Dr. Faustus vs. Dr. Frankenstein

While reading Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, I couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblances to Mary Shelley’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 life’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:

“Couldst thou make men to live eternally,

Or, being dead, raise them to life again,

Then this profession were to be esteemed.”

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 Frankenstein’s monster? Each was “summoned” and although thought to be a helpful companion at first, creates obstacles for both characters. Both “monsters” have superhuman abilities and minds but why were their “creators” 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: “…these last days I have not been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blameable”. 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:  “a surfeit of deadly sin, that hath damned both body and soul.”

With Faustus’ 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 Frankenstein’s work as “esteemed”?

I think every reader has a different answer to these questions as with most critical readings. I can’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.

Works Cited:

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

Shelley, Mary. “Frankenstein”. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2010. Print.

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3 Responses to Dr. Faustus vs. Dr. Frankenstein

  1. Hayley Dunmire says:

    Hi Madelyn I have read Frankenstein and I thought your post was very interesting. I had not put the two together but now that you have suggested it I can see the connections! Another thing I noted with both texts is that Frankenstein and Dr. Faustus are in search of powers similar to that of God to reach his status (Frankenstein to create life and Dr. Faustus to gain more knowledge). In both aspects they eventually meet death which I think shows a similar moral in that man should not try to reach the higher powers of God. Perhaps these two tales share a similar moral in that it is a warning to individuals in pursuit of higher abilities in that they will never achieve more than a human status. Perhaps Dr. Faustus and Frankenstein are ways to show that humans are not meant to reach the power of God and the pursuit of greatness will eventually lead to your downfall. This is also a commonality with the Bible and how Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in pursuit of knowledge and power to be closer to God. However I think we will talk more about this when we read Paradise Lost.

  2. OliviaH says:

    Madelyn,

    Good job with your close reading! I’m reading Frankenstein in my other class and the way you connected the character of Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Faustus to each other really intrigues me. I didn’t think about that when I read both texts! I think it’s interesting when you point out that the both of them were in search for a darker form of knowledge. You wrote that the knowledge they were seeking for ultimately led to their demise. For Frankenstein, his knowledge came through science whereas Dr. Faustus was through necromancy. In an earlier post, it mentioned that all academic study can be described as a kind of necromancy. I assume that this means that science is thus also considered to be a form of necromancy. I don’t know if you wanted to imply this but I get the feeling that you mean science has the potential to lead to a darker form of knowledge. Both Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Faustus were looking for knowledge, but it becomes a darker form of knowledge, so they end up getting more than they asked for; they both get darker power with darker knowledge. They can’t control the power that they summoned. Going back to the question you posed about whether they would have become friends or rivals, I think they would end up being rivals because both of them would continue searching for more knowledge and thus they also have to deal with more power that comes with knowledge. They would both try to achieve that higher understanding and knowledge.

  3. jddieu says:

    Hey Madelyn,

    Interesting comparison between the two texts, especially in regards to the four bullet-pointed notes concerning the subtle details that both Dr Frankenstein and Dr Faustus had in common. Indeed the motivations of garnering greater knowledge (perhaps fueled by pride) caused both the titular characters their demise. A question to ponder is the deliberation of the limits of our pursuits; how far should we go to get the answers we seek, what is the “final frontier” through which we should endeavour no further? In our contemporary societies, the yearning for ultimate knowledge and absolute capabilities kindles humanity to defy the shifting, retreating barriers of morality, nature and ethics in the name of progress and advancement, and inadvertently we often leap before we look, and though the consequential effects and impacts of our actions reverberate throughout the course of time we rarely reconsider the mythologies and means to quell our unchecked motives. It is true that many of these attempts have been positively augmenting the world especially in technological and medicinal fields, yet the collateral damages and by-products are symptomatic evidences of the devastating causalities of this relentless pursuit. However, can the question be answered definitively? Perhaps not. Nevertheless its consideration is crucial to the integrity and health of our world. In response to your question, I feel that Faustus would have been repelled by the horror of Frankenstein’s creation; particularly the appearance of the monster. In many instances in Marlowe’s text, we see that Faustus repeatedly demands that the demons he summons change their visage into one more pleasing to his sight. However, the power that Frankenstein had in reanimating life, I feel, would have greatly impressed and intrigued Faustus.

    John Dieu
    21.10.12

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