Summary and Analysis of Act I, Chapters 1-2
Prologue and Act One, Scenes 1-2:
Prologue. The Chorus announces that the story will not be wars, love affairs in royal courts, or great deeds, but the
tale of Faustus. Faustus was born of ordinary parents, in Rhodes, Germany.
When he came of age he went to Wittenberg to live with relatives
and study at the university. Due to his great talent, he quickly completed his studies and became a doctor of divinity, known
for his brilliance in theological matters. But alluding to the story of Icarus, the Chorus says that Faustus' "waxen wings
did mount above his reach" (l. 21). He has begun to study necromancy, the black arts, and loves magic more than theology.
This is the man now sitting in his study.
Scene 1.1. Sitting alone in his study, Faustus considers the different fields of knowledge. He considers logic, personified
in Aristotle. But when he reads "to dispute well logic's chiefest end" (1.1.7) he says disdainfully, "Affords this art no
greater miracle?" (1.1.9). He has mastered this art and achieved its goals already. In likewise fashion he considers other
disciplines. Medicine, personified in the ancient physician Galen: though Faustus has become a great physician, he still has
no power over life and death. Law, personified in the codifier of Roman law, Justinian: Faustus considers law a field with
a petty subject. Divinity: Faustus reads in different places that the reward of sin is death, and that all men sin. He reasons
that all men sin, and so all men must die, and dismisses this doctrine as "Che sera, sera." He bids Divinity farewell.
He turns to magic. Delighted by the art, he points out that even kings' powers are limited within territories. But
with the help of magic, Faustus can become a demi-God.
Faustus' servant Wagner enters, and Faustus bids him summon his friends, Valdes and Cornelius. Wagner goes.
Faustus declares that the advice of his friends will be helpful in the pursuit of magic. A Good Angel and Evil Angel enter. The Good Angel tells Faustus to put the evil book of magic aside, and the Evil Angel tells Faustus to
pursue magic will lead to power on earth. The angels exit.
Faustus thrills at the thoughts of the strange wonders he'll perform with his sorcery. Cornelius and Valdes enter.
He tells them that their advice has won him over: he will practice the magical arts. He will also pursue magic because he
has realized it is the only subject vast enough for his mind. Valdes is delighted, and thinks that Faustus brilliance combined
with their experience will make them all lords of the earth and the elements of nature itself. Cornelius tells him that his
learning is sound foundation for necromancy, and with magic they will be able to find hidden treasure in the seas and earth.
Valdes suggests some books, Cornelius suggests method, and Faustus invites them to dine with him. He vows to conjure that
Scene 1.2. Two scholars wonder where Faustus is. They spot Wagner, and ask the location of Wagner's master. Wagner
toys with them, mocking the language of scholars, before finally telling them that his master is with Valdes and Cornelius.
Wagner leaves. The scholars are horrified, because Valdes and Cornelius are well known to be necromancers. They decide to
go to inform the Rector. The First Scholar worries that nothing can help Faustus now, but the Second Scholar says that they
must do what they can.
The Prologue gives us Faustus' biography, up the point that the story starts. The lines are delivered by a Chorus,
an homage to Greek tragedy, but unlike Greek tragedy the Chorus in this play is not an integrated character. It acts instead
like a narrator, appearing only at the beginning and end of the play.
The Prologue makes prominent mention of the classical world. The Chorus mentions the god Mars, the Battle of Thrasimene,
the Carthaginians, and alludes to the story of Icarus. Marlowe was well versed in the Latin authors, and in particular loves
making allusions to Ovid throughout his plays. The allusion to the story of Icarus foreshadows Faustus' own fate. Icarus,
who escaped from an island tower with the help of artificial wings crafted by his father Daedalus, ignored his father's warning
not to fly too close to the sun. Icarus ignored the order, and the wax binding the wings melted. The young man plunged to
his death. The story has become a symbol for hubris, and the danger of overreaching the limits of man. The limitation of man
is a central theme of the play, and the theme is seen by the late of both classical and pagan worldviews.
Faustus has been spoiled by his own gifts. The Chorus tells us that the young man is brilliant, but that brilliance
has made him impatient with human learning, and now he has moved on to magic. Faustus' long soliloquy is a revealing introduction
to the character. The sin of pride is an important theme of the play, as pride is arguably the mother of all other sins. No
form of knowledge is satisfactory to him, and his dissatisfaction comes from pride. He does not wish to be constrained by
human limits. His condemnation of medicine is telling: Faustus is not pleased by his accomplishments as a physician, though
by him "whole cities have escaped the plague, / And thousand desperate maladies been cured" (1.1.21-2). Saving lives is not
enough. Faustus wants supernatural power: "Yet art thou still but Faustus and a man. Coudst thou make men to live eternally,
/ Or being dead, raise them to life again, Then this profession were to be esteemed." Faustus is expressing a deeply sacrilegious
thought. Within the Christian belief system, power over life and death belongs to God. Resurrection of the dead is for Christ,
and within God's power at the end of time. Through Christ's sacrifice, death has already been conquered, and through God's
grace even a sinner can be reborn. Faustus is not interested in this kind of salvation. He seeks a base, earthly mortality.
He therefore is unsatisfied with being mortal, i.e., subject to the laws of nature and God.
This sin is Faustus' greatest transgression, replicating the sin of Satan himself. According to the Christian tradition,
Satan originated as one of the angels, but defied God and led a rebellion in heaven. Satan and his angels were defeated and
cast into hell. Christian theology, particularly in the medieval Scholastic tradition, had devoted considerable attention
to the nature of Satan's sin. (The Scholastic tradition sought to combine pagan learning and methods, i.e. reason and philosophy,
inherited from the classical Greek and Roman thinkers, with the revealed [given by divine revelation] knowledge of the scriptures.)
Christian theologians had a high estimate of angelic intellect and judgment. Satan, many of them argued, could not have believed
that a rebellion against God could succeed. Satan's sin was not that he tried to replace God, but that he sought an independence
from God. This attitude was summed up much later, in Milton's
famous line for Satan: "Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven." Satan seeks an existence apart from God's dominion,
even if it means the agonies of hell, foremost of which is separation from God's love.
Faustus' sin parallels that of the archfiend. He seeks deification, a power apart from God's and not subject to him.
Faustus' problem is that he refuses to accept limitation on human potential. He also rejects, on every count, the fundamental
values of Christianity. Serving others, e.g. as a physician, is not enough.
