Breaking the Mould of Learning: The Limitations of Medieval Necromancy

‘Necromancy’, in it’s most basic sense, is obtaining information from dead people in any way, shape, or form. Doctor Faustus brought Mephastophilis up from Hell to aid him with the art of dark magic, but he only did so because he was completely bored of the traditional medieval system of obtaining knowledge: necromancy without progress or application.

Faustus says;

“O what a world of profit and delight,

Of power, of honor, of omnipotence

Is promised to the studious artisan!” (1.1 53-55)

In the footnote, the word ‘artisan’ refers to a “practitioner of an art; here, necromancy” (pg.1130). So Faustus is comparing magic with an art, of which, when compared with science in that age, has arguably no limits to knowledge and thus immensely appeals to a scholar of such prestige.

In the middle ages, the only way people learned anything was if it was passed down by some old, wise, important (possibly dead) man. The concept of finding things out for yourself through experimentation or application of theory was out of the question. Thus, scientific progress was at a standstill. Religion was all the confirmation that people needed to believe anything they were told. You can imagine how frustrated Faustus, or anyone for that matter, would be if he had exhausted every scientific discipline to the extent of what someone before him knew, with no way of progressing forward. Inherently, like a normal human being, he lusts for the thrill of discovery.

Does he really deserve to have his soul taken away for the mere pleasure of this discovery that a modern person experiences every day? What’s the point of living in a world where you know everything (evidently) there is to know in the human realm? Who could possibly blame Faustus for letting his imagination run away with him? His brain obviously isn’t preoccupied with anything else.

In modern times, we still learn from the findings of great scholars, dead or otherwise. Even if we now have the capacity to move forward in our findings, every formula, every technique, every pattern has been discovered by somebody who will eventually be dead. If anything is to be passed on to the next generation that is worth knowing for the sake of human advancement, that is necromancy. However, it is a very different necromancy than that which tortured Faustus into selling his soul to Lucifer to satisfy a basic human desire.

Works Cited:

Marlowe, Christoper. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

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One Response to Breaking the Mould of Learning: The Limitations of Medieval Necromancy

  1. rubyalsharaf says:

    I really enjoyed your argument of “science vs. magic” and “knowledge vs. necromancy”. The question that you proposed in your blog: “Does he really deserve to have his soul taken away for the mere pleasure of this discovery that a modern person experiences every day”, is an interesting one because if we compare Faustus to a modern day scholar, there is so much readily available knowledge (internet, t.v., podcasts, books, etc).
    Even our smart phones and iPods have internet and hundreds of apps that let us have knowledge right at our fingertips.
    No need for blood written contracts anymore lol.

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