1139-1144: Misery Loves Company

Faustus’s internal conflict is between his desire to soothe intellectual misery by answering all questions to everything (appetite, the Evil Angel), and listening to his conscience inevitably rounded by the theological beliefs of the time (reason, the Good Angel). I think the Evil Angel and Good Angel represent a splitting of Faustus’s soul and conscience. What labels specific knowledge as “forbidden” is the threating development of the psyche—can the mind sanely tolerate it? Does Faustus struggle with a kind of inescapable intellectual insanity? Faustus displays atheist qualities when he states “the god” he “servest is thine own appetite” (5.0, 11). The hunger of the tortured intellectual is what Faustus desperately seeks to soothe. He has no definite theological longing; the rituals he undertakes are suitable concepts to frame his cravings:

Wherein is fixed the love of Belzebub.

To him I’ll build an altar and a church,

And offer lukewarm blood of newborn babes (5.0,12-15)

Satan is a means to an end, not an end itself. God represents restrictive concepts following reason, while Satan seems unconstrained. Faustus follows the concept that will fulfill his personal end—enlightenment and complete knowledge of the world. This is revealed through his eager interest in “who made the world” (5.0, 240), the “characters and planets of the heavens” (5.0, 167-68), and “all plants, herbs, and trees that grow upon the earth” (5.0, 172-73). Once he has obtained all knowledge, he will be an omnipotent being no longer tortured by questions of bodily existence. Although Faustus seems to indoctrinate the ethics of Satan, he continually mocks and questions the essence of hell:

Come, I think hell’s a fable.


Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine

That after this life there is any pain?

Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.


How, now in hell? Nay, and this be hell, I’ll willingly be

damned here! (5.0, 126-137)

Faustus does not hesitate selling his soul to Satan (pg. 1140) because he longs to be freed from the limitations of reason/being and conscience. He does not have a grounded fear of the divine, and he desires the immunity of no conscience. Unfortunately, he cannot escape the fact that theological values are ingrained deeply in 16th Century society and psyche. This explains why Faustus is constantly conflicted—it is the underlying psyche rooted within, completely beyond his control:

Why waverest thou? O, something soundeth in mine ears:

“Abjure this magic, turn to God again”

Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again.

To God? He loves thee not. (5.0, 7-10)

What haunts Faustus are beliefs he “technically” does not hold, and this intrinsic turmoil is displayed in the continuous denial and acceptance that he is damned:

Scare can I name salvation, faith, or heaven,

But fearful echoes thunders in mine ears,

“Faustus thou are damned” (5.0, 194-197)

Faustus ultimately does not accept the theological aspects of the divine until the very end, when he cries to burn his books (13.0, 113). Do certain endeavours of the human mind separate one from the soul? Is intellectual insanity caused by a physical limitation of the mind? How do you approach knowledge without conflict from the conscience?

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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5 Responses to 1139-1144: Misery Loves Company

  1. Stephanie Van Dewark says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I particularly liked how you highlighted that Faustus does not just sell his soul to gain knowledge, but to \free\ himself from the constraints of Gad and religion. It’s an effective idea because it makes me think about the limitations of Faustus’ character in a new light. I also thought you posed some interesting questions at the end of your post. Though I was little bit confused by the one about \intellectual insanity.\ Intellect, for me, is a rationalizing force. How can something logical translate into madness?

  2. rubyalsharaf says:

    In Faustus’s case I think the phrase, “intellectual insanity”, is an applicable one because it portrays his desire for intellect yet ironically that desire is his downfall which leads him to the insanity that is Hell. Intellect is a rationalizing force but for Faustus, he still did not believe in Hell after admitting to sell his soul to Lucifer in the presence of another devil (I always found this really strange and ironic that he still denies Hell :S ) which seems very irrational.

    I found your argument of Faustus battling with his ‘intellectual insanity’ and how he is “miserable” because of his desire to obtain all sorts of knowledge as a very interesting one. I think it is also interesting how you pointed out Faustus’s wish to be freed from the constraints of God and his theology yet he [Faustus] agrees to be enslaved by Lucifer. I do have a couple questions for you also: why did you choose the title of “Misery Loves Company”? Is it because Lucifer and his followers wish to possess others in Hell? And do you think this thought ever came across Faustus’s mind? And how does necromancy play into your argument? And do you think that the Good Angel and the Evil Angel represent psychomachia?

  3. rshabalin says:

    Thank you for reading my post!

    Stephanie: I was interested in how you said \intellect is a rationalizing force.\ I do agree that intellect has rational qualities, but don’t you think knowledge inevitably impacts a person on an emotional level? I think this is what truly defines \threatening\ knowledge; how has the knowledge affected the individual’s perspective etc, can they handle the impact of knowledge that asks them to question everything they know? Sometimes appetites overpower the logic, which is what happens to Dr. Faustus. Intellect is also the part of the mind that (in some cases) thirsts for more knowledge. What leads to insanity is the craving is never fulfilled.An individual struggling with intellectual insanity is one who does not feel grounded in their environment, there is an insecure determination to answer questions that technically don’t have a concrete \logical\ explanation, ie.existential questions. Intellectual insanity leads to an overindulgence of knowledge because nothing is being answered–the mind physically cannot handle the overload, and the individual has lost touch with reason/logic.

    \Misery Loves Company\ is said by Mephastophilis Scene 5, line 140. This statement really stuck with me. I titled my post this because I think it applies to Dr. Faustus’s intellectual misery. His intellectual misery desires the unfulfillable comfort and company of knowledge. In the play, knowledge comes in the form of Satan. I think psychomachia is a very good description of the conflict between the Good Angel and the Bad Angel. In Dr. Faustus necromancy (magic) is a form of knowledge that is threatening to the intellectual mind. I think all forms of knowledge conjure/speak to the dead/ghosts, and by continuing the knowledge you keep them alive. You also defy the limitations of your bodily existence because your soul transfers to the that ghost of knowledge. I hope that makes sense.

  4. rshabalin says:

    Stephanie: I just wanted to clarify when I said “nothing is being answered,” I’m specifically referring to unanswerable existential questions. Other things may be answered, but these are not questions that are the roots of the appetite. Dr. Faustus gets the roots of his questions answered at the end of the play.

  5. Athena says:

    Rachel I really enjoyed your post, you raised a lot of interesting points. It makes me wonder in some ways if this play was allegorical for the struggles that an Atheist would have gone through at that time. I know in ye olden days to be an Atheist was more or less taboo, and I think even punishable in certain times and places. Also Marlowe was allegedly (though of course there is no way to know how much truth there is to this claim) Atheist himself. The way Faustus seems to fluctuate between disbelief and fear of both heaven and hell, and ultimately being punished for it could be viewed as symbolic of the experience Atheists might have had in the past.

    This is not necessarily something I believe, I just thought it would be an interesting point to raise.

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