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Burke Hildner

December 11, 2017

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Intro to Literature 1410W

Professor Montroso


The Age of Knowledge


In Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, both protagonists can be
defined by their fascination and addiction to magic and the supernatural. They
are literary representations of the time period in which the stories were
written, representing aspects of both the Protestant Reformation and the age of
the printing press. The printing press was a key factor to the spread of the
Reformation and in distributing ideas and knowledge to those who once never had
the option of such luxuries and resources. During this age the correlation
between magic and religion was very similar, as magic was a way in which an
individual could seize divine power in order to take advantage of it, while
religion is the faith and devotion of humans to that divine power. Textual knowledge has allowed for Prospero and Dr. Faustus
to practice magic and use it to feed into their own desires, acting as a representation of the
widespread changes to technology and religion that affected public knowledge in
early modern England.

The seventeenth century was
a time of tremendous change in Europe, which is portrayed in both The Tempest and Dr. Faustus. The Protestant Reformation was given birth to by
Martin Luther in Germany when he refused to renounce his writing at the request
of Pope Leo X and began discussing and spreading his Ninety Five Theses. The
Reformation spread across Europe as an anti-Catholic sentiment through which
Protestantism began to prosper. In Catholicism, there was a hierarchy that
controlled the teachings and access to the Bible and knowledge, however to Protestants
and Puritans, everyone deserved their own opportunities to interpret the holy
book and think for themselves. This spread of knowledge and free thought was
made much easier with the creation of the printing press. The first book widely
printed and distributed was the Bible. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, this
caused for much concern and apprehension as then anybody with any background
and education level is free to interpret the writing of this book without the
expert knowledge of the Church scholars. In The
Tempest, Prospero is fascinated by knowledge and magic. From the start of
the play to the end of it, the knowledge gained from texts aids him in his
journey to learning and then using divine power. Prospero tells his daughter Miranda
the history of their fateful past—the reason they were stranded on an island,
separate from the rest of the world. Prospero was the noble Duke of Milan,
living a life of government and politics, however this failed to amuse him. His
true joy was tucked away in his library, studying the use of the divine powers.
He notes that, “Prospero the prime Duke, being so reputed in dignity, and for
the liberal arts without a parallel; those being all my study, the government I
cast upon my brother and to my state grew stranger, being transported and rapt
in secret studies” (Tempest, 1.2.72-76). His devotion to learning this
knowledge distanced Prospero from society. His duties as Duke of Milan lacked
importance to him as he brushed them off to his brother to control. It is seemingly
unbelievable that Prospero would not have thought of the possibility of his
brother betraying him, even though he trusted him. After his banishment from
society and the rest of humanity for his magical addiction, consumed with the
belief that he would die, Prospero was free to place himself in his books and
use his knowledge of magic at free will. Prospero’s pursuit of magic is a true
representation of the flexibility and accessibility that all had to new found
knowledge and text. Entangled within his banishment is a strong societal
message. Both the Catholic and Protestant Churches had the magical abilities of
the healing powers possessed by saints as well as exorcism, however it was
widely acknowledged that the Catholic Church had more abilities than the
Protestants, and they frowned upon anyone outside of their realm who practiced
such powers.

The historical context of
this time period can also be linked with that of Dr. Faustus. Both he and Prospero had the availability of textual
knowledge, as they both were highly educated. Dr. Faustus was the smartest man
alive, having the ability to follow any profession he desired. However, he had
found in his life all professions to be boring and meaningless, “Be a physician
Faustus, a heap up gold… Physician farewell; where is Justinian? …. And
universal body of Law. This study fits a mercenary drudge who aims at nothing
but external trash- too servile and illiberal for me. When all is done, divinity
is best” (Dr. Faustus, 1.1.14-37). Nothing appeases Dr. Faustus other than the
knowledge of magic, even though he has the ability of any profession. “These metaphysics of magicians and
necromantic books are heavenly. Lines, circles, letters, and characters
– Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.” (Dr. Faustus, 1.1.50-53). Describing necromantic books as
heavenly is ironic because these books are interpreted differently than they
were taught as they actually cause Faustus to turn away from heaven and towards hell. The knowledge gained
from books is a corrupting rival and that rival drags man, and in the play
Faustus, into hell, and is reflected in the real world when man goes against
the teachings of the churches.

