Marlowe’s Faustus is anything but a hero. He gives up heaven, and sells his soul to the Devil; but he does not derive the slightest benefit from his agreement, as he never becomes the master of the Spirit who has sworn to serve him, and employs his agency for mere frivolous uses. The thirst of supernatural knowledge is, one might say, little more than a specious pretext for Faustus to abjure God and the simple faith of his contemporaries; after a few questions about heaven, and earth, and astronomy in general, Faustus devotes himself to mere trifles and childish pastimes. If the legend meant to insinuate that the Devil and the world cannot offer us greater satisfaction than God and religion, and that by turning to the first we endanger our soul’s health without gaining any corresponding advantage, simply because the Devil has nothing but trifles to offer- this is indeed sound doctrine, but does not admit of much dramatic treatment by itself. In Marlowe’s play even this feature is not fully brought out in the shape of a struggle of passion and reason, but is only occasionally insinuated; and now and then we hear of Faustus’ repining at his bargain, when he is regularly ‘put down’ by some rough words of Mephistophiles or Lucifer.
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