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;
“Think, Faustus, upon God, that made the world”.
By setting his mind to Christianity and referring to God and religious beliefs, Faustus attempts to secure himself against his reckless decision. In a mismatched attempt at confused redemption, he then lashes out at Mephasophilis, shouting;
“Ay, go accursed spirit, to ugly hell,
Tis thou hast dammed distressed Faustus’ soul:
Is’t not too late?”
Here, his language descends from the majestic and stylised descriptions and ambitions we are used to, into the prose that is more characteristic of servant charcters such as Wagner. The reckless force of “to ugly hell” emphasizes Faustus’ complete confusion and angst at Mephastophilis, while the form of his sentences becomes almost disjointed, with varied sentence lengths and an unelaborated, direct outburst. Even the questioning of “Is’t not too late” shows Faustus desperate tries to repent. Panicking, he attempts to remind himself of Jesus – as though clinging onto religion as he states;
“Ah Christ my Saviour, seek to save
Distressed Faustus’ soul”.
We see here he also refers to his soul as “distressed” – showing he is still at a loss in the struggle between good and evil. Therefore, Marlowe introduces Lucifer to resolve the troubled Faustus towards evil, blinding any traces of hope he may have had to repent. He states outright;
“Christ cannot save thy soul, for he is just.”
Suggesting that it is too late to be saved, as God is fair and cannot help him. However, this, of course, defies Christian belief that repentance is always possible. Therefore, Lucifer is seen to be twisting these rules in order to tempt Faustus back towards the devil. And certainly, he soon gives in to Lucifer’s reasoning, claiming;
“And Faustus vows never to look to heaven”
As Lucifer so quickly convinces him, it would appear that Faustus is blind to the truth of repentance. And I feel at this moment, the audience truly realize that he can never escape this tragic spiral into damnation.
Overall, we have seen how Marlowe uses this section of Dr.Faustus to present the tragic traits in Faustus’ character, and most importantly to highlight his flaws, and how they show the gradual failure of his plans. It deals with important contextual issues, such as the limitations and implications of over ambition shown in Mephastophilis blunt offerings – which Marlowe demonstrate the consequences of over-reaching yourself. It also presents us with the Morality play idea, by using the Good and Evil angels to present Faustus’ inner struggle of good versus evil, which he cannot overcome. Finally, Marlowe has also used the section to convey the traits of the Elizabethan tragic hero – in Faustus’ constant search for achievement, inability to recognise implications and failed plans. Ultimately, I feel the section is significant as it powerfully highlights these characteristics to portray the dangers of Faustus’ exploits, while evoking feelings of fear and tension with the audience towards the tragic climax at the end of the play.