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Christopher Marlowe: The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus

Vocabulary: temptation motif, tragedy, anti-hero, chorus, textual variant, Faustian bargain, mirror scene, seven deadly sins, dog latin

Introduction: What three great tragedies did Marlowe write? What are some of the occult legends or superstitions surrounding Marlowe's Faustus? What translated German narrative may have been a source for Faustus?

Identify the Following Characters
Faustus, Mephistopholis, Good Angel, Bad Angel, The Pope, Wagner, Rafe, Vinter, The Emperor, Helen of Troy, the Seven Deadly Sins

Reading Questions:

  • Where is the play set?
  • What does Faustus study in college? (i.e., what is his "major"?)
  • What four sorts of books does Faustus sort through and then discard in the opening scene? Why does he discard each type?
  • What is the one type of book that still holds interest for Faustus?
  • What are some of the goals or uses Faustus has in mind when he first imagines summoning demons?
  • In scene two, how do the other scholars at the university react to rumors of Faustus's necromantic dealings?
  • What problem does Faustus encounter when he first summons Mephistopholis? (i.e., why does he require the demon to leave the stage and then re-enter?)
  • What does Mephistopholis tell Faustus when Faustus starts feeling cocky about his ability to "command" the spirits to appear before him?
  • What is Faustus's belief about the afterlife?
  • According to Mephistopholis, where is hell located? (trick question!)
  • After talking to Mephistopholis, Faustus is left alone on stage at the end of scene three. What are some of the plans he has for using his demonic servants? (i.e., what are some of the things he wants to achieve?)
  • How are the activities of Wagner and the Clown a mirror scene for scene three? What truth do they reveal about the nature of diabolism and demonic summoning?
  • According to Mephistopholis, why does Satan want Faustus's soul? What good will it do Satan to have souls?
  • When Faustus makes a cut on his arm to write his name in blood on the demonic contract, what initially happens when he waits for the blood to drip out? What does this suggest? After he signs the contract, the blood on his arm forms into letters. What words do the droplets of blood form? (Either provide the Latin or the translation.)
  • What are the five conditions Faustus sets down in the contract?
  • When does the contract expire?
  • Faustus asks Mephastophilis to provide him with a wife. Why can't Mephastopholis do this, according to the footnotes in Abrams' edition of the text?
  • Mephastophilis refuses to tell Faustus who made the world. Why do you suppose he refuses?
  • What seven figures does Lucifer use to distract Faustus from his prayers?
  • Of the seven figures, Faustus scorns all of them except one. Which one does he react to positively with the exclamation, "Oh, this feeds my soul!"
  • After seeing the deadly sins, Lucifer offers Faustus a book that will instruct him in shape-changing ("take this book, peruse it thoroughly, and thou shalt turn thyself into what shape thou wilt.") What is the symbolism here?
  • Immediately after Faustus is intrigued by one of the seven deadly sins, we switch to scene six. Here, Robin is also up to a bit of witchery as well. What mighty magic does he wish to work upon the parish maidens? How is this a mirror scene for what took place in scene five and in scene twelve?
  • What bribe does Robin offer to Rafe to get him to participate in his enchantment?
  • What famous figure in Italy do Mephastopholis and Faustus go to visit?
  • What spell does Mephastophilis cast on Faustus to allow him some slapstick fun while he is there?
  • What do Faustus and his companion steal from the Pope? How might this be symbolic?
  • How does scene eight serve as a mirror scene for scene seven? How might the vintner's desire to have Rafe and Robin pay for their wine tab be symbolic? (i.e. why does Marlowe have them indirectly stealing wine rather than jewels or money?)
  • Why is Mephastophilis so upset by Rafe and Robin's summoning? What does Mephastophilis do to Rafe and Robin and the Vinter as punishment?
  • When Faustus goes before the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany, the Emperor wants Faustus to raise up famous spirits of the dead for conversation. Faustus cannot do that, so what does he do instead? What does this limitation in Faustus's magic suggest symbolically or allegorically?
  • What do Faustus and Mephastophilis do to the rude knight at the emperor's court?
  • In scene eleven, what trivial task does Faustus appoint to Mephastophilis when he visits the Duke's pregnant wife?
  • In scene twelve, when Mephastophilis threatens to arrest Faustus' soul for treason and rend it, to whom does Faustus appeal for mercy? Why is this ironic?
  • How does Mephastophilis distract Faustus from his thoughts of repentance? [I.e., who or what does he bring as the ultimate distraction? How does this choice of temptations correspond to Faustus's reactions to each of the seven deadly sins earlier?
  • In scene thirteen, Faustus tells the scholars that he cannot call upon God or repent. Why not?
  • What large object dominates the stage during the last scene? Why does this object's relentless motion cause so much despair in Faustus?
  • What happens to Faustus at the end of the play--perhaps a bit predictably?
  • What promise does Faustus make as he is carried off stage?

Food for thought:

Does Marlowe depict Faustus as having the capacity to repent after he signs away his soul? What clues in the text can we find regarding this question? Do the differences between the A text and the B text alter that?

What does the play suggest about the desire to use evil means to achieve good ends--such as using demons to improve the world?

Identifications: Explain who the author is, who or what character is speaking (if any), what the work is, and what the significance is for each passage below:

A: I'll have them fly to India for gold
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,
And search all corners of the new-found world,
For pleasant fruits and princely delicates.
I'll have them read me strange philosophy
And tell the secrets of all foreign kings:
I'll have them wall all Germany with brass,
And make swift Rhine circle fair Wittenberg;
I'll have them fill the public schools with silk,
Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad.

B: Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,
Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.

C: Oh, somthing soundeth in mine ears:
"Abjure this magic, turn to God again."
Ay, and [xxx] will turn to God again.
To God? He loves thee not:
The god thou servest is thine own appetite
Wherein is fixed the love of Belzebub.
To him I'll build an altar and a church,
And offer lukewarm blood of newborn babes.
                    
D: Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet [XXX], make me immortal with a kiss:
Her lips sucks forth my soul, see where it flies!
Come [XXX], come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips,
And all is dross that is not [XXX]!

Question: Who is addressing whom in this passage above, and what is the context?

E: Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually.
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease,and midnight never come.
[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
O 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--
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ;
Yet I will call on him--O spare me, Lucifer!

F: You stars that reigned at my nativity,
Whose influence hath allotted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
Into the entrails of yon laboring cloud,
That when you vomit forth into the air
My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to heaven.

G: Adders and serpents, let me breathe awhile!
Ugly hell gape not! Come not Lucifer!
I'll burn my books!


 

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