Faustus' goals are a warped form of classical thoughts about human potential. Like Alexander the Great, who wept when
there were no more lands to conquer, Faustus cannot be satisfied with anything less than the absolute. If the rediscovery
of classical learning in the Renaissance led to new appraisals of human potential, Doctor Faustus reveals tension between
the classical view of humanity and the Christian. While human beings can still overreach themselves in the Greek worldview,
as in Greek tragedy, they do so in a moral framework quite different from that of Christianity. The gods of the Greeks can
be made to seem petty and cruel, and often seem to be personifications of the indifference or downright hostility of nature.
Even when the gods are depicted piously in Greek tragedy, a human being can be tragically flawed and retain his nobility.
But in the Christian worldview, a man who defies God, and who refuses to accept humble human limitations, is a terrible sinner.
The play makes Faustus impressive, but he can only hold to his views because of imperfect or selective understanding.
Faustus' shortcoming is that he values knowledge over wisdom. When he thinks about divinity, he considers the words, "If we
say that we have no sin, / We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us" (1.1.42) . The lines are from the First Letter
of John, and Faustus omits the very next passage: "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our
sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1.9). Ignoring the forgiving aspect of Christianity suits Faustus' temperament:
to be forgiven, one must subject himself to God, and we have already seen that Faustus rejects all such limitation.
Faustus takes the selected passages from scripture, and makes them appear comic. When he reads "The reward of sin is
death" (1.1.40), quoting Romans 6.23, his laconic "That's hard" usually gets a laugh from the audience. And by putting that
together with the passage from the First Letter of John, Faustus paints a picture of a sour and dour Christianity. He is able
to write it off, laughing, as his Biblical quotes in Latin are followed by his Latin interpretation: "Che sera, sera." Marlowe's
writing here produces some very complicated effects. On one hand, Faustus is mocking everything that's sacred. His picture
of Christianity is clearly biased and selective, not to mention impious. On the other hand, Faustus is being funny, and the
audience is laughing along with him in his sacrilege. We are being charmed by Faustus, even as we are being shown clear signs
of his moral shortcomings.
In an exuberant speech, he describes the wondrous feats he'll perform with magic. This Faustus is the classical Faustus,
the one at home with the wonder and strength of Greek humanity. Later, Faustus will fall far short of these goals.
In 1.2, Wagner's mockery of scholarly language is in prose, as opposed to blank verse. As in many of Shakespeare's
plays, Marlowe switches to prose for Wagner to suggest the course nature of the speaker. But Wagner's lines are funny, and
provide relief from the serious topic of damnation.
Summary and Analysis of Act I, Chapters 3-5
Prologue and Act One, Scenes 3-5:
Scene 1.3. Enter Lucifer and Four Devils. Faustus invokes them, performing the necessary incantations to make Mephostophilis appear. He commands Mephostopholis to depart, as his devilish form is too ugly to attend on Faustus. He is to
return in the guise of a friar. When the devil departs to change his form, Faustus is delighted at the creature's obedience.
Mephostophilis asks Faustus' will; when Faustus demands that the devil serve him, Mephostophilis informs him that his
master is Lucifer, and he cannot serve Faustus without his lord's leave. It was not Lucifer who charged Mephostophilis to
appear. The devil came of his own will, when he heard Faustus' profane incantations. So do all devils make haste at the sound
of sacrilegious magic, in hopes of winning the profaner's soul.
Faustus is all too eager to swear allegiance to Lucifer. He denies judgment after death, and he asks Mephostophilis
a series of questions. The devil informs Faustus that Lucifer was once an angel, beloved of God, who by aspiring pride and
insolence earned banishment from heaven. The devils with Lucifer in hell are those who conspired with him against God. When
Faustus hears that they are banished to hell, he becomes curious: how can Mephostophilis be before him now, outside of hell?
The devil informs him that he is always in hell, for true hell is separation from God. He begs Faustus to leave him alone
with these questions, which "strike a terror to my [Mephostophilis's] fainting soul" (1.3.82).
Faustus chides the demon, telling him to take lessons from Faustus when it comes to manly fortitude. He bids Mephostopholis
fly down to Lucifer to tell him that Faustus is ready to sell his soul. In exchange he wants twenty-four years of power and
luxury, with Mephostophilis in complete obedience to his whims. Mephostophilis exits.
In soliloquy, Faustus exclaims that even if he had "as man souls as there be stars" (1.3.92), he'd sell them. He thrills
at the power he'll soon have.
Scene 1.4. Wagner sees a poor Clown, and seems intent on making the Clown his servant. He jests that the Clown's poverty would
compel him to sell his soul for a raw shoulder of mutton. The Clown replies that the mutton would have to be cooked and with
good sauce. After some banter, during which the Clown refuses to serve, Wagner offers the clown some money. When the Clown
takes the money, Wagner sees the acceptance as compliance to servitude, and begins to give orders. The Clown tries to give
the money back. To break the Clown's resistance, Wagner summons two devils, Baliol and Belcher. The terrified Clown agrees
to serve Wagner. Wagner take the devils away, and the impressed Clown follows him, asking if in exchange for service he can
learn to summon devils. Wagner promises that he will teach the Clown how to change himself into an animal, and the clown bawdily
says that he would like to be flea, so he can tickle the slits of women's skirts. Keeping alive the threat of summoning the
demons again, Wagner bids the Clown to follow him, and the Clown obeys.
Scene 1.5. Faustus seems to be having second thoughts, unable to decide whether he should sell or keep. The Good Angel and Evil Angel appear again, the Good Angel telling him to think of heaven, and the Evil Angel telling him to think of wealth.
The thought of wealth makes up Faustus' mind. Mephostophilis returns, exhorting Faustus to sign away his soul in a contract
written in his own blood. Faustus asks Mephostophilis why the devils want his soul, and the heart of Mephostophilis' answer
is this: "Solamen miseris, socios habuisse doloris" (1.5.42). ("Comfort in misery is to have companions in woe.")
When Faustus cuts his arm for the contract, the blood congeals too quickly to make good ink. While Mephostophilis is
gone to fetch the fire to liquefy his blood again, Faustus wonders if his very blood is trying to stop him. But the devil
returns, and Faustus signs. The deal is done.
On his arm, the inscription "Homo fuge" ("Fly, oh man") has appeared. The message disturbs Faustus, but Mephostophilis
leaves and fetches devils to delight him. They crown Faustus, bedeck him in riches, dance, and then leave. Mephostophilis
Faustus declares the terms of the agreement. Faustus can take spirit shape in "form and substance." Mephostophilis
is subject completely to his whim, and must stay nearby, invisible. In exchange, after twenty-four years, the devils will
have his soul.
