Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1590s)


Scene 1

Faust begins by surveying all knowledge (ll. 1-63) and, one after the other, finds philosophy (5-10), medicine (11-22), law (27-36), and theology (35-46) wanting. Faust has become a great scholar, but, because none of the learning has acquired will make him a superman, he rejects it all in favor of black magic.

The good and bad angels are straight from the land of medieval allegory. When you have time some day, read Everyman, a morality play that I didn't assign, to see where Marlowe is coming from. To aspire to be more than human is, of course, to break the Great Chain of Being, which ordains man's place as lower than that of God and his angels.

l. 87-8 As a recent graduate, he fantasizes about making student life more pleasant.

l. 90 Parma = Spain--those hated Catholics, again.

Scene 2

Wagner is a peasant; Marlowe uses him to comment on the action and (with Robin) to provide comic relief.

Scene 3

ll. 9-10, 16-24 Magic often involves perverting Christian names and/or ceremonies.

Like Archimago, Mephistopheles is a shape-shifter. Chaucer, Spenser, and Marlowe seem to agree on their opinions of friars.

l. 49 Mephisto. tells Faust that he is not (yet) very powerful.

ll. 66ff. The devils are fallen angels; Milton will take up this idea with a vengeance. Note esp. l. 80 and 85-6.

ll. 87-88 Note Faust's foolish, blind arrogance.

Scene 4

This is a parody of the main action: soul in exchange for mutton and black magic trivialized.


Scene 1

From here on, remember the arguments of Despair (FQ), which Faust echoes repeatedly.

ll. 35ff. Marlowe makes abundantly clear that the deal is Faust's own decision, a free act of his will.

ll. 76ff. The blood running down his arm seems to form letters (or is it only an illusion?). (Think of the blood in the Rood.)

ll. 155 Faust begins with lechery, a sin of the flesh and one of the lesser sins. Note that Mephisto. can only produce a woman like Spenser's Lucifera or Duessa--an imitation of what man really wants.

Scene 2

Faust wavers again and again between hope and despair. Note the bad angel's message that God is just (l. 85)--he omits the other half of the truth, which is that God is also merciful.

The devils clearly feel seriously threatened at this point, or they wouldn't arrive in force.

ll. 111ff. The procession is very medieval. If you read Canto 4, compare this procession to that one.


Scene 1

We will see more of this model of the universe in Milton.

The pope is the head of the Catholic church. Note the ref. to "superstitious books" in l. 115. Part of the "fun" is to see the Catholic hierarchy [look it up] discomfited [look it up, too]. At the same time, Faust's behaviou betrays a witless ness and a childish cruelty that hardly becomes a great scholar.


Scene 1

l. 9 Note that Faust has been reduced from great scholar to "German conjurer." It's a little like dealing drugs in the inner city: he's given up everything, even his reputation, for the goods of this world.

Scene 3/4

Note both Faust's triviality and his cruelty.

Scene 5

l. 29 Faust implies that he is planning a death-bed repentance.


Scene 1

Helen was the cause of the Trojan war. Read up on it in Mythology if you don't know/remember.

ll. 37ff. Who is the old man? (good question)

l. 54ff. Have you seen this dagger before somewhere?

l. 68 He repents and despairs at the same time--not possible. Repentance must be accompanied by hope--hope in God's mercy.

Note the contrast: the devil can't really hurt the old man because of the decision he has made.

ll. 98ff. This is the most famous passage in Marlowe. Listen to it. Notice the beauty and power of the poetry--used to express the folly of the love/emotions it seems to glorify.

Scene 2

l. 40 The other half of the message. Faust says he cannot be pardoned (39), but that is because he will not repent and believe.

ll. 94-6 Shades of Spenser's Despair!

ll. 104-5 Note that Marlowe ends scenes or important speeches with couplets (this one is particularly striking). Note, too, the increase in rhyme beginning in l. 119.

l. 123 [stage direction] "discovered" = un-covered, revealed

140ff. Note the Renaissance preoccupation with passing time (which is here put to profoundly good use). From here to the end of the scene, read s l o w l y. This is high drama, drawn out by the repeated interruptions in this long soliloquy [look it up ].

Scene 3

This last scene knits up the plot and lets the audience down more gently than the previous scene would have (compare Canto 12). Like FQ this ending reimposes order that has been disrupted, states the moral of the work clearly, and restores us t o a world we recognize as "normal."

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Rev 1/98