Unlike the other gothic protagonists Faustus understands his transgression is wrong from the beginning. How far do you agree with this statement?

One interpretation may be that Faustus recognises that his transgression is wrong from the beginning. In the opening soliloquy he refuses to learn about ‘Aristotle’s words…Galen …or Justinian’. He refuses to study these subjects as he rejects authority. He even goes as far to reject the noble status of ‘Jerome’s Bible’. Here, Faustus acknowledges that he disregards most forms of authority, however his true transgression lies with his rejection of God, ‘despair in God and trust in Beelzebub’.

Faustus recognises that he is aligning himself alongside Mephistopheles and Lucifer in direct opposition to God. His blasphemous and arrogant language prior to and following his transgression mean that he understands that his transgression is wrong but he relishes in his sin too much to ask for forgiveness. As a polymath his hubristic character, a typical trait of a gothic protagonist, result in him transgressing in the opening as well as refusing to repent in his final soliloquy.

However, another interpretation may be that Faustus doesn’t fully understand his transgression. As he is from inferior birth Faustus has managed to acquire knowledge and become a renaissance man.

As social mobility was frowned upon during the Elizabethan times, Marlowe may have been presenting the notion that Faustus is atypical and unlike the norm. His thirst for knowledge and power, both which he lacked in his upbringing, resulted in his transgression.

He was blinded by his pursuit for knowledge ‘these necromantic books are heavenly’. This juxtaposition reflects Faustus’ lack of understanding of how his interest in necromancy can lead to transgression. Describing magic and witchcraft as celestial reflects his ignorance and is evident that he is unaware at the beginning that his transgression is wrong.

Moreover, his dialogue with Mephistopheles suggests that Faustus doesn’t fully comprehend his transgression. Mephistopheles explains to Faustus that ‘where we are in hell and where hell is there must we ever be.’ Faustus questions him about how he is ‘in’ hell how he thrown ‘out’ and ‘where’ hell is.

Faustus registers hell as a geographical place which can be located. He also doesn’t understand that Mephistopheles endures psychological rather than physical pain. Faustus is unable to differentiate the abstract and the literal and as he is dealing with powers that are supernatural he doesn’t fully comprehend that he is being transgressive. He doesn’t understand the supernatural world he is attempting to operate in therefore he will ultimately not understand his offence.

Additionally, Faustus doesn’t understand his transgressive is wrong at the end as well as the beginning. He is in a state of ignorance and façade until his final soliloquy. His encounter with Helen of Troy ’her lips suck forth my soul’ he repeatedly keeps on transgressing throughout the play and it is this sin that finally closes the gates of mercy or Faustus.

It is only then that Faustus recognises his transgressive behaviour but yet fails to repent. He understands then that ‘Faustus’ sin can ne’er be pardoned’. His sins have accumulated to the point where God has refused mercy and benevolence on Faustus. Therefore it could be interpreted that Faustus fails to recognise his transgression the beginning but comes to terms with his impending doom at the end.

Although a different interpretation may be that Faustus recognises his transgression but continues to relish in it. A typical feature of the morality play would be to embody emotions on stage and in this case the Good and Evil angel are embodiments of his conscious. Marlowe may have used them as well as a physical representation of his thoughts.

The angels always appear when Faustus is in doubt and the good angel reminds him to ‘think of god’. Faustus rejects this and prefers to ‘think of wealth’ which is suggested by the evil angel. Therefore Faustus allows himself to transgress further by becoming fixated on wealth and material objects. He allows himself to get swept away and indulge in his sin.

Furthermore the old man says ‘I might have to prevail to guide thy steps unto the way of life’ Faustus feels remorse and replies ‘I do repent yet I despair’. This shows that at the beginning but only felt the need to repent when he is not around devils. The old man, a messianic figure, helps Faustus admit his transgression at the end, despite being aware of it at the beginning.

In conclusion Faustus recognises that he is acting transgressively but doesn’t comprehend it to its fullest extent. His overreaching character is both what causes him to transgress and what doesn’t allow him to repent. He comes to terms with his transgression at the end of the play when it’s too late.

By Libin Farah