For a lean, straightforward examination of what dooms Dr. Faustus, I strongly recommend John McCloskey's "The Theme of Despair in Marlowe's Faustus" (College English, Vol. 4, No. 2; Nov. 1942). "Faustus is, undoubtedly, the embodiment of the Renaissance thirst for knowledge, but he is, at the same time, an illustration of the medieval concept of despair," asserts McCloskey. And there's the rub. It is his sin of despair--the loss of hope that he can be forgiven by God--that proves his ultimate demise. Until the final hour, writes McCloskey, there is still the opportunity for Faustus to repent ("Never too late," says the Good Angel, and "Then call for mercy" advises the old man), yet "Too grievous has been his sin, so he thinks, for the wrath of God to endure." Faustus's character defects of pride and ambition trigger his downfall, but it is despair--the sin against the Holy Spirit--"which finally and irrevocably ruins him."
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, September 2008
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