He questions Mephostophilis about hell, asking where it is. Mephostophilis tells him that hell is not so much a set
place: "Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed / In one self place" (1.5.124-5). Furthermore, ". . . when all the world
dissolves / And every creature shall be purified, / All places shall be hell that is not heaven" (1.5.127-129). Faustus doesn't
seem to understand, and dismisses hell as a fable. Mephostophilis' reply is chilling: "Ay, think so still, till experience
change thy mind" (1.5.131). They continue to talk, but Faustus can't seem to grasp what the devil is saying about the nature
He demands that Mephostophilis bring him a wife. Mephostophilis brings him a devil dressed as a woman, and tells him
that rather than bring him a wife, he'll bring him many different women, one for every moment of desire.
Faustus asks for knowledge: he demands books on all manner of incantations, astrology, and botany, and Mephostophilis
provides all of this on demand.
Marlowe makes the summoning scene more effective by placing the devils onstage from the start. When Faustus addresses
the invisible beings of hell, the audience sees those creatures there in the flesh. Their presence emphasizes what Mephostophilis
tells Faustus moments later: devils eagerly wait for people to call on them, hoping to win souls. Faustus believes he's the
one in control. When he forces Mephostophilis to leave and re-enter in a Franciscan monk's garb (a little jab at Catholics
that the Protestant audience would have found gratifying), he revels in the power he thinks he has: "Now, Faustus, thou art
conjuror laureate: / Thou canst command great Mephostophilis" (1.3.32-3). He doesn't seem to understand the implications of
what Mephostophilis tells him. The devil does not come because the incantations have power over him. He comes because the
sorcerer is ripe prey.
Throughout the whole scene, Faustus seems unable to understand the forces with which he deals. When he questions Mephostophilis
about hell, he does not understand that hell is primarily a state of the spirit. Mephostophilis is always in hell, even when
he appears on earth, because true hell is separation from God. The devil is actually hurt by Faustus' questions, and cannot
bear to think of his state: "Oh Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, / Which strike a terror to my fainting soul" (1.3.81-2).
The "frivolous demands" are the curious questions about hell's nature. Like an amateur scholar who collects facts but cannot
penetrate his subject deeply, Faustus seeks knowledge about hell; when the devil tells him about it, he doesn't understand
it. He has knowledge, but no wisdom, and prizing the first over the latter is a grave mistake, and a theme of the play. For
Mephostophilis, the experience of hell is painful and continuous, and not some scholar's trivia.
Sandwiched between two rather disturbing scenes, scene 1.4 is a bit of comic relief. Summoning demons becomes comic
rather than serious (one of the demons is named "Belcher." These comic scenes are ambiguous. They have been criticized as
irrelevant to the action and in poor taste; other audience members feel them to be a welcome relief from the serious subject
of damnation. This scene also serves to juxtapose Wagner's petty ends to Faustus' overreaching ambition. As the play progress
and Faustus sinks into debauchery, Faustus will come to seem as loutish and uninspiring as Wagner.
The final scene of the act shows Faustus having last doubts. But the Evil Angel's advice is taken over the Good, and
Faustus seems ready for hell. Even the writing on his arm ("Fly, oh man," presumably to God) is quickly forgotten, when Mephostophilis
distracts Faustus with a dance of devils. The need for distraction suggests that Faustus can still repent, and save himself
from hell; alternately, it might suggest that Mephostophilis feels an odd sympathy for Faustus, and wishes to distract him,
just this moment, from anxiety.
He asks Mephostophilis again about hell, and still can't grasp what the devil says. "And to be short, when all the
world dissolves / And every creature shall be purified, / All places shall be hell that is not heaven" (1.5.127-9). Faustus
responds that he thinks hell is a "fable." Mephostophilis' reply: "Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind" (1.5.131).
The devil knows how this story will end. He understands his answers, even if Faustus does not. The theme of mistaking knowledge
for wisdom continues at the end of the scene, when Faustus is delighted by the tomes of knowledge Mephostophilis provides.
He craves information on astrology and botany, but cannot grasp the spiritual truth of what hell is.
Mephostophilis' presentation of the devil dressed in woman's garb is more than a moment of black humor. It also suggests
that already, the devil is calling the shots even in the meager details. Faustus' wish for a wife isn't granted, and even
now with the twenty-four year term just started, Mephostophilis is willing to deceive him.
Summary and Analysis of Act II
Prologue and Act Two:
Scene 2.1. Faustus is in his study with Mephostophilis. He cursed the devil, for depriving him of heaven. Through shallow logic, Mephostophilis proves that heaven
is inferior to man. The Good and Evil Angel enter, repeating their old advice. The Good Angel tells him there is still time
to repent, and the Evil Angel tell him that as he is a spirit now, God cannot pity him.
Faustus speaks of the conviction that he cannot repent. The despair of that fact would drive him to suicide, if it
weren't for the pleasures he has seen. Homer has performed for him, and Amphion (a character from Greek myth) has played his music. He distracts himself
now by asking Mephostophilis a series of questions about the structure of the heavens. When his questions about astronomy
have been answered, he asks who made the world. Mephostophilis doesn't like this question, and when Faustus speaks of God,
the devil flees.
The Good Angel and Evil Angel arrive, repeating their advice about repentance. They depart, and Faustu calls out to Christ to help him. Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephostophilis arrive to intimidate Faustus. They say he injures them by saying the name of
Christ, and he agrees to say it no more. To entertain him, they parade the Seven Deadly Sins before him. Faustus is delighted.
Lucifer promises to show Faustus hell that night, and gives him a book on shapeshifting.
Scene 2.2. The Clown, here called Robin, has gotten one of Faustus' magic books. He's with Dick, apparently a servant, and two men banter. The Clown has the magic book, but apparently cannot read it. The
scene ends with the two men going off to get a drink.
Faustus is torn by the fear that even if he did repent, it would do no good. For the second time in the play, his Evil
Angel warns him that he is too far gone. Lucifer arrives and gives Faustus the same advice: "Christ cannot save thy soul,
for he is just" (2.1.88). But this advice comes from Evil. Both the Evil Angel and Lucifer are interested in bringing Faustus
into damnation; if it really were too late, they would be less concerned with Faustus' prayers.
Faustus is damned because he does not understand the nature of Christian redemption, a central theme of the play. If
Faustus repents, and asks forgiveness, then he can still be saved; the Good Angel promises as much. The Good Angel may be
interpreted as a dramatic representation of Faustus' better judgment, or it may be a literal character, Faustus' "guardian
angel." Many Christian theologians, since the time of the first Doctors of the Catholic Church, had held the opinion that
each human on earth had a guardian angel as protector and possible guide. Either way, the advice of the Good Angel is sound.
