Last updated: February 16, 2019
Topic: SocietyHistory
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A Brief Examination of King Lear and Dr. Faustus in Light of John Donne’s Meditation XVII

In “Meditation XVII” John Donne echoes the words of Terence, “I am a man, and whatever concerns humanity is of interest to me (Terence). Donne writes of the connection between all people. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main (Donne). When a man dies, it affects all other people. Due to this, each man should consider his actions and the effects they might have on others: not just matters of life and death but in all of their actions.

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King Lear and Dr. Faustus fail to do so. Their self-pride, their arrogance will not brook such moderation. Each is convinced that what he does is his act only and the consequences the affect others are of no importance. Each of them thought himself “so much better than” he was in fact and deed.

Lear gave away his kingdom, banished the best of his daughters, Cordelia, and drove himself mad because he did not consider the results of his act. Although he was responsible for the tragedy he faced, he thought of it only in terms of himself. He never recognized the connection between his acts and other people (Shakespeare).

Dr. Faustus behaved similarly. He sold his soul to Satan so that he might have twenty-four years of living “in all voluptuousness” (Marlowe, I. iii). Within this time he never cared what happened to those he encountered. He uses people for his own gain and personal amusement without regard for these individuals as people who should be valued in their own right, not just as their utility as the butt of his jokes. Faustus plays jokes on the pope, places antlers on the head of a knight, and disguises a bale of straw as a horse then sells it to a “horse-courser.”

Neither of these men showed the care and respect that John Donne advocates. Sadly they are members of the majority and people who follow the teachings of “Meditation XVII” are rare indeed. They are more concerned with their immediate gratification that humanity’s long term interests.
Works Cited

Donne, John. “Meditation XVII.” The Literature Network. 19 Mar. 2007 <>.
Marlowe, Christopher. The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus. 2007. The Literature Network. 19 Mar. 2007 <>.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. 2007. The Literature Network. 19 Mar. 2007 <>.
Terence. The Quotations Page. 2007. Ed. Michael Moncour. 19 Mar 2007 <