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Dr. Faustus and Hamlet: Appearance vs. Reality Part I

Updated on March 23, 2014
Faustus and Mephistopheles
Faustus and Mephistopheles


What is reality and from whose reference point does it exist? Philosophers and men of all ages have struggled with what appears to be reality, and what has proven to be so. Many times people see the world, themselves, and their circumstances one way, while everyone around them perceives the same in the opposite fashion. Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and Hamlet by William Shakespeare employ the uncertainty of reality and obscurity of fact within their stories. Appearance vs. Reality is the unifying theme between these stories; it is exemplified by Hamlet and Faustus perverted desires, their distorted views of themselves, and their indecision to make morally correct choices, which eventually seals their fate.

Dr. Faustus by Marlowe is one of the most durable myths in Western culture and one of the first English tragedies. Faust, who has become a popular motif in literature, is an educated doctor who sells his soul to the devil for his own bit of salvation: knowledge and power. It appears to Faust that the admiration of his peers is worth risking a lifetime in Hell, that is, until he realizes that nothing is worth an eternal life in Hell. Faustus may see himself as a semi-God simply for his ability to stun people with magic, but the reality is that he becomes an object of pity. Dr. Faustus contains florid visions of an enraged Lucifer, dueling angels, and even the Seven Deadly Sins. There is one point where Faust calls upon Christ to save him, but he ultimately rejects salvation for the embrace of Helen of Troy, an object of seduction and desire. Not only a battle between good and evil, Dr. Faustus is a story about a man whose arrogance and pride obscures reality.

Faustus’ false deception of reality begins by that which he desires: knowledge of the black arts. Faustus is a very educated man who carries the respect of his fellow peers; however, simply scholarly knowledge of life is not enough for Faust. What Faust wants is “a world of profit and delight, of power, of honor, of omnipotence {which} is promised to the studious artisan”(Marlowe, 1994 pg. 5). Faustus has examined all the orthodox religions and chooses magic instead. The uncertainty of the existence of both heaven and hell justifies to Faustus his want to learn the black arts: “This word, ‘damnation’ terrifies not him, for he confounds hell in Elysium; his ghost to be with old philosophers” (Marlowe, 1994 pg. 13). Throughout the story, Faustus is constantly asking his slave, Mephistopheles, whom he bought with his very soul from the devil, all the unsolved mysteries of the world. He gains knowledge of heaven, hell, space and time. All the knowledge in the world, however, does not change his fate. Rather than bringing Faustus to a life of freedom from ignorance and mediocrity, he is brought to despair and eternal death.



Hamlet, written by Shakespeare, is a tragic mediation of human existence and the earliest of Shakespeare’s four great mature tragedies. Hamlet is a deeply and reflective man compelled by justice and filial duty to avenge his father’s death, the King, who was murdered by the hands of his brother, Hamlet’s uncle. A ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet and reveals to him that appearances can be deceiving: the King did not in fact die from a poisonous snake as everyone thought, but from the poison of a power hungry brother. The reality is the betrayal of Hamlet’s uncle who becomes King after Hamlet’s father is murdered, and even goes so far as to marry his brother’s widowed wife, Hamlets mother. Hamlet also contains two sorts of madness, one that is genuine and one that is feigned. Shakespeare develops the theme of appearance vs. reality extremely well and very thoroughly through the mind of Hamlet, who is constantly in a state of confusion, trying to figure out not only what is morally right, but also what is actually real.

Hamlet’s desire for revenge due to this father’s murder is most understandable, but still holds a false sense of justice. A father’s murder by his brother and the subsequent and incestuous marriage of his widowed wife to the murderer is enough to distort Hamlet’s mind and drive him to actions he would not normally perform. In fact, the moment Hamlet learns the reality of his fathers fate; his whole world turns upside down. Rather than having thoughts of love and youth, he has thoughts of revenge and death: “Haste met o know it, that I , with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge” (Shakespeare, 2005 pg. 1182). Hamlet must avenge his fathers death to restore his fathers lost honor. Hamlet, however, is not the only character who desires revenge in this story-Laertes too vows revenge on Hamlet for the suicide of Laertes’ sister, and the eventual murder of his father. Laertes’ sister, Ophelia, goes mad and commits suicide when Hamlet rejects her after once pursuing her, and also from the terrible words Hamlet spits upon her. Laertes father is Hamlet’s uncle, and the man Hamlet places his vendetta upon for the death of his own father. In a conversation with Hamlet, Laertes reveals his intentions of revenge: “I am satisfied in nature; whose motive in this case should stir me most for my revenge….I have a voice and a precedent of peace to keep my name ungored” (Shakespeare, 2005 pg. 1189). Although both Hamlet and Laertes appear to get the revenge they desire, they end up destroying their family, whose honor they sought to avenge.


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.

© 2011 ladyjane1


Submit a Comment
  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    sairakhan thanks so much I appreciate the comment and the follow. Cheers.

  • sairakhan profile image


    8 years ago from Bombay , India

    excellent review i have started following you.

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Thanks Tonymac04 I appreciate your reading my hub and for your nice comment. Hamlet is one of my favorites and Faustus not so much but I still find it interesting. Cheers.

  • tonymac04 profile image

    Tony McGregor 

    8 years ago from South Africa

    I really enjoyed this reivew of Faust and Hamlet - two of my favourite plays.

    Love and peace


  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    mysterylady thanks for reading I appreciate your comments. Cheers.

  • mysterylady 89 profile image

    mysterylady 89 

    8 years ago from Florida

    I love both plays, ladyjane, and so I particularly enjoyed your theme of appearance versus reality. Thanks!

  • ladyjane1 profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Texas

    Micky Im glad you found this hub useful. And thanks for reading. Cheers.

    Tobster1 thank you kindly, cheers.

  • Tobster1 profile image


    8 years ago

    great hub

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 

    8 years ago

    Awesomely useful and beautiful Lady G. I'll mosey on over to the next installment. God bless!


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