Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
The well-known premise of Doctor Faustus is that Faustas trades his soul in return for twenty-four years of pleasure served up by Mephostophilis. To judge from the state of scholarly discussion, the fact that this premise is essentially economic in nature goes without saying. But because it has gone without saying, the implications of the play's economic underpinning have likewise gone unexamined. For obvious reasons, critical analysis has focused largely on the play's relation to religious orthodoxy of its time. I propose to look instead at Marlowe's portrayal, in the person of Faustus, of a perspective that, void of any sense of the spiritual, in effect denies the soul any status other than that of commodity. Faustus's commodification of his soul, and the attendant market logic which for us rings so prophetically, is only the most egregious example of his characteristic materialism. The very conception of giving one's soul in trade, after all, exemplifies a reified view of the soul; for Faustus, his soul is a thing—a commodity that he has in surplus and that he will trade in return for goods he lacks. Faustus's reification of his soul extends logically to his sense of the soul as a thing that he owns and that he can dispense with as he wishes: “is not thy soule thine owne?” Faustus asks himself, giving explicit voice to his mistaken sense of property and possession (2.1.457).