The Dangers and Delights of Ambition: Comparing Ambition in Marlowe's Dr Faustus and Milton's Paradise Lost

Topics: Paradise Lost, John Milton, Hell Pages: 5 (2077 words) Published: April 24, 2012
Ambition can consume and overwhelm the initial drive of achieving one's goals, and morph into a manipulative, devastating obsession. However it can also be seen as an empowering trait that liberates one from the status and conformation that they are subjected to. However it can be seen that if left unguarded this consuming desire can catch men, such as Faustus in Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus and Satan, in John Milton's Paradise Lost, in its throes, resulting in their ultimate destruction. This corrupting ambition so prevalent in powerful men, overtakes the rational senses and can become the reason for eternal damnation. It can be said that Faustus is not portrayed entirely as a villain; he is a tragic hero, a protagonist whose character flaws lead to his downfall. The traditional meaning of 'Hamartia' can be applied here as it implies that due to mistake of an individual, it causes their downfall. Faustus' mistake was clearly presumption, pride and love of vain, earthly, moral pleasures. Marlowe fills him with tragic grandeur in the early scenes of the play and his ability to make "spirits fetch what (he) please". The logic he uses to reject religion may be flawed, but there is something impressive in the breadth of his ambition, that "stetcheth" as far as man's imagination, even if he pursues it through blasphemous means. In Faustus’s soliloquy after the two angels have whispered in his ears, his rhetoric outlines the modern quest for control over nature, in this case through magic rather than through science, in glowing, inspiring language. He offers a long list of impressive goals, including the acquirement of "strange philosophy", "for orient pearl" and "gold", that he believes he will achieve once he has mastered the dark arts. While the audience is not expected to approve of his quest, his ambitions are impressive. Later, the actual uses to which he puts his magical powers are trivial, however, at this point in the play, Faustus’s dreams are admirable. These plans are ambitious and inspire awe, if not sympathy. They lend a grandeur to Faustus’s schemes and make his quest for personal power seem almost heroic, a sense that is reinforced by the eloquence of his early soliloquies. He wants knowledge beyond human capacity which is his ultimate downfall. Satan also is delighted with his choice to revolt against heaven when he states "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." He believes that the "mind is its own place" and therefore it can make a "Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven". This is quite a modern idea of hell, that it is within you as opposed to a physical place. This also makes Satan and his fellow rebel angels optimistic about their future as he tells him "all is not lost". Despite this internalising of hell being beneficial to Satan it is not the case for Faustus as Mephistopheles states "why this is hell, nor am I out of it." He depicts the sadness that arises with a separation from God and therefore he clearly demonstrates the dangers of rebellion. He experienced "eternal bliss" and now he believes his hell to be 'ten thousand hells'. In spite of Faustus believing hell to be a "fable", he will ironically repent for his blasphemous ways at the end of the play and Faustus is no longer proud, but he is afraid to turn to God. One can instantly draw parallels with both Satan and Faustus as like Satan, Faustus rebels against God however, he realizes that the freedom from Christian ideology he hoped for is only another form of slavery under the power and ambition of Satan. Therefore the internalisation of Hell shows the delights of ambition for Satan, as he believes he can make the best of hell now that he rules over it, whereas it proves to be dangerous for Faustus who is separated from God. One can argue that in the Christian framework of the play, true greatness can be achieved only with God's blessing. By cutting himself off from the creator of the world and embracing his blasphemous nature, Faustus is...
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