This is the full title to the play by Christopher Marlowe, nicknamed Kit Marlowe. This play exists in two very different forms. They are distinguished as the A text (1604) and the longer B text (1616).

The A text has a prologue, 13 scenes, and an epilogue.

The Chorus introduces the play. The prologue lets the audience know that this is not the normal heroic, romantic, or political play. Instead, it is about the character and decisions of Faustus. Then, the chorus tell the audience that Faustus is born of normal parents in the Rhodes, Germany. He is educated at Wittenberg and studies medicine and divinity. He is so conceited that he reaches too high, as did Icarus, and falls when he takes up necromancy. Then the curtain opens to Faustus sitting in his study.

Scene 1
Faustus is sitting in his study, and talking to himself about his studies. He first considers his studies in logic. He decides that logic offers little except the ability to "dispute well," and since he has achieved that he will no longer study logic anymore. Next he considers medicine, but even though he is a doctor, Faustus feels that curing disease is not enough. Because he is unable to raise the dead or procure immortality, medicine is not a good profession. Next he considers law and finds it boring and boorish. He moves quickly on to divinity. However, he does not like how the Bible says that man must sin and therefore die. He decides to give up divinity. He does find a study that brings him joy: magic and necromancy. He loves the idea of omnipotence. He calls Wagner, his servant, to invite Valdes and Cornelius, magicians, to his home. After Wagner is dispatched on his mission, a good angel and a bad angel appear to Faustus. The good angel implores Faustus to give up this blasphemous idea and go back to the Scripture. The bad angel tells Faustus to continue in this endeavor. The angels leave. Faustus is caught up in his reverie of the power that will be in his grasp. Valdes and Cornelius come and discuss Faustus's commitment to necromancy. Faustus swears that this is what he wants, and Valdes and Cornelius agree to teach him.

Scene 2
Two scholars wondering about Faustus run across Wagner. They inquire about Faustus, and Wagner responds incryptic, pseudo-scholarly answers. The scholars find out that Faustus is going into magic and fear for him. This short scene shows that Faustus does have people who care for him. His decision to relinquish his normal studies does have outside ramifications.

Scene 3
Faustus is trying to conjure up Mephastophilis. The devil appears, and Faustus tells him to leave and come back in the form of a Franciscan friar. The devil leaves and returns as asked, and Faustus gloats in his power. Faustus tells Mephastophilis to become his servant, but Mephastophilis says that he is unable to because he is bound to Lucifer. Faustus learns that although he conjured Mephastophilis, it was not because of his conjuring. Mephastophilis appeared on his own accord because he heard Faustus swear against God and Christ. Faustus verbally dedicates himself to Lucifer, and asks about him. Lucifer was once the most dearly loved angel, but by aspiring to be as great as God, he fell from heaven. Mephastophilis had sided with Lucifer, and thusly, he fell with Lucifer. Faustus asks where they are damned, and Mephastophilis answers hell. Faustus is confounded becauses Mephastophilis is damned in hell, yet is in his study. Mephastophilis replies that hell is anywhere heaven is not, and laments his loss. Faustus upbraids him about his lament and tells the devil to look upon his "manly fortitude." He tells Mephastophilis to tell Lucifer that he will exchange his soul for 24 years of service from Mephastophilis. Mephastophilis leaves on the errand, and Faustus dreams of his greatness.

Scene 4
This is a comic scene with Wagner and a clown. Wagner forces the clown to become his servant. He sets two devils on the clown to enforce his desire. The clown agrees to serve Wagner.

analysis to continue at a later time

Goethe also wrote about Faustus but the treatment is quite different. The immediate source of the play is a German narrative. Its English title is The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus.

A discussion of why God damns Dr Faustus, and whether the reader does the same. More interesting if you've read the play than if you haven't, probably.

