While reading Christopher Marloweâ€™s Dr. Faustus, IÂ couldn’tÂ help but notice the striking resemblances to Mary Shelleyâ€™s Frankenstein. The characters of Dr. Faustus and Dr. Frankenstein share common personalities and beliefs. I specifically noticed these similarities in the Prologue and Scene One of Faustus. If you have not finished reading Dr. Faustus (or ever read Frankenstein) there are a few spoilers in this post. I apologize in advance!
Here are some details of similarity I noted:
- Both characters attended university in Germany (Wittenberg and Ingolstadt) and graduated with doctorial status.
- University did not give them the answers they searched for. Instead it led them to search for darker forms of knowledge.
- Both Faustus and Frankenstein live in their heads. Always talking to themselves (Faustus) or internally contemplating lifeâ€™s questions (Frankenstein).
- Each character eventually succumbs to death as a result of their knowledge.
The passage I chose to look at more closely was in Scene I lines 24-26:
â€œCouldst thou make men to live eternally,
Or, being dead, raise them to life again,
Then this profession were to be esteemed.â€
For those of you who do not know the story of Frankenstein, it is precisely based on these three lines from Dr. Faustus. Frankenstein recreates a human and brings it to life. Each character desired more knowledge than they were given at university and went in search for it; Frankenstein through science, and Dr. Faustus through necromancy. Faustus is asking questions of his own ability: Can he bring the dead back to life? Although he does not particularly succeed at this, he does bring about the afterlife in a different form. The thirst for knowledge is both characters greatest weakness and eventually leads each to their death.
Are there similarities between Mephastophilis and Frankensteinâ€™s monster? Each was â€œsummonedâ€ and although thought to be a helpful companion at first, creates obstacles for both characters. Both â€œmonstersâ€ have superhuman abilities and minds but why were their â€œcreatorsâ€ unable to control them, if the power was in their hands? Did Faustus and Frankenstein think too highly of themselves and their mental capabilities?
Frankenstein blames everyone (but himself), for the events that take place after his monster is created. His final words being: â€œâ€¦these last days I have not been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blameableâ€. Even at the end of his life he never admits to sin. In Scene 13 lines 11-12, Faustus admits to sin and understands he is to blame for his own demise: Â â€œa surfeit of deadly sin, that hath damned both body and soul.â€
With Faustusâ€™ words in mind (1.1.24-26), had these two men lived in the same time era (and were real people!) what would the outcome have been? Friends or rivals? Would Faustus see Frankensteinâ€™s work as â€œesteemedâ€?
I think every reader has a different answer to these questions as with most critical readings. I canâ€™t even begin to write answers to some of these questions (and may need to write a Part II of this post). Either way I hope this post has made you think about parts of Dr. Faustus (or Frankenstein) in a new light.
Marlowe, Christopher. â€œThe Tragical History of Dr. Faustusâ€. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print
Shelley, Mary. â€œFrankensteinâ€. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2010. Print.