Essay Preview: Doctor Faustus
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Remind yourself of scene 5, lines 167 – 280 (pages 31 – 37 in the New Mermaids Edition) from “Now would I have a book” to the entrance of The Seven Deadly Sins. (In some other editions, this section begins near the end of Act 2 Scene 5 and includes the opening of Act 2 Scene 1.)
What is the importance of this section in the context of the whole play?
In your answer you should consider:
-The dramatic effects created by the Good and Evil Angels
-The language used by Faustus and Mephastophilis.
This section of the play has both an important structural and contextual role in Dr. Faustus. Leading the audience through his doubt and limitations, Faustus begins to realize that his potential for knowledge and power is not half as grand as he expected. This leads him into strong bouts of inner struggle, as shown by the appearance of the good and evil angels on stage. The forces of good and evil start to tear away at Faustus, and he begins the decline into his inventible tragic downfall at the end of the play.
At the start of section, we see Faustus is beginning to use his powers to attain rare and elusive knowledge about our universe, forming elaborate demands, such as;
“Now would I have a book where I might see all characters and planets of the heavens, that I might know their motions and dispositions”. Of course, the knowledge is granted, but appears to be enclosed in one single-volume book. Faustus sees this as a boundary – another restriction, on the pledge that was supposed to bring him ultimate rewards. He states;
“O thou art deceived!”,
realising the dissatisfaction, and what he has sacrificed.
It could be said that Marlowe uses this anticlimax to warn the audience not to follow Faustus ways, emphasizing the fact that it can only bring superficial pleasures and shallow reward.
The section is also characterized by the two appearances of the good and evil angels, which I feel play a significant role in the morality issues the dealt with in the play.
Aside from signifying the persuasion into evil, the appearance of the angels also represents Faustus inner conflict, by exposing his gradual realisation that his actions have left him disappointed, and the fact that he cannot escape the religion within him. These scenes are vital to the play, and are used by Marlowe to present Faustus thoughts on stage. If seen in the context of a morality play, it could be said that by using the angels, Marlowe is able to emphasize one of Faustus tragic flaws – that he ignores the fundamental belief of repentance. The reoccurring appearance of the angels provides Faustus with many opportunities to repent and save his soul, even after he has signed the binding contract, such as is seen on line 188:
“Faustus repent, yet God will pity thee.”
These reminders resurface in Faustus mind each time he faces disappointment. However, each time – the whole concept of forgiveness is dismissed in favour of his fatal ambition and arrogance. It can also be noted that the evil angel always follows last, thus highlighting his ignorance of saviour.
Also present throughout this scene is the portrayal of Faustus dissatisfaction, as shown by his bewilderment at finding his new-found knowledge is restricted by a single volume book, and the discontent he displays when Mephastophilis fails to answer his ultimate questions;
“Tush, these slender trifles Wagner can decide!…
…Tell me who made the world?
Mephastophilis: “I will not”
“Villain, have I not bound thee to tell me anything?”
Here, Marlowe draws on Faustus realisation that his plans are failing – throwing him into confusion and disappointment.
His descent into this disheartening realisation is characterised by a progressive change in language throughout this section of the play. Faustus compares the knowledge to that of his servant, Wagner – highlighting the base level of his reward. Then, The answers offered by Mephastophilis become increasingly blunt, trailing from the elaborate blank verse that previously enticed Faustus into restricted comments such as;
“I will not.”
These frank, blunt replies – characterised by hard language, and outright statements like “thou art dammed.” emphasize the harsh restrictions placed upon Faustus power. He is ultimately held back by the wrath of God, and as this crushes his ambitions, his discontent is reflected in his language in the following lines. He begins to remind himself of God, stating;