Religion in the Legend of Dr. Faust
1 March 2001
Dr. Faust is a legend from the sixteenth century that tells the tale of a man that sells his sole to the devil for non-human powers. This legend is influenced by the time that it was written. During the sixteenth century religion had a large role on the society. It had affected everything from Government to everyday life for people. This story was set in the area of Europe. Which had a heavily religious influence. The Faust legend employs the notion of black magic and sorcery. This was often related to the devils work in this time due to the role of religion in society.
To add to the beliefs or disbeliefs there were many tragic occurrences going on at the time like the Black plague and war and the small movement away from religion that many feel was brought on by the devil. During times of hardship many people turn to religion to help them get thought the ruff times or they push away from it in wonder why the lord could do such tragic things. Never the less the stories reach both side of the spectrum. If the people believed in the lord heavily they could put the legend in the perspective that this effect of the devil taking the weak but temptations of power that are not humanly possible. On the other hand if you feel that times are hard and you wonder why things happen to good people that follow the lord it can show how someone would fall for the devils deeds. Depression and sadness are considered during this time to be weakness that the devil tends to pick up on hoping to gather the person up to do his dirty work.
During this time era writers would write stories or plays with the influence of the society in their works. So this would cause religion to be a large part of this story. In two different interpretations of the legend of Dr. Faust Christopher Marlowe and Goethe both have heavy influences of religion in their plays even thought they have differences.
Christopher Marlowe’s, Dr. Faustus
Christopher Marlowe was a well-educated man with a degree in divinity much like his story of Dr. Faustus. Which I feel gave him insight to be able to write the play. Not only did he have the degree in divinity he was thought to be an Atheist, which in this era was thought to be the work of the devil. His beliefs did not follow the norm for religion. This ended up being the cause for what many today argue was the cause of his death and that it was faked.
In Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus the main character struggles with the lack of knowledge that he thinks he has, as well, the effect of all the deaths that were caused by the plaque. This troubled Dr. Faustus because he felt at one time that he had the knowledge that he could come to a medicine that would have saved the people from death. He seems to think that he has failed and has convinced himself that he has not knowledge and that he will never gain the kind of knowledge that he dreams of. Here he is weakened into turning to black magic and hoping that it will give him the knowledge that he seeks. This causes the a evil spirit named Mephostophilisto appear and try to encourage Dr. Faustus to give him twenty-four years for the powers that Dr. Faustus seeks, even thought Mephostophisto refuses to tell him the secrets of the creator the lord. The whole idea of trading his sole form powers is a concept that is introduced in the bible. In Matthews Gospel the devil offers Christ a deal were the devil would give him all of the kingdoms in return for his suffering after death.
This is the whole plot behind the story of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.
Influences of religion are also shown in sodality by the fact that part of the acts happen during Easter and the resurrection which in turn brings us back to the concept of the influence of religion on the story. Easter and the resurrection both deal with the forgiveness of sins by the lord by sacrificing his son for mankind. At the end of Goethe’s version of Faust, Dr. Faust is taken by the devil to fulfill his part of the contract, which is a very strong basis of many religions that if you make a pack with the devil then you will be take to his kingdom for eternity. Right out of the bible.
Johann WolfGang Von Goethe’s Dr.Faust
Goethe was an educated man as well and often thought to be one of the greatest writers of his time. He was sent by his father to study law at the University University of Leipzig. By the end of his second semester Goethe had lost interest in the legal studies and felt he had exhausted the limited literary resources to be found at the university. He devoted his energy to learning the manners of polite society, to studying art privately with Adam F. Oeserl, and to cultivating his talent on his own, especially in conversations with his cynical friend Ernst Wolfgang Behrisch,
This interpretation of the legend of Dr. Faust is very similar to Christopher Marlowe’s Faust in terms of the influences of religion except that there is Goethe’s own portrayal of religion and his experiences and the time frame in which his writing were published.
At the beginning of the play called the “Prologue in Heaven” Mephistopheles makes a deal with the lord that he can take Dr. Faust’s from the lord and bring him to the devil for the eternity of his sole. The lord agrees and sends him to try his best to obtain Faust. Religion at this time, which tended to be a catholic influence, believed that one of the deeds of the devil is to try to stray mankind from the lord by tempting man with things that might be superficial or non-human. This I feel is a major indication of religion on the writings. This is a belief that many religions practice and is stated in the bible numerous times.
Another indication of religious impact is that Faust wants to be married to that special person and to have a family. Mephistopheles quickly replies to this idea of marriage because marriage is a bondage that is encouraged by the lord and is look upon heavily by religion. Mephistopheles does not condone this because it is against the devils wishes and that this is another way to pull him away from the lord. Towards the end Faust feels that he does not want to fall to the devil and deicide that he wants to repent to be save and not to be taken to the under world. Here again a major concept for religion is that if a person wants to be forgiven by the lord and to be saved for all the sins that he has committed then the lord will forgive if he asks to be forgiven. This is a concept that is a large part of the bible. The lord sacrificed his only son so that we could be forgiven for our sins to be saved and to spend eternity in heaven with him and not as slaves to the lord. As you can imagine at the end of the story Faust is saved by the angles and taken to heaven to be with the lord. Bible states that this will happen if you believe in the lord and follow his directions and that he will be there for you.
Both authors wrote in different times and different conditions but the influence on the stories by religion is heavily seen in many aspects of the play. Religion still has an effect on society today even thought there are many aspects and beliefs of the creator.
Jane K. Brown. “Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.” Bibliograhy. http://www.worldroots.com/brigitte/goethe1.htm University Of Washington
Gon?alo L. Fonseca. “WORKS OF J.W.GOETHE.”
Benton, Howard. “Can you refuse the bargin of a lifetime? Dr. Faust and the ultimate hire-purchase deal.” September 13, 1996, (02/26/01).
Fiorenza, Francis Schussler. “A contest site in theology and the study of religion.” January 2000 (02/26/01).
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