Friday, 16 August 2013

Concept of Hell in 'Doctor Faustus'


We are certain about one thing that human heart is the abode of both God and the Devil or Heaven and the Hell.

                   The mind is its own place, and in itself,
                        Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

          But there is the idea of the conventional physical hell also, mainly propounded by myths and mythologies. It is a limitless and terribly dark place where burns the liquid fire eternally for torturing the damned souls of despicable sinners. And then there is the spiritual hell created by the mind of man within himself and the source of suffering of this hell is the consciousness of impending doom and damnation as well as the loss of eternal bliss of heaven.

          In Doctor Faustus, the concept of hell is mainly a spiritual one. We come across the first talk about hell in the third scene of act I, when Mephistophilis appears before Faustus after his first magic performance. In reply to a question from Faustus, Mephistophilis says that he is one of those "Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer" and is condemned to everlasting hell.

          Then again when Faustus asks him how he is out of hell at that time. The reply from Mephistophilis is deep and poignant.

                   Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
                        Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
                        And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
                        Am not tormented with thousand hells,
                        In being deprived of everlasting bliss.

          After finally surrendering his soul to Lucifer and signing the deed with the blood from his own veins, Faustus desired to know from Mephistophilis the actual location of hell; and Mephistophilis quite explicitly explains the nature of hell thus:

                   Within the bowls of these elements,
                        Where we are tortur’d and remain for ever,
                        Hell hath no limits nor is circumscrib’d
                        In one self place; for where we are is hell,
                        And where hell is, there must we ever be.

Milton, in his ‘Paradise Lost’, has also given the same idea “Hell flies with Satan” and Satan himself announces clearly “Myself am Hell”. So it is crystal clear from Mephistophilis’ explanation that Hell is not something outside the man. It is really located within the heart and soul of a sinner and the terrifying tortures of hell are experienced by a man within his own self.

          After the commission of his act of surrendering his soul to the Devil, Faustus could not avoid the mental tortures that must follow every act of sin or crime. He becomes a prey to his own doubts and diffidence and an acute conflict between heaven and hell starts raging in his soul and lasts till his tragic end. So just like Mephistophilis, Faustus also becomes hell itself with his sense of sin and folly, with the painful pricks of his guilty conscience.

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