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Dr Faustus- A Man’s Worst Enemy

 

Christopher Marlowe died at 29, a very early age for such an impressive playwright. A contemporary of Shakespeare, he only managed to write four texts, three of which were published posthumously. Out of these, it is almost inarguable, that the most thought provoking, emotionally moving and popular was The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus.

For those not familiar with the basic storyline, Faustus, a doctor of many disciplines sells his soul to the Devil for the use of the demon Mephostophilis for twenty four years. Despite initially having many visions of power and wealth once he signs the deal, Faustus wastes his gift, essentially becoming a travelling magician, impressing various courts with feats of illusion, all created by Mephostophilis. Eventually, despite repeated attempts to absolve himself of the deal, and become sided with God once again, Faustus is dragged to Hell, to face eternal torture and suffering. The text is a bleak one, with little in the way of redemption or salvation. Faustus’ torn clothes lie on the stage, as the curtains close, and the play ends.

Now, many readers of the text see Mephostophilis as the villain of the text. It is he who appears to Faustus when he considers selling his soul. It is also Mephostophilis who gives Faustus incentives to stay on the side of darkness, when his heart begins to stray toward the grace of God. However, I believe that Mephostophilis has a mere part to play in Faustus’ downfall. It is the Faustus himself that is the protagonist, but also the true antagonist in this play.

Faustus has multiple chances to save himself from damnation, but each time, he fails, fearing violence from various ‘hellish’ beings. Whenever Faustus considers repenting, an Angel and Devil appear, as essentially moral guides to help him decide. However, each time, it is the Devil that speaks first, and last. This seems to mean that Faustus has already made up his mind that he will stay on the path of evil. The Angel only seems to be there for the Devil to refute its arguments, a kind of ‘devil’s advocate’ (fairly ironic). Therefore, if Faustus was never really going to change his mind, from the very start of the play, we can consider him an evil character, damning himself to Hell, Satan only supplying the means to do it.

Another piece of evidence that points to Faustus being a villain is the marking that appears on his arm after he makes the pact with the Devil. The words ‘Homo Fuge’ appear, written like scars. The Latin for ‘fly man’, this seems to indicate that once the deal has been completed, Faustus’ flesh itself seems to indicate that his humanity has left him. He is no longer human. And if what we can assume about protagonists is correct, good characters are rarely without their humanity, their souls.

Of course, Faustus commits many sins during the play itself, torturing nobles who question his powers, and tricking men into buying horses made of hay. What I consider most damning is that he sleeps with a demon, who takes on the persona of Helen of Troy, whose face ‘launch’d a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of Ilium’. The previous act, Faustus tells the German Emperor that to touch a demon would damn ones soul to Hell. Now, weak willed, he himself succumbs to the touch of the demon. Faustus damns himself to Hell with finality, God refusing to forgive one who cavorts with Satan’s spawn.

In conclusion, I believe it quite clear that even though Mephostophilis plays an important part in Faustus’ downfall, it is the man himself who is the real villain of the play. By committing many heinous sins, Faustus’ perpetual torture in Hell can only be blamed on Faustus, not any other character in the play.

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Heathcliff- The Villain of Wuthering Heights 

 

Another post on this blog has suggested that the character of Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights should not be considered the villain of the novel. He is just a confused man, enraptured by passion. I entirely disagree, to the point where this blog post is a rebuttal of the previous one.

Wuthering Heights is not a novel full of likeable characters by any means. I found it impossible to feel any sympathy for anyone as the story progressed. However, there was one character who I thought, if anyone, was the villain of the piece, the ‘dark skinned gypsy’ Heathcliff.

