When a child is born, it is pure and innocent. The child has no care in the world and has no knowledge of its surrounding environment. As the child grows older, it becomes more inquisitive. It touches strange objects and tries to imitate the people close to it. As time passes, the child begins to understand the difference between good and bad and is taken to school to acquire knowledge, as it grows older. Some people may have no interest in acquiring knowledge however for others like Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein there is no limit to the amount of knowledge that they wish to possess.
During our childhoods, we may have listened to horror stories and looked at pictures of the dreaded Frankenstein with its monstrous body and bolts around its neck. However people never realize that Frankenstein is much more than a story meant to scare little children. It was written to teach a very important lesson to humanity about how the thoughtless pursuit of knowledge can lead to one's downfall.
The story of Frankenstein starts with letters written by Robert Walton to his sister Margaret Saville as he begins his voyage from Russia to the North Pole, which he refers to as " the country of eternal life". In his letter he (Walton) expresses to his sister his hope to acquire undiscovered knowledge at the North Pole like the cause of earth's magnetism and a passage near the pole to different countries. In a part of his mind, Roberts realizes that the North Pole might turn out to be a seat of frost and desolation but he continues to imagine it as a region of beauty and delight.
Although he admits that there are dangers involving his journey, he believes that his enticements are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger and death. In his letter he writes, "My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night". Walton's passion from his youth to his present in acquiring knowledge is clearly shown. His desperation in acquiring this knowledge is also shown in the great lengths that he went through to prepare for his journey. He is warned by Frankenstein later in the book to stop his pursuit and return home. Frankenstein says to Robert "you seek for knowledge and wisdom. As I once did; and I ardently hope that your wishes may not be sting you like mine has been."
In Roberts's fourth letter to his sister, he talks about a mysterious man, which he saved called Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein is the main character of the story. From a young age Frankenstein was fond of natural philosophy. He stumbled upon a volume of books by Cornelius Agrippa, an ancient philosopher and became enthralled in the study of natural philosophy. He began to study other books by similar ancient philosophers and became hooked by their teachings. As Frankenstein read these books his thirst for knowledge began to grow. Right before he left for school his mother died. The loss of his mother could be described as an event, which spurred Frankenstein pursuit of knowledge. Frankenstein wanted to banish diseases from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any violent death. At first, his motives for wanting to acquire knowledge about human life could be termed as honorable but it later became an obsession.
Victor Frankenstein's misery begins because of his craving to encounter a mystery of science. When Frankenstein started school, he started to learn about modern science and began to wonder about the secret behind human life. He later finds out the secret and decides to create a being with life. He stayed confined for months trying to create this being until he is done. However when this being comes to life, Frankenstein realizes that he has made a mistake and has created something that could be a potential harm to all of mankind. Frankenstein is so ashamed of his actions that he abandons the creature. Frankenstein's motivation for success and scientific exploration drives him to play God, as he is also enthralled. However in victor's role as God he is also enthralled with the thought of bringing life for a lifeless corpse that he does not stop to think about the moral consequences of his actions. When he finally realizes his mistake it is too late.
The monster is left to fend for itself and has to learn the ways of the world. In some ways the monster also strives to gain knowledge. At first, it relies on its natural instincts, collecting food and warming itself. After some time the creature begins to strive for more and dedicates itself to learning to speak and read. It learns this while spying on a family. The monster also tries to educate himself by reading different materials, one of which is Milton's "paradise lost" which he makes reference to when he first tries to speak with Frankenstein. However longing to be more like human causes the monster unhappiness. The monster decided to get revenge on his creator for bringing him into such a world of hatred. He starts by killing Frankenstein's brother and framing up his maid thereby taking two lives almost successively and resorts in killing Frankenstein's best friend Henry Clerval and his wife Elizabeth when Frankenstein refuses to make him a companion.
Frankenstein's pursuits of knowledge therefore lead to the creation of a being, which caused him pain, downfall and eventually a pathetic death.
The same theme can be seen in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Doctor Faustus begins with a prologue in which the chorus praises Faustus's intellectual achievements. Doctor Faustus in the play is portrayed as and quintessential renaissance man which is in a way a lover of knowledge and power. When we are first introduced to Faustus in the play, he is showing us the extent of his knowledge: philosophy of Aristotle, to Galen's medicine to Justinian law and the bible. Doctor Faustus wants to acquire knowledge that is not directly accessible in his world at all costs. His desperation to acquire knowledge leads him to turn to magic as his new pursuit, thereby selling his soul to the devil in exchange of twenty-four years of power. Faustus compares being a magician to being a "demi-god'. The eventual gaining of this knowledge leads to his dramatic downfall in the play. Faustus's knowledge of the dark and arcane arts seems appealing at first but as his years come to an end he begins to realize the doom that awaits him. Faustus suffers harsh consequences for going against God as a result of his ardent desire to know, that which is to remain a mystery to mankind. However there is a great deal of regret and lamentation after the knowledge is gleaned.
What is interesting about all the characters in this essay is that the kinds of knowledge which they pursue leads to questions about the existence of God. In their strive for knowledge and power all the characters meet their tragic endings. This theme is also a universal statement about humanity at all times and in all places. Humans have a bottomless motivating but dangerous thirst for knowledge. This leads them to seek that which should remain unknown to them.
Knowledge is often a dangerous and unsettling thing. Contrary to most scientific thoughts, not every piece of knowledge is golden. The human mind must not comprehend everything that there is to know about the world.