This week has been challenging- now that my group has an argument, I am looking at Faust not for what interests me but specifically to see: in what was does Marlowe diverge from the accepted theology of the time. Luckily, this is somewhat how I've been looking at the play but now I am searching for an argument that relates. As I re-read the play and look at scholarly articles about the play, the theme of knowledge is evident. The idea of knowledge, and the pursuit of knowledge being damnable- and so, I began to wonder how does Marlowe say something different about knowledge than what was normative. This week I began to think that it is not knowledge that Marlowe is looking at, it's false knowledge, knowledge that lacks. This is the sentence that needs to be unpacked: Faustus is not damned for his knowledge, he is damned for his confused knowledge.
If Faustus is a liar, it is a lie of omission, (or, perhaps, also a lie in bad faith). A lie, yes, but perhaps a lie of a different severity than a blatant lie. I think Marlowe means to paint a picture of Faustus as something other than a sinner. Or perhaps, a sinner in a different sense, a sinner in the Judaic sense where sin is "missing the mark" or "straying from the path" a definition that came back to me when I read the definition of Hamartia: "missing the mark". Considering how readily I saw Faust as a tragic hero of Greek proportions (and it's explicit- he is introduced through Icarus), this shared definition intrigues me. Marlowe suggests that Faust' sin should not be so easily damnable because his sin is not mutually exclusive with a mistake, instead this sin encompasses this mistake. Faust has strayed from the path.
Faust doesn't have accurate information. He is purposefully deceived (sometimes he is more complicit in this deception- it begins to look like self-deception). Things don't appear as they are. Lies look like truths. Evil looks good. Mephistophiles looks like Franciscan friar (at Faust's request, yes: he is in bad faith. Or maybe it's just another joke at the Catholic Church's expense).
So, the question becomes how guilty is Faust? How damnable, how mortal his sin? In a sentencing without a gray area, (he is either innocent or guilty, he either goes to heaven or hell) I think Marlowe means to suggest that he is innocent. The judge of this is how bad do we feel for Faust at the end of the play: Do we believe he's gotten his just deserts? I don't think so. We feel bad not because he is a respectable man, but because he isn't. He is a fool. He talks a good game but he is a fool. He is a fool in two respects. The first, because he is fooled. He is fooled by the evil powers over and over again. He is a fool because he doesn't have the facts straight (the examples of Faust's misinformation and unmet expectations are plentiful).
The other way that he is a fool is why the middle part of the play exists. Faust behaves foolishly. He pulls pranks. We see this very clearly when we look at how Faust uses his dark powers, and how the demonic forces of the play use theirs. The demonic forces use their powers on the intellect, on the soul. They modify truth, they equivocate. In spite of his expression of what he wants to do with his power in the first scenes of the play, Faust's tricks and pranks are bodily, physical. Even his most impressive feat, the flying on dragons bit, is physical. His dabbling in the dark arts is so harmless when compared to Lucifer and Mephistophiles. If he errs, it is harmless. If he is criminal, it is a victimless crime. And here is where Marlowe blasphemes.
Why is Faust punished? Because the God of Elizabethan England is a contradiction. No sin is victimless because every sin is an affront to God. Every sin is a violation of God's will. And the punishment is ostentatious, spectacular: because God is getting revenge. (...yeah this kind of from Foucault- which also speaks to the ubiquitous nature of theology in Marlowe's every day life. This is a... ecclesiasti-political justice. An affront to the accepted theology is an affront to EVERYTHING) Faust's punishment is a display of God's power. And the audience is disturbed, for we don't see how Faust deserves this. Faust's strayed from the path, yes, but does he deserve hell? No. And nor did Eve (because for this argument the stories are as analogous as ever). And here is the contradiction, this God is unforgiving. Eve's God was not a contradiction, because Eve's God hadn't the pretense of being a forgiving God. The God of the New Testament, the God of the Protestant Reformation, the God of Elizabethan England is supposed to be a forgiving God. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe heretically reveals God's face.
And now back to reality. That is probably not a four-minute argument and I have the responsibility of making it a four-minute argument, so obviously it will have to be broken down (which kills me because I wish I could dig in deeper,(- esp to this idea of Faust in bad faith, which isn't complete), not pack it up again. But I've gotta and I'm gonna. That's my challenge as I move forward). And once I have that reduced, considering the structure of our presentation, I need to decide what scenes best represent this. What's nice is that I think the meat of this can be shown in one of the middle scenes, which likely would have gotten the shaft from our presentation otherwise but I think they do say something important. Those middle scenes show Faust to be a fool and put in the context of the first and last scenes- I think our audience will have to be intrigued. The Faust who pretends to have his head knocked off is a different Faust from the eloquent and impressive Faust of the beginning, and the repentant, terrified Faust of the end. I'd be interested in the journey.
An addendum in response to your comments on our argument: The above way of looking at the play may help explain how the play was allowed to be performed. Our group came at this project looking for a rebellious Marlowe, and a lot of that was tied to his atheism. What I encountered when I read the play, and other members had a similar discovery, was that the play really didn't seem atheist. In fact, it seemed to be a morality play, a warning that very much ascribed to what we supposed was the accepted theology of the time. Perhaps Marlowe got this on stage by writing a play that did align with what everyone would have thought (the most obvious way that it diverges is that Faustus is not saved when he repents, but I think this can be explained and that the audience would have accepted this) but that the consequence of this theology is revealed. It conforms, but what does that imply. Perhaps Marlowe depended upon the inability for the censors to effectively censor the emotions in the audience that Marlowe intended to elicit- that is of pity and confusion in regards to Faust's final punishment.