Explore the tragic nature of Faustus’s final soliloquy.
Doctor Faustus’ closing speech is unquestionably the most emotional scene in Dr. Faustus. His mind moves from idea to idea in desperation and he spends his final hour in vain hoping that he may be spared from his fate. He looks inward for an escape when all he really needs to do is look upward. Lucifer does not send Faustus to hell, Faustus sends himself by not accepting the gift of salvation that God freely offers him right up until the end. This denial of salvation in itself brings out the sheer tragic nature of Faustus, confirming that Faustus is a tragic hero. According to most Elizabethan tragic plays, the essential characteristics of a tragic hero must be failure of judgement and being able to evoke feelings of pity and sorrow in the readers’ mind. Faustus does evoke these feelings but for a number of reasons.
To start off, one of the most obvious forms of tragedy that Marlowe presents in the final soliloquy is the waste of time. A structuralist view on Faustus’s final soliloquy would raise comments on how Marlowe skilfully uses rhythm to underline the passage of time. The starting sentence of his soliloquy is “Now hast thou but one bare hour to live” which is a sequence of monosyllabic words, it is not entirely clear which of them are stressed so it could be said that the line is echoing the striking of the clock (‘The clock strikes eleven’). This echo effect is strengthened by the internal rhyme between ‘Now’ and ‘thou’. The monosyllabic words continue into the next line until the last word: “And then thou must be damned perpetually”. The sudden appearance of the long five-syllable word ‘perpetually’ focuses the readers’ attention on it and alerts us to what it is that Faustus most fears: an infinity of suffering. This idea that he fears perpetual torment is made crystal clear by the hyperbole “Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years, a hundred thousand, and at last be saved.” This fear is what sparks up his desperate and futile plea for time to stand still. However, there is a strong degree of irony brought in by the enjambment:
“Fair nature’s eye, rise, rise again, and make Perpetual day; or let this hour be but A year, a month, a week, a natural day.”
Faustus wishes for time to stop or slow down, but the way one line of verse tumbles into the next, accelerating rather than slowing down the rhythm, seems to signal the inevitable frustration of that wish. This abundant imagery of time in Faustus’s last soliloquy authenticates its tragic nature by highlighting that even in this last moments, he is wasting time instead of repenting. On the other hand, a post- structuralist view on this could evoke ideas that Faustus has finally learnt to respect time. This is because the play is massively ambiguous about what happens in the time between the acts. These ambiguities in time perfectly link with Faustus’s ambiguities of knowledge which is what he is trying to resolve in the play. This lapse of time throughout the play contrasts with his final soliloquy which takes readers through every minute of Faustus’s intimate thoughts as he faces his damnation.
In addition to this, one of the most striking reasons his soliloquy is tragic is because of the way it reverses the dreams of power and glory that Faustus expressed in his first soliloquy. In that speech he declared his desire to be more than human, to be a “mighty god”, but now, as he faces an eternity in hell, he wishes that he were less than human: he longs to be transformed into “some brutish beast”, or the paradoxical statement expressing that his soul might “be changed into little water drops, and fall into the ocean, ne’er be found!”. The alliteration of plosives in ‘brutish beast’ creates a very sharp and shocking effect, mimicking Faustus’s unnerved and perturbed state of mind. This is tragic because of the downfall of his aspirations. Faustus’s self-assertive spirit collapses into a desire for existence; his aspiration to divinity turns into a longing for survival as he seeks desperately to escape from “the heavy wrath of God”. This desperation evokes feelings of pity from the readers, crowning Faustus as the tragic hero of the play. However, even though the last soliloquy overflows with tragic and immoral ideas, some readers might consider them to be acts that should be forgiven. This is because Faustus does nothing to harm anybody other than himself. Put in their historical context, a protestant audience would be more than willing to forgive Faustus for his jesting at the expense of the Pope. Furthermore, while Faustus’s folly is undeniable, one can argue that it need not exclude him from sympathies. Faustus’s error is a repeat of that made by Adam, the progenitor of all humanity. Faustus and Adam both transgress after being overcome by curiosity, that most human of instincts. By damning Faustus, Marlowe makes it clear that his moral failure is being unable to repent and having a lack of faith in God. In this way the play can be seen as a religious discussion commenting on what a lack of faith in God can do.
To conclude, in accord with Elizabethan tragedy, within the seeds of his greatness are the very elements of his own destruction. This is where the tragic condition lies. Faustus seeks to gain more knowledge, more understanding, and more control over his own world and thinks that with omnipotent knowledge, he can free himself from the chains of evil he wrapped so blithely around himself. Adam and Eve also fell to the punishment from the lure of knowledge. Of course, quite often Faustus’ fatal flaw is said to be greed and irreverent disregard for goodness. These attributes are brought to a tragic, as well as ironic condition when it is seen that Faustus’ destruction is not prevented by these qualities, but actually enhanced by them. Marlowe even hints that Faustus has finally realised his fatal flaw right at the end of the play through the declarative phrase “Ill burn my books”. The noun ‘books’ connote to knowledge and resolving ambiguities thus it could be said to be symbolic of Faustus’s ambitions, which ultimately lead to his downfall. Paradoxically, it could be referring to the necromantic books and the action of burning them and hoping that he won’t be dammed brings out his still delusional character because It was usual for magicians who wished to renounce their art to prove their sincerity by disposing of their books. Faustus gets himself in so deep and his tragic flaw or error in judgment is so severe that it ultimately leads to his death, thus fulfilling the fate of an Elizabethan tragic hero.
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Doctor Faustus’ closing speech is unquestionably the most emotional scene in Dr. Faustus. His mind moves from idea to idea in desperation and he spends his final hour in vain […]