When presented with the opportunity of ultimate power, here are some of the things Faustus does with it: makes a horse turn into hay; makes himself invisible in order to play practical jokes on the Pope; obtains grapes in the middle of winter; enquires about scientific theories; and briefly gives a man antlers, before removing them at the request of a monarch.

Faustus is in a sense too ‘small-time’ to be considered evil. His actions are not those of a man who knows what he wants to do with his near omnipotence, nor those of the kind of figure who could be described as a monster and universally reviled. Though he flirts briefly with the possibility of reigning ‘sole king of all our provinces’ - in itself a fairly limited kind of power, when compared to the almost infinite earthly possibilities available to him - he never seriously pursues this possibility, contenting himself with a mixture of historical tourism and petty tricks, a thirst for knowledge and a desire for distraction.

His damnation, then, does not rest on any inherently devilish qualities. He is damned because he does not (or can not) repent; he is damned because he fears the devil more than he fears God. The terrible irony of Faustus’ fate is that he only needs to be scared of hell because - he is so scared of hell. And yet - one of the reasons he so willingly signs his eternal life away is that he is unconvinced, even flippant, about Mephistopheles’ warnings of the horrors of the afterlife. It is only as the play reaches its climax that he begins to confront his deep-seated terror of the afterlife awaiting him. So initially, Faustus is damned because he has no fear of the devil; and ultimately, he is damned because he fears him too much. This apparent contradiction -he’s damned if he does, he’s damned if he doesn’t - may be a kind of evidence for the view of the play as essentially predestinarian.

There is something strange, too, about the way he seems to know that he can repent and yet not know it. Time and again he flirts with returning to God, culminating in his acknowledgement of the redemptive power of the blood of Christ:

See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament! One drop would save my soul, half a drop. Ah, my Christ!
But then immediately he is ‘pulled down’ once more, in his mind by Lucifer, in fact by his own shortcomings, by his lack of faith. He understands intellectually the possibility of redemption - but he cannot make himself believe in it in his gut.

One of the mistakes he makes is to blame his damnation principally on Lucifer - for example, at the very end of the play he says

Curst be the parents that engendered me!
No, Faustus, curse thyself. Curse Lucifer,
That hath deprived thee of the joys of heaven.
If this is a kind of ascending tricolon, with Faustus blaming his parents the least and the Devil the most, it is a perverse one. In this instance he commits the same sin as Adam when he tells God that he was given the fruit: it is his abdication of personal responsibility that renders him unforgivable. Lucifer and Mephistopheles never lie to Faustus, and never beat around the bush about the ultimate consequences of his actions. It is telling, too, that he so often refers to himself in the third person: this rhetorical device may hint at this refusal a to take his actions upon himself, at a sense in which none of what he does is real or likely to have any true consequences. In this respect, his refusal to accept the reality of hell despite the assurances of a high-ranked demon -surely the most reliable of evidence he could possibly get save the word of God himself - is highly relevant:
Come, I think hell’s a fable.
Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond To imagine that after this life there is any pain? Tush, these are trifles and old wives’ tales.
Mephistopheles is emphatically not an old wife: Faustus must know this, and is surely lying to himself.

Any gesture towards repentance must therefore inevitably be superficial, and he gives himself away here: as well as trying to blame Lucifer rather than himself, he is bitter about being denied the ‘joys of heaven.’ This suggests that any repentance here would be a matter of personal expediency rather than true contrition, and thus false.

This raises interesting questions concerning whether or not the doctrine of predestination is endorsed by Christopher Marlowe’s play. When is Faustus finally damned? Is it before he is born, or when he signs his compact with Lucifer, or is he still forgivable until the moment he is dragged into the fiery pits?

The most important thing to keep in mind when considering Dr Faustus from a theological point of view is that we must distinguish between the extremely complex theories of predestination contemporary with the play, and what is above all a play in its own right rather than a dramatisation of these issues. It is dangerous to extrapolate a set of beliefs for the playwright from his play: his primary concern is always what works dramatically. For example, in the final scene Faust says

...or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!

