "omnipotent." He freely chooses his path.

At the end of the play, too, Faustus has every chance to repent and turn back to God. The Old Man, God's representative, tries to persuade him to repent, because even at that late hour, God would forgive him. But Faustus is proud and self-willed to the end and only believes what he wants to believe, which is his downfall. Because he can't conceive that God would forgive him, he is dragged to everlasting torment.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Doctor Faustus misled by the devil or is he willfully blind to his situation in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus?

As to whether Faustus is misled about or willfully self-blinded to his situation, it is difficult to argue either of these points from the text. Marlowe's text makes it rather clear that Faustus is deliberate and precise in his calculations, considerations and estimations that lead to his choices. He knows precisely what he does not want and why. He knows precisely what he does want and why. He knows precisely what his end objectives are and why.

First, he is a distinguished scholar of every academic field there was. He has come to a juncture where he is to choose one field to devote his professorship to, to choose what to profess. He evaluates the essential foundations of each field and rejects them based upon disagreement with or flaws in the fundamental logic or premise of each. 

Next, he examines the thus untried field of magic, necromancy, and enumerates its various strong points. Marlowe shows here that (1) Faustus craves further and deeper knowledge: he is still at heart a scholar, though an insatiable one; and (2) Faustus craves earthly rewards that he has previously set aside in the pursuit of knowledge: he now wants unlimited power and wealth to accompany his unlimited knowledge.

One thing that Faustus is is that he is deluded. He is deluded about what kind of and what degree of authority he has over the forces of Hell that he calls upon with his chants and incantations. He believes he can command according to his fancy. This deluded belief is strengthened by the apparent ease with which he confines Mephistophilis to his will on their first encounters. What Faustus does not understand is that it is Mephistophilis who confines Faustus and that it is Lucifer who confines Mephisto. This is where the mistaken flaw in Faustus's plan lies: he does not understand the powers that he is calling upon.

Another reason it is hard to argue either position is that Marlowe includes the Bad and the Good Angels and the Old Man who describe his situation quite well from both perspectives.

GOOD ANGEL.
     Faustus, repent; yet God will pity thee.
EVIL ANGEL.
     Thou art a spirit; God cannot pity thee.
FAUSTUS.
     Who buzzeth in mine ears I am a spirit?
     Be I a devil, yet God may pity me;
     Ay, God will pity me, if I repent.

Assuming that the question really relates to why Faustus refuses salvation in the end, the real reason he fails to accept salvation is that he has a mortal fear of suffering. Once Mephisto begins to threaten violence, Faustus quails with fear and succumbs to Mephisto's power over him. So while it is difficult to argue that he was blinded or misled, it is textually arguable that he was deluded about who would hold power over whom once his contract with the devil was signed: they had power over him, he was to find.

MEPHIST.
    Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul
     For disobedience to my sovereign lord:
     Revolt, or I'll in piece-meal tear thy flesh.

Last Updated on