The Pursuit of Ultimate Knowledge: Doctor Faustus' Tragic Quest

Categories: Doctor Faustus
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Doctor Faustus, a talented German scholar who belittles the limits of human knowledge, believes that he has learned all that can be learned by conventional means. What is left for him, he thinks, but magic? He is offered a choice of Christian conscience by a good angel, and the path to damnation by an evil angel. Two fellow scholars, Valdes and Cornelius, teach him the fundamentals of black magic. Eventually, Faustus summons the devil Mephistopheles and the terms of their pact are agreed upon.

In return for his immortal soul, Faustus will be granted twenty-four years of power, with Mephistopheles as his servant. In this play, the writer, Christopher Marlowe used symbolism through the play. Symbolism in general means the presentation of objects, moods and ideas through the medium of emblems or symbols. For example, When Faustus makes his pact with the devil, he signs it with his own blood. But as he goes to write, his blood thickens. That was a key moment in the play.

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Faustus wonders, “What might the staying of my blood portend? / Is it unwilling I should write this bill?” (2.1.62-63).

He thinks since his blood is thickening and clotting it is some type of sign. At this point, Faustus believes his sticky blood is a symbol, a part of himself that’s unwilling to give it all up for the devil and also that Lucifer insists on having the document written in blood. To him, this blood represents Faustus’s person. If he has the blood, he has Faustus.

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So it’s a symbol to Lucifer, too. Without the blood, there’s nothing physical to represent Faustus’s soul. Then, at the end of the play, as he waits for death, Faustus cries out, “One drop of blood will save me. O, my Christ!”. Here, again, blood is a symbol of the whole person—Christ. Another example of symbolism that writer uses is when Faustus resolves to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for Mephistopheles, his decision to give it is not enough. Instead, Mephistopheles tells him, “thou must bequeath it solemnly/And write a deed of gift with thine own blood;/For the security craves Lucifer” (2.1.333-35).

This meant that Dr. Faustus has to sign over his soul in a written contact. Faustus does as Lucifer asks, which was writing a contract that’s gives ownership of his soul to Lucifer in exchange for twenty-four years of having Mephistopheles around to boss. In legal terminology, this contact is called a “deed of gift,” It becomes the symbol of Faustus’s decision to serve the devil; and since some definitions of sin state it as just that the decision to serve the devil instead of God, it also becomes a symbol of sin more generally. The contract is terrifying because it was actually real. It was made of paper and blood, and Faustus and Mephistopheles can see it and hold it in their hands.

So while Faustus’s decision to serve the devil is not much more than an idea, this is an object that Lucifer can point to and say you belong to me. Faustus’s decision is put into document form to symbolize just how difficult, if not impossible, it will be Faustus to take back even if he really wants to. In conclusion, the writer, Christopher Marlowe used symbolism to his advantage which intensified the tragic appeal of this great drama.

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The Pursuit of Ultimate Knowledge: Doctor Faustus' Tragic Quest. (2016, Jun 12). Retrieved from

The Pursuit of Ultimate Knowledge: Doctor Faustus' Tragic Quest

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