I have so far mainly concentrated on Marlowe’s interest in the nature of human desire because, along with its limits, that is what I believe to be his main focus in the play. However to answer the question fully, both sides have to explored, and, while looking at Marlowe’s interest in Faustus’ soul, so too will the focus on the limits of human desire become apparent because as I have said these limits are controlled by your conscience, morals, and emotions. Faustus’ piers also play a part in the play, they display Faustus’ desire to impress them and to gain their respect.
At the end of the play after Faustus has realised his mistake he says to his friends ‘Gentlemen away, lest you perish with me! … pray for me; and what noise soever ye hear, come not unto me, for nothing can rescue me. ‘ (XIII, 45-51). This is Faustus’ emotion speaking, perhaps even the guilt that he has dragged his friends through so much evil and now must face his punishment alone. So Faustus does have emotions then, he loves his piers enough to get them out of harms way. At this point in the play we ask the question of why Faustus does not repent?
The answer maybe due to his guilt, in his heart he realises he has done wrong, perhaps he realised long ago, but he cannot not repent because his ‘… heart’s so harden’d, I cannot repent! ‘ (V, 196). He realises his fate and knows he cannot repent through the guilt of what he has done. A question that can be asked is whether Faustus ever repents but then falls back on it. He does take the first step towards repentance which is recognising his sins, but he never goes the whole way, perhaps this is because Marlowe does not care for repentance, and so avoids the issue with a line like: ‘but Faustus never shall repent.
‘ (V, 195). The truth of it is Faustus does not believe he can repent because he does not seek it hard enough and only has ‘momentary impulses to call upon Christ’ (Kocher, 112) in moments of pain and weakness. Perhaps the reason for this is again that Marlowe himself does not know how to seek repentance; whatever the case Marlowe is showing quite a deep understanding of Faustus’ soul but he does not seem interested in it. Marlowe spends very little time allowing Faustus to examine his situation in case it ends up in an examination of the state of his soul. Why?
Because that is not what he set out to do when writing this play: if Faustus was to examine the state of his own soul, he would, if being realistic, then surely repent and so Marlowe has failed in his aim; for Marlowe it is much easier and more realistic to avoid the issue as much as possible. And so Marlowe only allows Faustus to think of his soul when it is necessary to the plot: when the two angels appear and in the last two scenes when his death is eminent. However Faustus is continually wavering on his deal with the devil as if to ask when is it too late to repent.
In the last scene Faustus goes as far as asking for his ‘… soul, [to] be changed into little water drops, / And fall into the ocean, ne’er be found. ‘ XIII, 108-109); but is this his guilt telling him to repent or his emotion telling him to be scared and to find a way out? The whole play shows off the fact that Faustus wastes a given opportunity, in his opening speech he says he will ‘reign sole king’ (94) and tells us of his dreams and ambitions what he will fulfil when he turns to the devil.
Faustus never does any of this, he is permanently under the control of Mephastophilis and everything he does is fairly unimpressive considering he has the power of the devil in his command. This shows the limits of human desire, what we do not have we wish for but when we get the opportunity to get it we waste it. ‘Then in the dim, uncontrollable regions of the mind would wait the persuasion of guilt, the ancient terror of Gods anger. The course of Marlowe’s life and of his plays does not indicate that he ever allowed these elements in his nature to dominate him. ‘ (Kocher, 119).
I think the fact that Marlowe was an incredibly talented playwright is the only reason he allowed the state of Faustus’ soul to come into the play, he knew the play must appeal to others, and that it would not make sense without it, but even then the focus on the subject is limited. He was not the type of person to care for an examination of someone’s emotions or even to care whether they were eternally damned. I firmly believe, however, that he wrote the play as a way of getting at the humanists he so disapproved of, and in order to do that he used something he was genuinely interested in, human desire.
Abram, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Harcourt Brace, 1999. Boas, Frederick. Christopher Marlowe A Biographical and Critical Study. Oxford University Press, 1964. Kocher, Paul. Christopher Marlowe. The University of North Carolina Press, 1946. The Norton Anthology, English Literature / M. H. Abrams, general editor: Stephen Greenblatt, associate general editor. 7th ed. W. W. Norton ; Company, 1999. The Oxford School Dictionary. 4th ed. Oxford University Press. http://open.durhamtech.org/british/marlowe.html”>http://open.durhamtech.org/british/marlowe.html.