Given the distress of the devils, and their concern about keeping Faustus damned, an observant audience sees that there is
no real ambiguity about whether or not repentance would be too late; only Faustus is unsure.
Faustus, though a great scholar, continues to prize knowledge without acquiring wisdom. He distracts himself with questions
about the heavens, but does not understand the nature of God's heaven. He understands the forms of the heavens, but not the
force behind them. Because he is human, and flawed, he fails to understand the divine mystery of God's forgiving nature. He
believes himself damned, and so he finally gives in to the devil's pageantry of sin, and tries to enjoy being damned. Although
scholars generally hold that Marlowe did not write the segment where the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Covetousness, Envy, Wrath,
Gluttony, Sloth, and Lechery), the spirit at the end of the scene is basically the same. Faustus agrees to "think on the devil,"
and throw himself into being hellbound.
Scene 2.2 is another bit of comic relief. It includes bawdy jokes, good-natured humor, and content wholly free from
the serious subject matter surrounding it. Some argue that the comic relief scenes, taken together, constitute a counterpoint
to the main story of the play. According to this view, the main play is an exercise, Marlowe enjoying his craft, and he undercuts
the sincerity of the themes with a running series of scenes mocking the whole idea of demon summoning. The comic scenes and
their import would have served as an inside joke, maybe even a private one only enjoyed by Marlowe himself. However, this
interpretation might be making too much of a few short moments of comic relief. This interpretive reading of the comic scenes
is strongly colored by Marlowe's biography; but trying to read a play by what is believed about the author is always a difficult
and uncertain method. The opinion of this study guide scribbler is that there is no conflict between Marlowe the rebellious
atheist (if the hearsay about him was true) and the story of Doctor Faustus. For that reading, see the analysis for Act Four,
Summary and Analysis of Act III, Scenes 1-10
Prologue and Act Three:
Scene 3.1. The Chorus describes how Faustus went to the top of Mount Olympus,
and in a chariot drawn by dragons, studied the stars and the celestial structure. He then rode a dragon's back to study cosmography,
the shapes of coasts and kingdoms, and is now flying to Rome, where the feast honoring St. Peter is about to be celebrated.
Scene 3.2. Mephostophilis and Faustus arrive in Rome, Faustus describing
the places he's been. They wait in the Pope's own private chamber for him, as Mephostophilis describes Rome's wonders. When Faustus wants to see them, Mephostophilis restrains him, so that they
can torment the Pope and his subordinates.
The Pope enters with cardinals, Bishops, and Raymond, King of Hungary, and Bruno, a man in chains. Bruno is a man whom the Emperor of Germany tried to make Pope, and he is now vanquished. The
Pope makes Bruno bow as his foot stool and abuses him verbally. The Pope sends cardinals to proclaim the statutes naming Bruno's
fate. Faustus, who watches with Mephostophilis, unseen, orders Mephostophilis to follow the cardinals to the consistory and
magically put them to sleep. He plans to restore Bruno's liberty and return him to Germany. The Pope informs Bruno that the Emperor and he are to be excommunicated,
in order that the Pontiff's supremacy might be made clear.
Faustus and Mephostophilis re-enter, magically disguised as the cardinals who are now sleeping, under Mephostophilis'
spell. They declare the sentence of the Synod (council of Bishops). They take Bruno away, supposedly to be burned at the stake.
The Pope blesses them, which Mephostophilis loves ("So, so, was never devil blessed thus before" [3.3.197]), and they take
Scene 3.3. Faustus and Mephostophilis look forward to the confusion when the cardinals awake and return to the Pope.
They make themselves invisible, and the antics continue.
All goes according to plan. The unfortunate cardinals return, and confusion breaks out when it becomes clear that they
don't know where Bruno is. As the Pope is sitting for his meal, Faustus speaks blasphemies (an invisible man talking) and
snatches the Pope's food and wine. A Bishop suggests that the villain might be a ghost come from Purgatory. Faustus starts
to hit the Pope, who exits with his train. Friars return, with bell, book, and candle to perform rites that will rid the room
of the evil presence. Faustus and Mephostophilis beat up all the friars, throw fireworks, and leave.
The Chorus returns to tell us that Faustus returns home, where his vast knowledge of astronomy and his abilities earn
him wide renown. He becomes a favorite of Emperor Carolus the Fifth (Charles V, 1515-56), and his feats in that court we will presently see.
Scene 3.4. Robin the Clown, here working as an ostler (a person who takes care of horses) promises his friend Rafe that with his magic book, he can perform pleasure-giving feats. They steal a silver cup from a Vintner; when the Vintner arrives Robin summons Mephostophilis to deal with him. The devil puts squibs (sizzling fireworks)
in the backs of Robin and Rafe, and they run around like loons. Rafe returns the cup to the Vintner, who seems unable to see
Mephostophilis is furious at having been summoned all the way from Constantinople
to perform tricks, and he tells Robin and Rafe that he will turn one into an ape and the other into a dog. He leaves. Robin
and Rafe, as yet untransformed, seem thrilled at the idea of getting to be animals.
The choice of Mount Olympus
as a launch pad (3.1) is symbolic. Mount Olympus
is the abode of the gods in Greek myth, and Faustus reaching its summit suggests the nobility and glory due to man in the
Greek worldview. From there, Faustus ascends into the heavens themselves, reaching beyond the "Primum Mobile," beyond the
planets. Renaissance astronomy conceived of the heavens as a series of concentric spheres, centered on the earth. The Primum
Mobile was the first sphere to move, the mover of all the others. In the physical world, Faustus has found a limit to human
knowledge: the primary source, the prime mover, of the heavens. His mind, trained in traditions that have their roots in Greek
method and learning, methods that place man and his mind at the center of the universe, has reached new heights. Taking off
from Mount Olympus
is as close to divine (in one sense of divine) as a human can get.
But the descent comes rather quickly. Faustus moves from studying astronomy to cosmography (study of the earth) almost
immediately, foreshadowing his descent.
The scene in Rome shows Faustus at his worst. He does
nothing here but play cheap pranks, wasting time in a way that benefits humanity in no way. The scene allows Faustus to be
sacrilegious without offending his Protestant audience, because the object of scorn here is the pope. The depiction of the
pope would have been gratifying to the Protestant audience: he comes off as cruel, power-hungry, and as far from a holy man
as a man can be.