This is not really in keeping with any form of christianity. Repentance is meant to be possible at any point before death; but in the world of the play it is dramatically more interesting to present Faustus with the torture of believing that repentance had been possible, but is so no longer.

It is necessary, too, to keep the two versions of the play distinct. `there are vital differences between them in this religious context, amongst which the two versions of the Bad Angel’s line in 2.3 are perhaps the most interesting:

(a text) never too late, if Faustus can repent
(b text) never too late, if Faustus will repent

Such a fundamental dichotomy demonstrates that the two cannot be lumped into a single entity, and that it is dangerous to talk in absolute terms about Marlowe’s intentions in the two combined, lest we lose sight of the fundamental ambiguities in each text.

The ambiguities are large. It is impossible to say definitively whether or not Dr Faustus is a play with a sense of predestination. this is in part because the logic behind the theory of predestination itself is so paradoxical and complex that disentangling the ideas it involves is an extremely difficult process when they are presented in the abstract; set in a play, it is almost impossible.

It is also partly because Marlowe refuses to explicitly state whether or not Faustus has a chance at salvation. This allows Dr Faustus to be two different plays at once: a play which shows us the predestined tragedy of Faustus, and plays with ideas of fate in a classical tragical sense; and a play in which Faustus’ fate is not certain, and there is always a chance that he will be redeemed. It allows it to avoid the risks of being interpreted as a single issue religious tract. It allows it, fundamentally, to be more interesting.

One fascinating part of the religious aspect in the play is the fact that we might disagree with God. We may agree that, technically, Faustus must inevitably be damned; but at the same time, we may question whether he really deserves that damnation, and whether we are not in fact rather sympathetic to his cause. The Faustian desire - to resolve me of all ambiguities is essentially the same desire as that at the heart of the Renaissance. Amongst other things, Dr Faustus is a dramatisation of the dichotomy between Medieval and Renaissance values. There is an inevitable tension between religious beliefs which demand that everything be accepted on faith and the new hunger for scientific knowledge; above all, the Renaissance was an era which embraced the sentiment of the prologue to The Jew Of Malta that

There is no sin but ignorance.

In this context, Faustus’ desperate desire to know all that he can of how the universe works -it is, after all, his first question after sealing the contract - does not seem unreasonable. We might think of the Tower of Babel. We share his curiosity, even as we are aware that the price he has paid is a terrible one.

Faustus is certainly not an unsympathetic character aside from his pact. He is a learned man; he has a great thirst for knowledge; he is kind to his manservant; he never causes any great harm with his extraordinary gift, and often uses it to delight others. As a result, it is hard for us to judge him as God does. He is human, and fallible, and makes a great mistake; but his failure to repent is borne out of fear rather than arrogance, and he has all the charm of every character who takes an extraordinary risk in part as adventure. It is hard to imagine many audiences cheering as he is dragged into the furnace, even in contemporary times; in a modern era which has entirely embraced the spirit of discovery - we sent a man to the moon principally because it was possible - Faustus begins to look like an intrepid discoverer, rather than a heretic.

It is interesting to note that whereas the Devil pushes his claim to Faustus’ soul, God sits back and watches, never playing an active part in the course of the play. It is up to Faustus to save himself: though the good angel and the old man are of God, they are not necessarily sent by God: in many ways the most important ‘character’ in the play has no lines, and never appears on stage. (One can’t read too much into this, of course: to present God on stage would have been a heresy.) God’s authority, though unquestioned, therefore seems distant: the part of our nature closer to Lucifer seems much more real and much more immediate. (Certainly, Faustus himself often seems to feel decidedly at home with Mephistopheles, calling him ‘sweet friend’, and being able to confide in him what he cannot tell any other except at the end of the play.) We might wish that Faustus could ‘get away with it’, and sneak into heaven despite his renunciation of God.