If anything, it is Heathcliff’s actions which make him a completely reprehensible character. From attempting to strangle dogs, to imprisoning young Cathy and Nellie at the Heights, very few things that Heathcliff does are what can be considered good.
How is it possible to empathise with a character that digs up the rotting corpse of their adoptive sister and possible lover? Of course, therein lies the whole incestuous element to the story. Despite being essentially brother and sister, it is heavily implied that the two engage in a sexual relationship behind Edgar Linton’s back, his son looking suspiciously like Heathcliff. And indeed in the second half of the novel, Heathcliff becomes obsessed with the idea of owning both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, which involves marrying his son and Cathy’s daughter, who are blood cousins, their other parents being siblings. How can someone believe that Heathcliff is not the villain in this text, the man who forces an incestuous relationship upon his son and niece?

It is not just his actions that make Heathcliff a despicable person. Brontë seems to despise him too or at least uses language in the text to create that image. Some seem to consider him a misdirected Romeo, but he is described as a ‘monster’, ‘Satan’s imp’ and it is even asked ‘Is he a man?’ which seems to question his true humanity due to the heinous acts he commits. Even after death, Heathcliff’s malignant aura takes a while to vanish, the ‘stunted firs’ and ‘sharp thorns’ eventually being replaced by flowers, growing on the side of the Heights. This seems to confirm that Heathcliff’s awful actions were not learnt from elsewhere, but were a part of him, something which made the earth he stood on a colder and more forbidding place.

In conclusion, it should be very difficult for someone to actually feel any real sympathy towards Heathcliff. Despite his ‘soul’ mate leaving him for another, his actions before and after this tragedy do not win himself any favours whatsoever. He certainly isn’t a stereotypical villain, but I would argue against him being simply a man mistreated and misunderstood.

 

Who is the villain in 1984 ?

George Orwell’s dystopian novella “1984” is one of his best known works, having spawned movies, television shows, video games and countless essays pertaining to varying critical approaches to the text. However, here we shall take a look at who the villains truly are in the novella.

At first glance, the answer is fairly simple, O’Brien. The man, who entraps our heroes Winston and Julia with promises of rebellion, then converts their way of thinking to follow the Party’s. Despite being ‘built like a prize fighter’, O’Brien is the most intelligent character in the novella, revealing at the story’s climax that everything Winston has done in secret, was not so. O’Brien was essentially toying with him, seeing how far a man would go to rebel against the state.
However, O’Brien can be seen as simply a tool of a much larger villain in the text, the Party itself. O’Brien is essentially a religious inquisitor, destroying the negative thoughts of prisoners before releasing them back into society. It is the Party that has control over all aspects of existence in Eurasia. It is the Party that has control over the past, present and ultimately future, as (as Winston eventually understands) resistance is indeed futile.
The idea that a political party could gain so much power is rather ridiculous, but that is not up for debate in this blog. What can be discussed is whether the Party is the real villain in “1984”, or are there any other choices aside from O’Brien?

I will go in a different direction here, and present the idea that the villain of “1984” is Winston himself. He is the one who rebels against the Party, which according to newspaper articles has done wondrous things for Britain. Winston is the one who breaks laws on creative writing, and plots to overthrow the government, going as far as attempting to join the ‘Brotherhood’, a group that is essentially a terrorist organisation.
I am being fairly one sided in this view, the articles are falsified, the ‘Brotherhood’ is a trap and one man plotting to overthrow a government is laughable. However, to the Party, and those loyal to the society it has created, Winston is certainly the antagonist of the text. His actions single him out from everyone else, as he attempts to fight against what is accepted by the rest of society. It is possible to that everyone else in Eurasia feels as much resentment to the Party as Winston does and are simply too idle or scared to rebel. However, it is equally as possible that Winston is the only one who wants to rebel, and so he would be the villain of the novella.

In conclusion, depending on how you view “1984”, it brings up different antagonists. O’Brien deceives Winston and Julia, causing their capture, and tortures them into his way of viewing existence. The Party created the way of thinking O’Brien prescribes to, and indeed all of Eurasia does too. However, Winston rebels against this mass ideology, attempting to destroy it, and so, is also a villain in the eyes of society in “1984”.

VILLAINS!!! In Literature

Ok, this is where we write about villains, in literature!
That’s about it…
Yeah…