Also, there are jabs here at Catholic belief. When one of the cardinals suggests that the invisible attacker might
be a spirit come up from purgatory, his incorrect guess brings particular pleasure to Protestant viewers. Ghosts existed in
Catholic teaching, and were thought to be spirits of purgatory (a place where sinners are punished, but not eternally). Protestants
rejected such teaching, and held that ghosts were not the souls of people they claimed to represent, but devils in disguise.
Likewise, when the friars return with "bell, book, and candle," Mephostophilis' reaction is a kind of mock-concern:
"Now Fautus, what will you do now? / For I can tell you, you'll be cursed with bell, book and candle" (3.3.91-2). Protestants
flattered themselves with the belief that Catholics were superstitious. A more grounded charge was that Catholics were too
idolatrous of priestly authority. Note that the incantations of the friars (a fairly inaccurate parody of an exorcism) do
nothing. Faustus also laughs at the friars: "Bell, book and
candle, candle, book and bell, / Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell" (3.3.93-4). Here is another jab at Catholic
authority; in 3.1, the Pope says to Bruno, with relish, that he will excommunicate Bruno and the Emperor for their defiance.
Excommunication was exclusion from the community of the believers; to Catholics, it meant a sure sentence to hell. But as
the friars enter, cursing Faustus, it becomes clear that they have no power over him. Faustus will be going to hell, but not
because of a priest's authority. Man is damned by his own action, and not by the authority of a priest. From the Protestant
point of view, the friars perform a superstitious ritual cursing two beings who are already cursed.
Once again, in 3.4 we have a scene of sheer foolery. Robin and Rafe seek magic for no greater use than drunkenness
and sexual pleasure. Mephostophilis does not seem particularly interested in getting Robin and Rafe to sell their souls, and
he also is furious at having been called. His irritation undercuts his earlier statement that on the sound of magic incantations,
he comes not because magic compels him, but because he is eager to capture any man's soul (1.3). The likeliest explanation
is that this comic scene is outside the more serious scope of the main story, and is therefore outside the main story's rules.
But Robin is at least honest about his motivations. While Faustus once claimed he would use magic to change the world,
in 3.2-3 he used it for rather cheap tricks. The nobility of initial intention apparently lacks real integrity. At the end
of 3.3, the Chorus has told us that Faustus' knowledge has made him a bit of celebrity. Faustus has used his magic, not to
benefit mankind, but to do a bit of social climbing.
Summary and Analysis of Act IV, Scenes 1-4
Prologue and Act Four, Scenes 1-4:
Scene 4.1. Martino and Frederick, two nobles at the court of the German Emperor, converse about recent events. Bruno, the Emperor's choice for pope, is back, having ridden home on a demon's back. They are excited about the imminent
performance of Faustus the conjuror for the pleasure of the court. They try to rouse their sleeping lush of a friend, Benvolio, to come see the show, but he refuses to come. He'll watch from the window.
Scene 4.2. Charles, the German Emperor; Bruno, Saxony, Faustus, Mephostophilis, Frederick, Martino, and Attendants are in the
court. Benvolio's at the window. The Emperor welcomes Faustus, thanking him for delivering Bruno, and Faustus fawns on the
Emperor, promising wonders. Benvolio voices his skepticism, saying that if Faustus can conjure spirits, Benvolio is just as
likely to become a stag, like the mythical character Acteon . Faustus conjures Alexander the Great, the Persian Emperor Darius,
and Alexander's paramour, delighting the Emperor, who has to be restrained by Faustus from embracing Alexander. Faustus also
makes antlers grow on the head of Benvolio. He threatens to summon hunting dogs (paralleling the death of Acteon), but Benvolio
appeals to the Emperor for help, and the Emperor asks Faustus to restore Benvolio's human shape. Benvolio plots revenge. The
Emperor commends Faustus and promises him high office.
Scene 4.3. Enter Benvolio, Martino, Frederick, and Soldiers. Martino tries to stop Benvolio from making a move against
Faustus. Benvolio won't be persuaded, and his friends resolve to stand with him. Frederick
leaves to place the soldiers for ambush, and returns to warn them that Faustus is coming. The three friends attack, and Benvolio
cuts off Faustus' head. They plan to desecrate the head, and put horns on it . . . but Faustus' body rises. Because he made
his deal with the devil and was promised twenty-four more years of life, he cannot be killed. He summons his devils, at first
commanding them to fly with them up to heaven before dragging them down to hell. Then he changes his mind, because he wants
men to see what happens to his enemies. He tells the devils to drag the three friends through different parts of the wilderness.
The devils drag off the trio. The ambush soldiers arrive, but Faustus defeats them by commanding the trees and summoning an
army of devils.
Scene 4.4. Benvolio, Martino, and Frederick find each other in the woods. They all have horns on their heads. They
decide that attacking Faustus is futile, and so they retreat to Benvolio's castle, to live hidden from the world until the
horns go away; if the horns remain, they'll stay at the castle forever.
Faustus descends further. His warning to the Emperor reveals that he is not presenting the real Alexander the Great,
but merely an illusion: ". . . when my spirits present the royal shapes / Of Alexander and his paramour . . ." (4.2.45-6,
italics mine). While he spoke in Act One of using magic to be a great man, and reigning as sole king, here he's content to
put on a light show.
The delighted reaction of the Emperor to this suggests a cynicism about men of the world. No one at court is horrified
by Faustus' connections to the devil. Even Benvolio's opposition to him is motivated by personal insult rather than principles.
The Emperor tries to embrace Alexander the Great, even though he has just been told (between the lines) that what he sees
is mere illusion. All are impressed by Faustus' power, and fail to see what a misguided and unprincipled creature he is. Having
given the Catholic Church a send-up, Marlowe is critiquing the men of the world. And it is precisely the men of the world
that Faustus is now hoping to impress. He has no real power, and his excessive punishment of Benvolio and his cohorts shows
Glorying over the Pope, even if it took the form of cheap tricks, at least took on an upscale target. In 4.2-4.4 he
takes gratuitous pleasure in beating down a trio of run-of-the-mill courtiers. Marlowe makes the friends sympathetic. Frederick
and Martino agree to stand with Benvolio, rather than let their friend stand alone (4.3.14). And the sight of the three friends,
beaten and covered with dirt, and now comically deformed, can be played for laughs, for pathos, or for both.