Ultimately, it is because Dr Faustus works above all as a human tragedy that we remain sympathetic to the man who sells his soul to the devil. Rather than being made a monster by this, it is a consequence of his harmartia, his too-great desire to understand the universe. And because Faustus’ fate is so devastating and so absolutely final in a way impossible in any other tragedy -death itself, the usual tragic conclusion, doesn’t come close to an eternity of being ‘fed with sops of flaming fire’ - we may feel more than usually sympathetic for a man who made a choice with very clear consequences which he, at some level or other, must have understood. The play would be a great deal less successful if it were a simple morality play, a tale of the bogeyman Faustus who sold his soul and paid the price: infinitely more complex than that, it is deeply morally ambiguous and capable of leaving an audience wrestling with its own conscience. We may accept that God damns Faustus: we may nevertheless wish that he had not. It is possible to both accept and understand his damnation, and retain a degree of sympathy and admiration for a character who is perhaps the most extreme example of the burning passion of the Renaissance spirit.

Discuss the contributions that the central scenes make to Marlowe's intentions in Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus was written by two men- Chris Marlowe, who has the credit for writing the play because his name is on the cover, and some other writer who we don’t know because his name does not appear on the title page of the play. Marlowe gave this ghostwriter man the basic ideas for some of the scenes and let him get on with it, while he concentrated more on the moral, philosophical and theological side to his play. This second writer has wrote half of the play because the high-brow and low-brow scenes alternate. The central scenes are scenes 6 through to 12, and they are the scenes after Faustus’ deal with the Devil, and before his damnation. In them we see two ostlers try their hand at conjuring, Faustus visit Europe, Faustus play tricks on the Pope, the two ostlers Robin and Rafe once more play tricks, Faustus entertain the Emperor, Faustus trick a horse-courser, and Faustus entertain nobility. They provide a commentary on twenty-four years of the Doctor’s life, and show us just exactly what he gained for such a high price, his soul- basically, nothing. The central scenes have little in the way of morality which is explicit. But the morality is certainly there. The central scenes have far more below the surface we don’t see at first glance. The first thing these scenes manage to do is, they illustrate the main points Marlowe had to make in his play by analogy, viz. the emptiness of Faustus’s life. The second thing they do is, they help to keep the groundlings happy. The humor is mostly low and base, even where Faustus is concerned (especially where Faustus is concerned) which would appeal greatly to the illiterate uneducated population who couldn’t afford seats, but this is not to say the more educated will look down upon the humor, thinking it below them- the central scenes provide an ironic commentary on the main plot which is probably better understood by the more educated.

Scene 6 is part of the alternate plot, and involves Robin and Rafe (sometimes referred to as Dick). These two are servants, and in the Platonic Great Chain of Being, are far beneath Doctor Faustus. Robin has stolen one of Faustus’ books. He is illiterate- well, he can read, but not very good. His education probably did not exceed a year of elementary reading and counting. But nonetheless he hopes to use the book for some conjuring. What he hopes to do is to make girls dance for him nude. Just make girls dance for him. Not having imagination or intelligence, all he can think of is satisfying his baser self. With a devil working for him, he could distribute wealth equally so nobody in the world starved, he could cure all manner of diseases, or he could just live in a palace and be worshipped as a minor god. But all he thinks he really wants is to ‘see more than ere (he) felt, or saw yet’. But in the twenty-four years Faustus is given with Mephastophilis, Lucifer’s right-hand man, no less, working for him, Faustus is doing exactly what Robin hopes to do. He is satisfying his low, base desires with sex and wealth and earthly pleasures. In this way, Marlowe has shown us the asininity of Faustus. True, he is a graduate of Wittenburg University and a greatly respected doctor and master of every field, but in this scene we see the truth- that he, a doctor, a man so high up in the Great Chain of Being, is just the same as a servant. Another point made in this scene also emphasises Faustus’ asininity. Doctor Faustus really did not think any of his plans through and now he is eternally damned. Robin, in scene 8, conjures up Mephastophilis- Mephastophilis does not come of his own accord but he was forced to come by the words uttered by Robin (we know this because Mephastophilis is vexed at having had to leave Faustus and Rome- if he had any choice in the matter he would have just stayed). Faustus had to hand his soul over to Lucifer for Mephastophilis to work for him. Robin did not have to sell his soul. He didn’t gain anything by his conjuring, other than being transformed into an ape, but in his simplicity this gave him as much happiness as Faustus beating the Pope about the ears. So by not selling his soul he gained about as much as Faustus did by having to sell his soul. The two characters Robin and Rafe would have been recognised by the majority of the audience because they are generic characters and represent the whole of the poor population of London, or the rest of the world. In this way everybody, or at least the groundlings, can relate to the two and understand the points Marlowe is trying to make. The upper-classes only would be able to relate to the character of Faustus, but the majority of the audience is made up of the poor and uneducated, so by showing the whole continuum of 16th Century society, Marlowe can have everybody seeing what he’s trying to get at.

