DOCTOR FAUSTUS AND DORIAN GRAY:SUPERMEN IN THE ENGLISH LITERATURE

Man is something we must go beyond ‘says Nietzsche granting his Superman the mission of going beyond the human nature.   To do that, man has to demolish   all the old dogmas to free the self from every superstructure. The result is the Superman, that is the free man who follows his will to the power, who breaks every obstacle and wins over the natural forces. In Gabriele D’Annunzio, too, the Superman is he who goes beyond his human limits and despises a trivial and common life.  D’Annunzio exalts his virtues that   can raise the country fortune, and makes him become the object of aesthetical admiration.

The first example of superman in the English literature is Faustus, protagonist of the tragedy Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.

Faustus and the other marlowian heroes are motivated by   ‘The Will to the Power ‘. The typical marlowian hero wants to overcome every human limit but, unlike D’ Annunzio’s one, he does not aim at any aesthetic purpose; he only wants to satisfy his lust for power. The means to reach such condition can be the wealth, as in The Jew of Malta, an earthly crown, as in Tamburlaine the Great, or the knowledge without limits, as in Doctor Faustus.  The condition of ‘superman‘ is always deceptive because, after reaching it, Faustus realizes he has been deceived.  He eventually realizes the vanity of his power; he   is prey to terror, he is desperate and implores the pity of God. The man who wanted to be a superman, after reaching that condition, tries vainly to return to his human condition.  Everything is useless; the parable of his life has run its entire course: a man he was raised to a superman, a superman he falls into a sub-human condition. So Faustus, that had sold   his soul to Satan in turn for 24 years of unbounded knowledge during which he did whatever he wanted – travelled back in the time, returned young, had the beautiful Helen of Troy return on the earth from the Hades( a trick by the devil because he meets a demon disguised as a woman), conquered her  –  at the end of the   24 years   realizes that he will be again a man, that he will die, that he will go to the hell and that he will be for ever damned.

In Oscar Wilde, too, the condition of superman is a deceitful one. In his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian, the rich and very beautiful young protagonist, receives the gift of the eternal youth.  He  can live an intense, dissolute and sinful life, in perennial search for  pleasure without fearing the signs of the   passing years and of the dissoluteness that   are transferred on a face of a picture   he  had been   given as a present by a friend painter, that represents him. With the passing of the time the face on the canvas had become so hideous that Dorian, not bearing the sight of it anymore, decides to destroy with a knife. Dorian is found dead, killed by a stab to the heart. He has quickly aged while the face on the canvas has returned to the native beauty. With such a conclusion Wilde doesn’t intend to give a moral judgment on the life of Dorian. On the contrary he wants to point out Dorian’s misinterpretation of aesthetic ideas: he had gone beyond in his pursuit of pleasure, stimulating his appetites and senses: having been granted eternal beauty and youth, he believed that he had been freed from the consequences of his dissolute actions. Like Faustus,   Dorian, too, eventually discovers that he has been cheated because he was only different from his portrait in appearance, not in substance. The destiny of the superman is therefore the failure. It is the destiny of the Sybil of Cumae that, as narrated by Petronius in the Satyricon, having received from Apollo the immortality and having forgotten to ask for the eternal youth, with the passing of the time grows older and older and becomes   weaker and weaker.  She wants to die but she can’t.

Yeats, too, elaborated his original theory of the superman. In Byzantium he writes:      “Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

The superman is he who   is about to die. He is the only man to possess the complete knowledge because in the few instants that precede his death, he relieves all of his existence. Therefore he knows the past and the present, and he can see and   also know the future, that is what there is after death.A superman, yes, but he cannot exploit his condition.

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About rosariomario

retired teacher docente in pensione
This entry was posted in appunti di letteratura inglese per studenti italiani e non, tratti da testi vari. Notes of English Literature for Italian/non-Italian students taken from various school textbooks. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to DOCTOR FAUSTUS AND DORIAN GRAY:SUPERMEN IN THE ENGLISH LITERATURE

  1. Livia says:

    Aggiungo il superuomo che preferisco, ahimè, non nato da penna inglese, ma tratto da I fratelli Karamazov:
    “Una volta in massa che l’umanità abbia rinnegato Dio […], tutta la vecchia concezione del mondo cadrà da sé, senza bisogno di antropofagia, e soprattutto cadrà la vecchia morale, e ogni cosa si rinnoverà. Gli uomini si uniranno per prendere dalla vita tutto ciò che essa può dare, ma lo faranno unicamente ed esclusivamente per avere la gioia e la felicità in questo mondo. L’uomo si esalterà in un orgoglio divino, titanico, e allora apparirà l’uomo-dio. Trionfando di continuo e senza più barriere sulla natura, grazie alla propria volontà e alla scienza, l’uomo, appunto per questo, proverà di continuo un godimento così elevato che esso prenderà per lui il posto di tutte le antiche speranze di godimenti celesti. Ognuno saprà di essere mortale per intero, senza possibilità di resurrezione, e accetterà la morte con tranquilla fierezza, come un dio. Nella sua fierezza egli capirà che non deve lamentarsi se la vita è un attimo e amerà il proprio fratello senza bisogno di nessuna ricompensa.”

    In quest’ottica “Dio è morto”, come dirà poi Nietschze, perché l’uomo, “grazie alla propria volontà e alla SCIENZA”, ciò che desidera Faust, non cerca più la ricompensa, è libero, è un dio.
    Ho pianto quando l’ho letto.

    Hugs.

  2. rosariomario says:

    potremmo quindi affermare che il vero superuomo,l’uomo-Dio, altro non è che l’uomo che riscopre l’uomo e ritorna ad essere umano.Mi piace questa teoria.Brava Livietta.

  3. Livia says:

    Più che mia è di Dostoevskij, ma grazie lo stesso! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Word Confusion: Elusive versus Illusive | KD DID IT Takes on Books

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