Horns to Marlowe's audience would have been a particular mark of comic shame, as a man whose wife cheated on him was
called a cuckold, and cuckolds were represented in art as having horns. Incidentally, there was a long tradition in literature
of mistrusting scholars. In many bawdy tales, a man became a cuckold by taking on a poor young scholar as a boarder. The youthful
and vigorous scholar would proceed to seduce the man's wife. Hence Benvolio's reaction to the magical horns he grows, which
can be taken in two ways: "ŒSblood [an oath, short for ŒChrist's blood'], and scholars be such cuckold-makers to
clap horns of honest men's heads o' this order, I'll ne'er trust smooth faces and small ruffs more" (4.2.115-118). The double
entendre refers back to a long literary tradition, and would have given pleasure to the audience.
But the horns incident shows that Faustus' desperate situation. When first he enchants Benvolio, it is because Benvolio
says that if Faustus can conjure spirits, Benvolio will turn into a stag, like Acteon (4.2.53). Acteon is a character from
Greek myth, who would have been known to Marlowe via the great Roman poet Ovid. Acteon the hunter offends the goddess Diana.
She transforms him into a stag, and he is torn to pieces by his own hounds. Faustus manages to prevent Benvolio and company
from tearing him to pieces, seeing clearly that such was their intent (4.3.93). But Faustus will be torn to pieces later,
due to supernatural power, as Acteon was. The parallels are developed in 4.2, when Benvolio, panicking, likens Faustus' devils
to his dogs (4.2.102-3). As Acteon was murdered by his own dogs, Faustus will be murdered by his own devils. Faustus' gruesome
end will be at the hands of the very creatures he now commands.
Summary and Analysis of Act IV, Scenes 5-7
Prologue and Act Four, Scenes 5-7:
Scene 4.5. Faustus, reflecting to Mephostophilis that his years are nearly elapsed, decides to return to Wittenburg. A Horse-courser arrives, trying to buy Faustus'
horse. Faustus agrees to the offer, and warns the man not to take the horse into water. The man asks Faustus if he would do
the horse's urinalysis if the horse became ill, and Faustus tells the man to go. Faustus reflects on his quickly disappearing
time, and falls asleep. The Hourse-courser return, wet, because he rode his horse into water and it turned into straw. Mephostophilis
tells the man not to bother Faustus, but the man tugs at Faustus' leg, which comes off. Faustus screams, as if in pain, and
Mephostophilis threatens to take the man to the constable. The boy promises he'll pay forty dollars more, if they let him
go, and Mephostophilis tells him to go away. After the man is gone, Faustus seems to be fine. He has his leg again, and seems
to have been playing a few tricks to swindle the boy out of money.
Wagner enters, to tell Faustus that the Duke of Vanholt desires Faustus' company. Faustus decides that he wouldn't mind serving the Duke, and off they go.
Scene 4.6. Enter Clown, Dick, Horse-courser, and a Carter. The Hostess enters. The Clown (Robin) voices to Dick his worry that the Hostess will remember that he owes money. She does
remember, but doesn't seem to mind, and goes to fetch them so beer.
They talk about Faustus. The Carter complains that Faustus cheated him. When Faustus met the Carter while the latter
was carting hay to Wittenburg, the former paid a pittance for as much hay as he could eat. Faustus ate all the Carter's hay.
The Horse-courser tells them about how he was swindled, including a modified ending where he bravely went to his house and
ripped his leg off. They think Faustus is legless, and so they decide to drink some more before going to find the good doctor.
Scene 4.7. Enter the Duke of Vanholt, his Duchess, Faustus, and Mephostophilis. The Duke thanks Faustus for his magic,
which conjured the sight of a castle in the air. When Faustus asks the Duchess to request what she will, she asks for ripe
grapes, although it be January. Faustus sends Mephostophilis to fetch them. The Duke wonders, and Faustus gives a lecture
on how the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. Robin, Dick the Horse-courser, and the Carter bang on the gates.
They apparently want Faustus, and he tells the Duke to let them in.
They enter, all having various scores to settle with Faustus. Faustus toys with them a bit (since they think he's missing
a leg). The Hostess enters, with drink, apparently hoping to get paid. Faustus uses magic to strike the Clown characters speechless,
one at a time. They exit. The Hostess asks who'll pay, and Faustus strikes her speechless too. She goes. The Duke and his
Lady are delighted.
Just when you think Faustus can't go any lower, lower he goes. The play has been criticized as a bad jumble of clownish
scenes, and the B text in particular certainly has plenty of moments of uninspiring silliness. But Marlowe is making an incisive
critique of power and wish fulfillment.
Faustus' opponents become more pathetic as the play progresses. Papal power, even when wielded by an ass, presents
some kind of target. Knights at a court, when they threaten one's life, might seem like sport. But Faustus now has degenerated
to swindling peasants out of money. These are the uses to which he puts his vast power.
Once Faustus has omnipotence, but a definite end to it, he has no incentive to grow as a human being, and he seems
too lazy to look beyond his lifetime. Leaving behind an empire, or an improved world, just don't hold any interest for him,
just as being a doctor, in his pre-Faustian bargain days held no interest for him. Magnified powers haven't magnified Faustus'
capacity for care, or his love of humanity.
Faustus only reflects on his own diminishing time: "What are thou, Faustus, but a man condemned to die?" (4.5.41).
Knowledge of a final end paralyzes him, and Faustus seems what modern people would call depressed. But his rhetorical question
shows how poor his understanding is of the Christian God, and God's plan for mankind. He is more than a man condemned to die.
He is a child of God, ransomed by Christ's blood, and invited to take part in eternal life.
Scholar RM Dawkins argues that Faustus is a "Renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price for being one." But
the play itself would suggest that Faustus is not a true Renaissance man. He is someone incapable of living up to the standards
of the medieval era, and he is equally incapable of living up the Greek-influenced standards of the Renaissance. He rejects
the submissive morality of Christianity, cutting himself off from goodness, but he cannot live up to Renaissance greatness.
Faustus fails to live up the standards of a tragic hero. He has amathia aplenty, a necessary ingredient in the constitution
of a tragic hero. Amathia is a Greek word, meaning a man's failure to recognize his own nature. But Faustus lacks nobleness,
and from the start his interest in selling his soul seems to come from boredom and restlessness. In Act One, he makes long-winded
boasts about the uses to which he'll put his power. What we learn subsequently is that Faustus' amathia is a bit of a letdown.
He fails to recognize that he's a lazy slob. He is all talk, and no action.
In his finest moments, Faustus speaks to the desire for freedom in us. He gives voice to the Greek desire to defy Necessity,
and live as master of one's own fate, even for a short time, even if it means disaster. Like Prometheus, he accepts eternal
torture as the ransom for a prized goal. But Prometheus sacrifices himself for the benefit of the human race. While Faustus
initially pretends to have an interest in greatness, his actions undercut the fine speeches, and he spends his twenty-four
years as a lascivious and pathetic loser.
