Faustus' Utility Function
by Elmer G. Wiens
Although Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus has outclassed every one at Wittenberg with his academic studies, he is "still but Faustus, a man." Proud of his accomplishments, he desires to become a superman. His judgment clouded by the sin of his pride, he misunderstands his knowledge and dismisses the disciplines of medicine, philosophy, law, and divinity. He lusts for God's capability to "make men live eternally or being dead raise them to life again," believing the devil's arts of magic and necromancy can provide the power, honour, omnipotence and, most importantly, the wealth he craves. His deluded pursuit of the immediate pleasures such wealth can yield brings upon himself the risk of eternal damnation. By conjuring the devil, Faustus removes himself from the influence of the Holy Ghost and God's love, instigating attacks of despair, and internal conflicts as personified by the Good and Bad Angels.
Faustus' hunger for immediate gratification suggests immense self-torment and self-denial. Weighing his options at each instant of time, he maximizes his pleasure and minimizes his pain, apparently discounting the implications of his decisions on his prospects and happiness in the future. Rebelling against God, he invites the devil's temptations, hoping to obtain an offer like Satan's to Jesus in the desert wilderness. One understands why Satan imputes an infinite value to Christ's soul. However, why does Faustus' soul warrant twenty-four years of service by Mephostophilis?
Faustus, too, is a superior being. He consciously removes the yoke of academia, and exerts his free will. After freely entering into his contract with Lucifer, he repeatedly considers repenting. When he calls on Christ to help "save distressed Faustus' soul," the evil trinity of Lucifer, Belzebub, and Mephostophilis appear, possibly to tear him to pieces. Under duress, he vows, "never to name God or pray to him." However, with only one-half hour left on earth, he calls on God. Faustus, forever the horse trader, tries to strike a deal with God. He asks God, for Christ's sake and blood, to limit his time in hell from a thousand to a hundred thousand years. Unlike the pride-deluded horde of fallen angels who incurred an eternity of torment after an eternity of heavenly bliss, Faustus, a human being like Jesus, grasps for a finitude of torment and an eternity of heaven after his earthly bliss of twenty-four years.
Works Cited and Consulted
Marlowe, Christopher. "The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus." The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Volume One. Ed. David Damrosch. New York: Addison-Wesley, 2003. (1143-1191).