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Dr. Faustus and Hamlet: Appearance vs. Reality Part II
How Faustus appears to himself and how the rest of the world views him is another instance of obscured reality. Faustus sees himself as powerful, whereas the audience gets the impression that he is more of a court entertainer. Faustus even has the audacity to compare himself to a god: “A sound magician is a mighty god: Here, Faustus, try thy brains to gain a deity” (Marlowe, 1994 pg. 5). Since Lucifer has given Mephistopheles to Faustus, Faustus has the ability to exert control over someone- even this proves to be a false sense of control. Almost anything Faustus commands, Mephistopheles does, just so long as it stays within the perimeters of evildoing. Even with his demon slave, Faustus cannot have everything he desires, for in reality, the only commands that are obeyed are those which lead Faustus closer to the devil. When Faustus asks for a bride, Mephistopheles fetches him a devil dressed like a woman.
Mephistopheles then explains that “marriage is a ceremonial toy” (Marlowe, 1994 pg. 23), and that because Faustus is damned, he cannot obtain such a holy sacrament at the devil’s hands. Faustus does many things with his power, including teasing the Pope while invisible. Nothing he does or nothing he can conjure is real power, however, for everything is just another seal upon his black soul. He cannot control his pride nor can he control his fate. Faustus may appear to be powerful in his own eyes, but in reality, he is a pathetic man, a slave to his own desire and pride.
Hamlet, on the other hand, sees himself as his father’s hand of justice: “For though dost know, O Damon dear, this realm dismantled was of Jove himself, and now reigns here a very, very - pajock” (Shakespeare, 2005 pg.1165). Hamlet says this while talking to Horatio, his good friend, after his uncle reveals his sin through a simple action.
Hamlet arranges a play that parallels the actual events of his father’s poisoning to be presented to his uncle and mother. By the king leaving in a state of anger, it is a sign that confirms itself to Hamlet that his uncle is guilty of the crime; Hamlet does not want to enact his revenge with certainty of truth. In his conversation to Horatio stated above, Hamlet is stating that Jove, who is the divine authority and justice, has abandoned the realm to its own devices, leaving in his stead a vain pretender to virtue. In other words, Hamlet believes it is his duty to carry out his father’s revenge where the law has abandoned it. Hamlet, however, is not the hand of justice. His uncle may deserve a severe form of a punishment, but it is not up to Hamlet to punish him. Even so, Hamlet does not just take his uncle’s life as payment for his father’s: no, he also takes the lives of Laertes and Ophelia. Granted Hamlet did not murder Ophelia literally, but she would not have committed suicide if it were not for his choice of actions and words. Hamlet also believes himself to be very cunning, tricking everyone by talking in riddles and feigning madness.
Hamlet’s feigned madness actually gives birth to real madness in both himself and Ophelia, however. He appears insane when he sees his father’s ghost his mother does not see. She responds by calling him crazy: “This is the very coinage of your brain. This bodiless creation ecstasy is very cunning” (Shakespeare, 2005 pg. 1192). Basically the queen is saying that madness is skillful in creating hallucinations. How Hamlet appears to himself is obviously more or less in his own head. He is not the hand of justice; he is not so cunning that he fools everyone of his intentions
Another common thread between Faustus and Hamlet is their indecision throughout the stories. Faustus’ indecision begins from the beginning with the dueling angels. There is of course a good angel telling Faustus to abandon magic, and an evil angel who encourages his wickedness.
Good angel:Oh Faustus, lay that damned book aside, and gaze not upon it lest it tempt thy soul…that is blasphemy.
Bad Angel: Go forward Faustus, in that famous art….Lord and commander of these arts. (Marlowe, 1994, pg.5).
At first Faustus does not seem too perplexed on what he wants to do, but when reality sets in on his soon awaited fate, he becomes completely undecided. On one hand he wants to continue with the magic and the empty happiness it brings, all the while trying to forget about the hour the devil comes for him; on the other hand, Faustus wants to call on Christ for help and forgiveness. He is afraid to do so, however, because he does not believe he can be saved, and, if he does call out to God, devils will tear him to pieces. In fact, Faustus does repent, and soon after Mephistopheles responds: “Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul for disobedience to my sovereign Lord; revolt, or I will in piecemeal tear thy flesh” (Marlowe, 1994 pg. 51). Faustus wants to do the right thing and repent, but if anything will result in his torture or discomfort, he immediately abandons his thoughts for temporary relief. Because of Faustus’ indecision, he makes the wrong decision and is damned for all eternity.
Indecision is also a constant presence of Hamlet. For the majority of the story Hamlet is very unsure and even fickle of everything and everyone surrounding him. He is uncertain about the ghost which appears to him.
The spirit that I have seen maybe the devil, and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps, out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me. (Shakespeare, 2005 Pg. 1170).
Hamlet, is unsure whether the ghost is authentically the wandering spirit of his father, or whether the ghost is a device of the devil to capture Hamlet’s soul. Hamlet also seems very fickle with his love of Ophelia. Until the moment he met the ghost, he was madly enamored with Ophelia; after his encounter, however, he immediately falls out of love and even seems revolted by her and all women…..this of course, having something to do with the betrayal of his mother to his father. Hamlet even says to Ophelia as more of a statement to womankind, “God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another. You jig, you amble, you lisp, you nickname God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance”(Shakespeare, 2005 pg. 1168). Hamlet’s indecision paralyzes him temporarily throughout the story. His fickleness of thought leads him sadly into an irreversible spiral of disaster.
Appearance Vs, Reality
Appearance vs. Reality is the central theme connecting Dr. Faustus to Hamlet; when people misinterpret reality whether on purpose or through obscurity of truth or reason, the results can be disastrous. Both Faustus and Hamlet obscure reality in their own minds by firstly desiring what should not be desired. For Faustus it is to be skilled in the black arts, for Hamlet it is revenge. Once they have taken steps to achieve their desires, both Hamlet and Faustus obscure reality so that It appears they are doing the right thing; Faustus sees himself as powerful and Hamlet sees himself as the impending hand of justice. Their indecision creates moral dilemmas where that which is immoral seems right. What appears to be correct to Faustus and Hamlet is really their own destruction.
Kennedy, X.J. & Gioia D., (2005). Literature; An introduction to fiction, poetry and drama. 9th Ed. New York: NY. Pearson Longman
Marlowe, Christopher (1994). Dr. Faustus. New York: Dover Publications Inc.
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