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Comparing Doctor Faustus and Paradise Lost
Both Faustus and Satan rebel against God, but for different reasons.
Faustus grows bored of his scholarly studies and is enticed by magic; "Tis magic, magic that hath ravished
me". He believes "A sound magician is a mighty God" and therefore turns his back on God in his lust for power
and omnipotence. He rebels against God by turning to black magic, and by striking a contract with the devil.
Mephistopheles orders Faustus to "Abjure the scriptures and his saviour Christ". He is asking that Faustus
rejects the Bible and God in order to follow Lucifer. Faustus seems indifferent or unaware of the fact that
rebelling against God will leave him damned.
Satan rebels against God due also to a lust for power "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven". He
believes he is superior to God and refuses to acknowledge God's divine superiority, describes him as ruling
merely through ancient custom rather than strength; "Sat on his throne, upheld by old repute, consent or
custom". One could argue that Book One of `Paradise Lost' reflects the political events of the time. Like God
in Paradise Lost, Charles I believed he had been called to rule by God's command rather than the will of the
people. He quarrelled bitterly with Parliament, and finally in 1642 he took up arms to crush the forces of
Parliament in civil war. Milton supported the Republican cause of Oliver Cromwell, who could be viewed as
similar to Satan in `Paradise Lost' because he rebelled against the monarchy, a hierarchy never before
questioned or challenged.
Faustus also rebels against Catholicism. He orders Mephistopheles to "Return an old Franciscan Friar; that tidy
shape becomes a devil best". This is an anti-catholic jibe at the alleged corruption of Friars to a Protestant
audience. Faustus also destroys the Pope's banquet in Act 3 Scene 1. This could be seen as Faustus joining
forces with the monarchy because at the time Queen Elizabeth I was struggling against a strongly Catholic
Europe to maintain the Protestant religion established by her father Henry VIII. When Doctor Faustus was
written, Catholicism had been banned in England since Queen Elizabeth I succeeded her sister Mary in 1558
and the Pope was often seen as the Antichrist. The Catholic Church was commonly referred to as the `whore
of Babylon'. Therefore contemporary audiences would have been on Faustus's side, ready to roar with
laughter at the slapstick comedy and mockery of the Pope.
Satan and Faustus could in some ways both be viewed as tragic heroes.
Satan appears to be the hero of Book One, albeit an evil hero. His courage in the face of adversity is admiral;
unlike Faustus, he is aware of the consequences of his actions eternal damnation. Yet he is resolute in his
decision and does not even consider repentance, which could indeed be seen as the easier option; "not for
those do I repent or change,/Though changed in outward lustre". He chides Beelzebub for his uncertainty and
weakness; "Fallen cherub, to be weak is miserable" and displays his power of speaking by rallying the fallen
angels, initially described as "abject" and "entranced", through the force of his persuasive speeches
addressed to them and using various tactics. He appeals to their sense of pride when he offers two reasons
for their languid behaviour; they are either resting after battle, a worthy reason, or they have admitted
defeat, a cowardly and unworthy reason. Satan also rouses the angels by mocking and taunting them; "have
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He flatters the angels, addressing them with their former titles of rank.
Faustus could also be viewed as a tragic hero in that he is a tragic protagonist brought down by a fatal flaw.
George Santayana, for example, identifies `Doctor Faustus' as "the most nearly Satanic tragedy that can be
found". Faustus represents mankind because he is easily persuaded, gives in to temptation and repeatedly
sins against God.…read more
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Both main characters have companions that warn them of damnation but neither seem to comprehend the
consequences that will damn them and therefore don't seek redemption. Beelzebub and Mephistopheles
both warn of eternal punishment and the consequences of seeking power above rank.
In a 1980 production of Faustus, Patrick MeGee's Mephistopheles "became a passive and helpless spectator
of Faustus' ruin, an almost fatherly figure hopelessly watching his son slide down the same slippery slope as
he had once slid himself".…read more
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Helen of Troy, who leads Faustus to definite damnation as having sex with a devil is
considered one of the ultimate sins. Faustus says to her "O, thou art fairer than the evening air, clad in the
beauty of a thousand stars". Elizabeth Taylor, an iconic symbol of sex in the 1960s, played Helen in the 1967
Evil is also portrayed as appealing in both texts because it is associated with power and control.…read more