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What does Marlowe's presentation of Mephastophilis tell an audience about sixteen century ideas of hell and damnation?

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Introduction

What does Marlowe's presentation of Mephastophilis tell an audience about sixteen century ideas of hell and damnation? Literary works in sixteenth- century England were rarely if ever created in isolation from other currents in the social and cultural world and Marlowe's Dr Faustus is no exception. It is significant that Marlowe's great play was written at a time in which the possibility of sorcery was not merely a theatrical fantasy but a widely shared fear. Dr Faustus was also performed at time in which many artists such as Bosch and Jacques Callot were depicting horrific images of hell in their paintings making the play all the more disturbing to the medieval audience. Marlowe's tragedy emerges not only from a culture in which bargains with the devil are imaginable as real events but also from a world in which many of the most fundamental assumptions about spiritual life were being called into question by the movement known as the reformation. The character of Mephastophilis plays a pivotal role in Dr Faustus as it is through him that Marlowe expresses his views on sin, redemption and damnation. Mephastophilis presents a particularly intriguing portrayal of hell and encapsulates the audience from his very first appearance on stage. The audience first encounter Mephastophilis when he is summoned by Faustus' chants. This is significant as one of the central questions in the play is weather Faustus damns himself or if he is somehow entrapped. ...read more.

Middle

As the play progresses we see that on several occasions Faustus wavers in his conviction to sell his soul. This is seen by the continuous verbal duels between the good and bad angel. It is also evident that in each case Mephastophilis is present to dissuade him from repenting and appealing for God's mercy. This suggests that once you have sworn allegiance to the devil it is difficult to escape from the clutches of their evil. Mephastophilis who despite initially warning Faustus against this pact now seems dedicated to ensuring Faustus remains loyal to Lucifer. Faustus suffers his first bout of indecision when he tries to write the deed but his blood congeals. As Faustus contemplates whether this is a physical warning not to make a pact with the devil, Mephastophilis immediately goes to fetch fire in order to loosen the blood, leaving Faustus with little time to reflect on this warning. When Mephastophilis returns, Faustus signs the deed and then discovers an inscription on his arm that reads 'Homo fuge', Latin for 'O man Fly'. While Faustus wonders where he should fly Mephastophilis presents a group of devils who cover Faustus with crowns and garments and immediately Faustus puts aside his doubts. He hands over the deed and promises his body and soul to Lucifer in exchange for twenty-four years of constant service from Mephastophilis however it is not long before his thoughts return to God and he wonders if it is too late to repent. ...read more.

Conclusion

Nothing of substance emerges from Faustus' magic in this scene or anywhere in the play, and the man who boasts he will divert the River Rhine and reshape the map of Europe now occupies himself with revenging a petty insult by placing horns on the head of the foolish knight. As the play progresses, though, Faustus' grandeur diminishes, and sinks down toward the level of the clowns, suggesting that degradation precedes damnation a view that was widely accepted in the 16th century. These scenes also reinforce the point that the devil is less powerful than God as all of Mephastophilis power only provides Faustus with the feeble ability to produce only impressive allusions. The presentation of Mephastophilis is essential in Dr Faustus as it is through this character that Marlowe portrays how hell was perceived in the 16th Century. Marlowe's presentation of hell is horrific exploring the grotesque like much of Rabeles work. It is evident that it was widely believed that those who sinned and swore allegiance to the devil would be damned to hell, the thought of which instilled horrific fear within the medieval audience. The presentation of Mephastophilis before he departs and returns dressed as a Franciscan Friar conveys how horrendous people perceived hell to be in the 16th century. Within this play there is a prominent moral warning advising against any pact with the devil as Marlowe suggests that when one detaches themselves from God they are denying themselves access to higher things thus leaving themselves nowhere to go but down. ...read more.

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