Magic is a tool of corruption,
an element of fear and power and a kind of knowledge individuals should not
possess, however, in The Tempest and Dr. Faustus, the characters were able to
comprehend magic as technology made books more accessible. The power of
knowledge is a prerequisite to one’s own ability of being able to control the divine
for their personal desires. Both Prospero and Dr. Faustus abuse their power for
their own good. Prospero exploits its abilities to take vengeance on his
brother’s actions, setting him and Miranda adrift to an almost certain death.
It is not just that, however, as he also uses it to control the island and the
supernatural being, Ariel, as well as the rightful heir of the island, Caliban.
To Prospero, “It was a torment, to lay upon the damned, which Sycorax could not again undo. It was mine art, when I arrived and heard thee, that made gape the pine and let thee out” (Tempest, 1.2.289-293). Prospero
has an arrogance about him and his magic, expressing that he is better then the
late Sycorax, Caliban’s mother. He brags that he was able to undo her own spell
in which she could not accomplish herself. Besides being able to understand
Prospero’s power, this illustrates that he is not above his own arrogance and
that he is willing to remind Ariel how powerful he is. This can also be
perceived as a reminder that he is willing to use his magic for his own
personal gain rather than granting Ariel’s freedom after rescuing the spirit
from the tree where Sycorax left him for death. He uses his power to force
Ariel into service for him until Prospero wishes to set him free. However, that
freedom ultimately does not come until the end of the play when Prospero
achieves the outcome that he desired. Corruption is a side effect of magic and
acts as a representation of societal immorality that can be created with the
combination of arrogance, like with Prospero, and the use of texts.

Dr. Faustus is also a story where one’s own
journey away from accepted studies and occupations led to a fraudulent mindset.
Magical knowledge has become the center of Dr. Faustus’ world, being the only study
that he finds truly interesting and worth pursuing, as it seems that it is the
only thing in the world that he is not an expert in. His words against God and
the heavens awaken a path to hell, with a new connection to the underworld by
Lucifer’s servant Mephastophilis. Dr. Faustus, “For,
falling to a devilish exercise, and glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,
he surfeits upon cursed necromancy nothing so sweet as magic is to him, which
he prefers before his chiefest bliss” (Dr. Faustus Prologue.23-27). It is noteworthy
that Faustus is described as surfeiting “upon cursed necromancy.” Faustus is overwhelmed
with the notion of power and uses the divine throughout the play for his own
benefits and amusement. From being able to bring back the dead to disrupting
the Pope in Rome, he is propelled by this knowledge to act in immoral ways.
This power is a disease and in the quote he describes the magic as “sweet”
and that he is full of gluttony by such a “golden gift”. He wants too much for
himself, and thus, this quote foreshadows the fact that having too much leads
to his corruption.

Both Prospero and Dr. Faustus had the same
motives through their use of magic; they were both focused on their personal
gains. However, the ends of their stories are much different. Prospero says

revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits,
and are melted into air, into thin air; and, like the baseless fabric of this
vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the
great globe itself, yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve; and, like this
insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as
dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep (4.1.148–158).