The diminishment of Faustus' targets (pope to knights to peasants) also undercuts Faustus' status as an anti-hero.
Some scholars label him as an anti-hero, but the pre-occupation of the play with silly pranks suggests otherwise. Even if
Faustus rejects both Christian goodness and Renaissance/Greek excellence, to qualify as an anti-hero he still needs to make
a good hellraiser. Tamburlaine, the Asian conqueror in the Marlowe play of the same name, is such an anti-hero. Tamburlaine's
sacrilege and cruelty contribute perversely to his charisma. But Faustus, by wasting his time on unworthy opponents, undercuts
the sympathy of a passionate audience. Even the Satan of the ultra-religious Milton
is a more sympathetic character.
If Marlowe was in fact a fearless rebel and atheist, this temperament does not bar him from writing a cautionary tale
for would-be rebels. Doctor Faustus suggests this: if you're going to reject authority and society's moral norms, be sure
that you're man enough to replace those things with something better, or at least something striking. To rebel is not enough.
To question authority is insufficient, if you can't forge a meaningful existence when free of authority.
The theme of seeking knowledge without gaining wisdom lurks behind Faustus' failings. Faustus' knowledge at the start
of the play not only excludes the wisdom of religious tradition, but it has failed to deepen his understanding of himself.
When he makes his fateful decision in Act One, he does not realize that he'll be spending his years of omnipotence swindling
Summary and Analysis of Act V, Scene 1
Prologue and Act Five, Scene 1:
Scene 5.1. The stage directions: "Thunder and lightning. Enter devils with covered dishes. MEPHOSTOPHILIS leads them
into FAUSTUS' study. Then enter WAGNER."
Wagner tells the audience that he thinks Faustus prepares for death. He has made his will, leaving all to Wagner. But even as death approaches, Faustus spends
his days feasting and drinking with the other students.
Wagner exits, and Faustus, Mephostophilis, and three Scholars enter. At their request, he conjures the sight of Helen of Troy. Ravished, the Scholars
leave, thanking Faustus. An Old Man enters, warning Faustus to repent, saying there is still time. Faustus seems shaken and moved, knowing that
his hour approaches quickly. He seems to think that he is doomed. Mephostophilis gives him a dagger. Faustus tells the man
that his words have brought comfort, and asks him to leave, so that Faustus can contemplate his sins.
Faustus seems ready to repent, but Mephostophilis threatens him with physical violence. Faustus begs pardon, and orders
Mephostophilis to go torment the old man. Mephostophilis tells Faustus that he cannot touch the Old Man's soul, but he can
harm the Old Man's body. Faustus asks Mephostophilis to bring Helen of Troy to him, to be his love, and Mephostophilis readily
The devil brings forth the shape of Helen, and leaves. Faustus gives the most famous speech of the play:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies.
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell for heaven is in those lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena. (5.1.97-103)
The Old Man re-enters, watching, as Faustus speaks of how he'll relive the myths of Greece, with Helen as his love and himself playing Paris of Troy. He leaves with
The Old Man watches, and knows Faustus is lost. The devils enter, to torture him, but he is completely unshaken. They
cannot harm what matters, and he faces them without fear.
Marlowe sets up an evil parallel of the Christian trinity in the three devils (Lucifer, Mephostophilis, and Belzebub). The devils of hell make an occasion out of winning the single soul of Faustus. Just as Christ is the Good
Shepherd, who goes in search of one lost sheep to save it, the devils take great pains even to damn just one soul.
The conjuration of Helen of Troy, in addition to providing occasion for some of the play's finest lines, also resonates
strongly with the central themes of the play. The scholars' delight reflects Faustus' old infatuation with the beauty of Greek
thinking and literature.
The Old Man offers Faustus yet another chance to repent, and makes clear that Faustus can still be saved. But Faustus
chooses instead to take a lover-spirit in the shape of Helen of Troy. His speech is beautiful, but as usual Faustus is all
talk. He seems unable, or unwilling, to realize that his poetic praise is only a damned man's fantasy. Helen of Troy is not
there: Faustus makes love to a dream.
Even within his fantasies, Faustus reveals his failure. Though he fantasizes about being Paris, the Trojan prince who
causes the war by abducting Helen, he chooses not to remember that Paris
is traditionally depicted as a coward and moral failure. Faustus speaks of battling for Helen: "And I will combat with weak
Menelaus, / And wear thy colours on my plumed crest. / Yes, I will wound Achilles in the heel, / And then return to Helen
for a kiss" (5.1.106-7). The language is beautiful, but Faustus has altered his source story. Paris did indeed fight Menelaus, but the Greek king was far from "weak." Only the intervention
of the gods saved Paris, and by allowing himself to be saved, Paris doomed his city and his people to destruction. Faustus imagines himself as a Greek
hero, with a touch of the chivalric lore. His talk of wearing Helen's colors on his crest was a knightly tradition. But shooting
Achilles in the heel was not a knightly act. It was an example of weak man beating a far better one, by exploiting a unique
weakness. This speech shows Faustus' problem. He seems to know the Greek stories, and loves their beauty, but he doesn't understand
them. Though he rejected the Christian God in part because he thought to aspire to Greek greatness, his understanding of the
Greek worldview is selective and shallow.
He loses his last chance at redemption, and he also wastes his remaining time on lechery. He also orders his devils
to attack an old man who only tried to help him. But the Old Man's spirit is untouchable, and the wounds to his flesh are
insignificant. Faustus, on the other hand, caves quickly when Mephostophilis threatens him with physical violence. By prizing
flesh over spirit, Faustus betrays both Greek and Christian values. He escapes physical harm for now, but Faustus, and not
the Old Man, is the one who'll know true suffering.
Summary and Analysis of Act V, Scene 2
Prologue and Act Five, Scene 2 and Epilogue:
Scene 5.2. Thunder. Enter Lucifer, Belzebub, and Mephostophilis. Tonight is the night when Faustus will give up his soul, and the unholy three seem to be looking forward to it.
Faustus and Wagner enter. Faustus asks Wagner how he likes the will, which (as we learned in 5.1) leaves all to Wagner, and Wagner
The three scholars enter. They notice that Faustus looks ill. When they suggest bringing a doctor, Faustus tells them
he is damned forever. Tonight he is to lose his soul. The scholars advise him to repent, but Faustus thinks it's too late.