Scene 7 asks the question- is what the limited human imagination can come up with, really worth an eternity of pain and suffering, infinitely worse than what we are used to on Earth? Is a Grand Tour of Europe really worth such a high price? In the twenty-four years Faustus is given to do as he pleases, what he does is this- see Europe. That’s basically the whole of it. Or, all we are told he has done. Surely an eternity spent in a place far, far worse than the worst place humanly imaginable doesn’t equal the things Faustus has decided to use his powers for. All Faustus has done is: sit in a dragon-driven chariot and flown around Europe. He has seen Trier, his native Wittenburg, and in this scene he will visit the Pope at St. Peter’s feast. There is a lot of low-brow, slapstick comedy in this scene, which would be loved and would make the groundlings really pay attention to what’s going on.
The whole play asks the same question in different words- can an eternity of unimaginable torture, both physical and psychological, really be a price for twenty-four years of seeing Europe and playing tricks on people? Was Faustus ripped off?

What is ironic about all of this is that in scene 1, the Evil Angel promises he will ‘be::: on Earth as Jove is in the sky’. Only he isn’t. He is not worshipped as a ‘mighty god’. Indeed, when entertaining the Emperor, he bows down low to the ground and speaks humbly, like he knows his place- only his place is as emperor of the universe, higher up than any Emperor of the World. Isn’t Faustus a minor god?

Personally I think Faustus is greedy. Greedy and foolish. He is like the man who killed the hen who laid the golden eggs so he could get at the vast store of gold within the belly of the goose, but, of course, as soon as the goose died she stopped laying gold. Faustus is that man. He had it all- respect, fame, wealth, he was one of the most knowledgable men on the face of the planet. But he was evidently a fool. He was a fool to sell his soul for literally nothing. Okay, as close to nothing as one can get without actually getting to nothing. Maybe he performed one or two astounding feats, maybe he did go around invisible for a while (quite what the advantages of invisibility may be I do not know, one would be totally blind with light passing straight through one’s retinas, but then, it is 1604 the play was published- actually, wasn’t there already a node on E2 discussing the drawbacks of invisibility? I’ll find it.), maybe he managed to aquire some out-of-season grapes, maybe he did fly around in a dragon-drawn chariot. But in the same way as a day is infinitely longer than no time at all, his twenty-four years of the most paltry magic ever count for nothing against the eternity of horrendous pain and anguish. Faustus could have been accepted by God into Heaven with open arms for all his services to mankind. He cured ‘thousand desperate maladies’. But Faustus wanted more, he wanted to be God, and it was for this same desire that Lucifer fell, that Adam fell (he wanted God’s Knowledge), that Icarus fell, and now Faustus will fall, and he was so, so close to heaven he could smell it. And he threw it all away, he signed away his soul literally for nothing. He willingly gave Lucifer the right to abuse him as he will.

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