Prospero gives this speech after giving Ferdinand and Miranda his
marriage blessing and just after, he remembers the plot against his life by
Caliban. He sends the two away to deal with the plot, and in his speech there
is a sad tone to this which seems to be related to Prospero’s absent-mindedness
due to the fact that he is so consumed in his visions with the power of his own
magic that he is no longer living in real life, but instead only in his knowledge
of magical abilities. After this point, Prospero talks repeatedly of the “end”
of his “labours” (4.1.264), and of breaking his staff and
drowning his magic book that gave him all his power throughout the story (5.1.54–57). One of Prospero’s goals in bringing his former
enemies to the island seems to be to detach himself from a position of power,
where the concerns of real life have not affected him. His goal is to return to
Milan, where “every third thought shall be my grave” (5.1.311-312). Soon, he then, in the epilogue, announces that he
will give up his magical abilities saying, “Now my charms are all o’erthrown”
(Epilogue.1). After all of this though, Prospero’s speech in Act 4, Scene 1
highlights the beauty of the world he has created for himself as well as the
sadness of it. The fact is that this world is in many ways meaningless because
it resembles a dream completely distant from anything significant. At the end,
it was not the magical powers that he was truly after, but the ability to go
home with his daughter, and give her a new life with her new family. 

            On the other
hand, Dr. Faustus’s ending comes with realization that he has not been
satisfied with giving his soul to Lucifer. Looking back at what he has done for
the last twenty-four years of his life, he decides it was not worth an eternity
of hell. He enjoyed the powers that he had in bringing back the dead, and in one
of his final lines of the story he says, “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, and burnt the
topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss: her lips sucks
forth my soul, see where it flies! Come Helen, come, give me my soul
again. Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips, and all is dross that is not Helena”(12.92–98). Being able to bring back Helena of Greece, the
most beautiful woman that ever lived, gives him much pleasure, but he realizes
it is not enough to justify his future. At the beginning of the play, he
rejects religious superiority being in favor of black magic. However, as the
play continued and at the end, Faustus realizes his self-obsessed behavior and
looks to Helena, who is not truly even there, lost in his own magical
abilities, and desires immortality through a kiss. It is Faustus’ final speech
though that gives a complete picture of his mind once the end has come. Throughout
it he pleads for freedom saying,

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike, the devil will
come, and Faustus must be damned. O I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down? See,
see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament! One drop would save my
soul, half a drop: ah my Christ—ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ;
yet will I call on him—O spare me, Lucifer! … Let Faustus live in hell a
thousand years, a hundred thousand,
and at last be saved… Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer! I’ll burn my
books—ah, Mephastophilis (5.2.76–123).


Faustus has become flustered, terrified of what is to come; all he
desires now he cannot learn in books. He is pleading for freedom from
damnation. It seems now that nothing he has done has been worth it, no matter
how much he loved his divine power. Throughout the last piece of the play, you
see Faustus time and again question what he has done and his devotion to
Lucifer. Inside he truly must believe that he has made a mistake, but he is too
easily convinced through riches and power to not repent to God until the very
end. Although he was told that it would never be too late, his cries and pleas
are not answered at the end of the play. In the Catholic Church you always have
the ability to repent, however here his was not answered. There is a point with
magic were one can go too far, beyond the point where God will have mercy and one
will forever live in hell. Lastly, his willingness to burn his books proves
that to the Catholic Church, access to knowledge is dangerous and that Faustus
was on a limitless hunt for it. This hunt for knowledge, though praised by the Protestant
Reformation, was denounced by the Catholic hierarchy leading to a life living
in hell.

During the seventeenth century,
major change swept throughout Europe. The invention of the printing press led
to the widespread distribution of books, which further propelled an expansion
of knowledge. However, the continent was also experiencing religious tensions
at this time. The Catholic Church believed knowledge to be a destructive
element to society, but the Protestant Reformation praised such access to information.
The Protestants believed that this broader access to knowledge had a positive
societal impact, as it allowed for an openness of interpretation not previously
enjoyed by many members of society. As books became more prevalent in Europe,
Catholic anxiety continued to grow, leading to division across the continent.
In this respect, both Prospero and Dr. Faustus are representation of this time
period, as their stories illustrate the contention between the draw to divine
magical knowledge and the dangers of rejecting religious and societal norms. It
is this critique on seventeenth century Europe that has placed these texts in
the Western literary canon—they serve as an important reflection on a breaking






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