Ignorance is Bliss? Not quite…

Having never read Doctor Faustus, I attempted to look for parts of the text that didn’t quite seem straightforward. A particular passage that made me ponder was in Scene 3, lines 76-81 (pg 1136). Faustus questions Mephastophilis on his fall from heaven and how he is out of hell if he is damned there? He tells Faustus that he has never left hell. Having once been an angel, he has seen the face of God and “tasted the eternal joys of heaven” (78). He continues stating that being deprived of the everlasting bliss that is heaven is in itself the hell that torments him. Lastly, he implores Faustus to “leave these frivolous demands” (82) and advises him to not pursue black magic any further. What really intrigued me was Mephastophilis’ attempt to convince Faustus to no longer follow through with his plans. There’s a slight paradox here in the sense that a demonic entity is advising a potential victim, for lack of a better word, to not sell his soul and join the dark side. What are Mephastophilis’ motives behind this advice? From what I’ve gathered from scary TV documentaries and movies is it is certainly not characteristic of demonic entities to be helpful and to look out for ones best interests!

Digging deeper into this curious advice from Mephastophilis and to answer the question, I started thinking about why he would even bother to give Faustus this advice. Perhaps if someone or something had been there to stop Mephastophilis from selling his soul, he wouldn’t have done it. His warning seems to predict or foreshadow what is to come for Faustus. It’s almost as if he offers him a ‘get out of jail free’ warning. He knows all too well what will await Faustus when his 24 years are up. It is here where you can see there’s a similarity between the two characters. Both thought they could handle hell and both thought they would never regret their decisions. However, by the end of the story, Faustus is absolutely petrified with what awaits him in hell when his contract expires. I think that perhaps Mephastophilis sees history repeating itself and tries to spare Faustus from the horror that he knows is hell.

On a side note, Mephastophilis is just the first of three warnings Faustus encounters before signing the contract to Lucifer. The second being Faustus’ blood clotting when he tries to write the contract and the third being the transcription appearing on his arm advising him to flee and get away from the deal. I found this particularly interesting because in the Christian faith, the number 3 is very symbolic, representing the presence of the Holy Trinity.

I wonder, did Marlowe intentionally have three warnings for Faustus or was this just a coincidence? Is this supposed to signify God attempting to intervene and save Faustus? What would this communicate to the audience watching the play during this time period?


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

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4 Responses to Ignorance is Bliss? Not quite…

  1. Stephanie Van Dewark says:

    I’m sorry I don’t have anything overly intelligent to say. But thank you for the Garfield cartoon. That’s hilarious!

  2. amsovak says:

    I also enjoyed the Garfield cartoon.

    I enjoyed how you pointed out the significance of the number 3 in the Christian religion as well as the fact that Faustus indeed seems to recieve three warnings. I did not notice that, initially. It seems that sometimes we get so caught up in our close reading we miss some of the most obvious signs!

  3. thetheresak says:

    Firstly, I really enjoyed reading your post. I agree with the others that the Garfield post was a great touch.

    Secondly, I also found Mephastophilis’s attempt to convince Faustus to abandon his want of selling his soul interesting. I too assume that Mephastophilis sees the past repeating itself. This actually led me to think of Mephastophilis as a tragic character. He seems to be stuck in his hellish position, only collecting souls to occupy himself instead of burning in eternal hell thinking of his downfall. Maybe his attempt to warn Faustus of hell’s despair is for both Faustus’s and Mephastophilis’s good. Maybe Mephastophilis’s motive was to save a soul rather than taking one? Maybe he saw this as a chance to do an angel’s deed – something he would’ve known from his time as one – even though he is a servant and occupant of hell?

    Thirdly, in response to your first question I thought about both the Holy Trinity and the rule of three used in fictional works. Your suggestion of the Holy Trinity is a completely plausible – and the more likely intention – especially because the play does revolve around Christianity, or more specifically Catholicism. Although, if Marlowe didn’t consciously mean to symbolise the Trinity, then I would suggest the rule of three that is used in various works. But, I guess we’ll never know what Marlowe really intended. To try to answer your third question I think that a Renaissance audience watching would not immediately translate the three warnings into an association with the Trinity because that is a universal Christian idea. The play seems to target Catholicism, so I think they would only recognise the mockery of most Catholic tradition, rather than Christian beliefs in general.

    Overall, great work! It really led me to think more about Mephastophilis and the play at whole.

  4. lcmillar says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It got me thinking. Some might disagree with me, but i do think that ignorance is bliss. If you do not know the consequence of your actions or are not aware of certain evils in the world, you can live unbothered by this. I am not saying this is right as we do have a obligation to be aware of such things but it is easier to live this way and perhaps a little selfish. However Dr. Faustus does not live in such an ignorant state. As you said, he is given ample warnings (three) that are very clear what the consequences will be, and what awaits him if he does sign the deal with Lucifer. I think this takes away some sympathy that we may have towards Dr. Faustus having to endure hell as he was well aware of the consequences and still chose to pursue the deal so that he could have the power of using dark magic. I really liked the Garfield clip you included! In a way it takes the sympathy away as the guy in the clip should clearly run away at this point but is persuade by an clearly evil character. I think this highlights you have the ability to choose, we have free will, and especially when we can learn from previous mistakes, or in Dr. Faustus’ case from clear warnings to choose the right thing. If not i think at this point you must live with the consequences of your decision, as Dr. Faustus is doomed to do.

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