He regrets having ever seen a book. The scholars and Wagner do not sense the presence of the devils. Faustus tells them that
he cannot even raise his arms up to God, for the devils push his arms down.
The First Scholar asks why Faustus did not speak of this before, so that they might pray for him, and he answers that
the devils threatened him with bodily harm. Faustus tells them to leave him, to escape harm when the devils come. The Third
Scholar considers staying with him, but his colleagues convince him not to invite danger. They go to the next room to pray
for Faustus. The Scholars exit.
Mephostophilis taunts Faustus. Faustus blames Mephostophilis for his damnation, and the devil proudly takes credit
for it. Mephostophilis exits, leaving with the line, "Fools that will laugh on earth, must weep in hell" (5.2.106).
The Good and Evil Angels arrive. The Good Angel laments that Faustus has now lost the eternal joys of heaven. Now,
it is too late: "And now, poor soul, must thy good angel leave thee: / The jaws of hell are open to receive thee" (5.2.124-5).
The Good Angel exits.
The gates of Hell open. The Evil Angel taunts Faustus, naming the horrible tortures seen there. Faustus is terrified
by the sight, but the Evil Angel reminds him gleefully that soon he will feel, rather than just see. The Evil Angel exits.
The Clock strikes eleven. Faustus begins his final monologue. He pleads beautifully, and futilely, for time to stop
its forward rush. He realizes time cannot stop, and delivers these memorable lines: "Oh, I'll leap up to my God: who pulls
me down? / See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament. / One drop would save my soul, half a drop. Ah, my Christ!"
(5.2.156-8). He has a vision of an angry God. He pleads with different aspects of nature to help him, but they can't.
The clock strikes for half past the hour. He pleads that God will shorten his time in hell to a thousand, or even a
hundred thousand years. But he knows that hell is eternal. He wishes that Pythagoras' theory of transmigration of souls (reincarnation)
were true. He wishes that he could be an animal, whose souls are not immortal. He curses his parents, then curses himself,
and finally curses Lucifer. The clock strikes midnight. With thunder and lightning scarring the skies, he cries aloud for
his soul to dissolve into the air, or drops of water, so that the devils cannot find it. The devils enter. As Faustus begs
God and the devil for mercy, the devils drag him away.
Scene 5.3. Enter the three Scholars. They've been much disturbed by all of the terrible noise they heard between midnight
and one. They find Faustus' body, torn to pieces.
Epilogue. The Chorus emphasizes that Faustus is gone, his once-great potential wasted. The Chorus warns the audience
to remember his fall, and the lessons it offers.
Faustus lacks the high dignity of a great tragic hero, but he seems nevertheless to be well liked by his fellow men.
Wagner seems concerned about his master, and the three scholars like Faustus. The cynical audience member might argue that
the three scholars only like Faustus because he conjures great wonders for them, and that Wagner likes Faustus because the
damned scholar is leaving him all his wealth. But this cynical view does not square with what we actually see on stage. Wagner's
opinion of his master may have improved after he was named Faustus' heir, but he seems genuinely concerned for Faustus. He
certainly doesn't seem to be looking forward to Faustus' death. And the Scholars all seem to be upstanding men, the Third
Scholar going so far as offering to stay with Faustus when the devils come.
The clock striking eleven might suggest the parable told by Jesus in chapter 20 of the Gospel of Matthew. But the point
of Christ's parable is that those who accept him in the eleventh hour can still be saved, while Faustus at this point seems
to be irrevocably damned. Before the clock strikes eleven, Faustus' Good Angel abandons him. What is Marlowe suggesting? Marlowe
possibly may not have the Gospel of Matthew in mind. The chiming clock may only be there to heighten suspense by giving Faustus
an agonized last hour before a dramatic midnight death. But another possibility is that Marlowe is playing loosely with the
Christian framework, in order to make his own point. If Marlowe is indeed using Doctor Faustus to suggest that rejecting traditional
systems of morality has to be followed by replacing those systems with something valid, then repentance right before the end
would most definitely be meaningless. Faustus' potential is squandered.
But the play draws from the great richness of the Christian worldview. Faustus' beautiful lines about Christ's blood
streaming in the firmament show how well Marlowe can use, and transform, Christian imagery. The whole final monologue is quite
rich, and would make an excellent choice for a close reading paper. Faustus is doing more than making a powerful last lament
before his death and damnation. Within 57 lines, the speech leaps from concept to concept, spanning vast centuries and idea
systems that are worlds apart. Though a close reading seems beyond the scope of this study guide, attention should be paid
to the different sections of the monologue. Faustus makes an odd and distinctive appeal to the forces of nature (5.2.163-174);
he alludes to various theories and conceptions of the soul (5.2.177-189); even when despairing, toward the monologue's end,
he uses striking imagery.
Much of Faustus' despair comes from the fact that he has no one but himself to blame. He curses his parents for giving
birth to him, but quickly realizes where the real fault lies: "Cursed be the parents that engendered me! / No, Faustus, curse
thyself, curse Lucifer / That hath deprived thee of the joys of heaven" (5.2.190-192). Faustus knows that he at least shares
the responsibility for his own damnation, even if he partly implies that the devil made him do it. His last moments show a
pathetic, terrified man.
The Chorus emphasizes the lost potential represented by Faustus' failure. He is the cut "branch that might have grown
full straight" (5.3.20). They close with the conventional admonition to obey the commands of heaven.
Doctor Faustus can be read convincingly as a Christian text, with an authentic and literal Christian core. Reading
the play as an atheistic or ironic work is much harder to justify, and seems unduly colored by Marlowe's vague and ambiguous
biography. But Doctor Faustust may be something else entirely: a cautionary tale, certainly, but one that uses the Christian
framework, respectfully and admiringly, for issues concerning Marlowe.
The play is very difficult to perform now, because contemporary audiences are separated from the complex worlds Marlow
drew upon to create his play. Religion, obviously, was a much stronger part of the audience's life during Marlowe's time,
and the concerns and new conflicts of the Renaissance were once current cultural waters rather than movements and concepts
to be studied in class. But Doctor Faustus is invaluable as a text because it helps the reader to understand the times in
which Marlowe lived and wrote. The play also has many fine speeches, and Marlowe's work helps us to better appreciate Shakespeare.
For those who make the effort to understand his plays within the context in which they were produced, Marlowe needs
no apology. Marlowe's supposed recklessness is famous, but works like Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine show a deep moral seriousness,
and a great mind at work. These qualities transcend the texts' value as cultural documents, and will continue to bring pleasure
to those readers who make the effort to appreciate Marlowe on his own terms.