Indeed, Doctor Faustus, possibly Marlowe’s second play, is a magnificent triumph of a master artist. The German tale Foust of a gross conjurer is transformed into a touching and soul stirring tragedy by Marlowe’s wonderous creative art.
Marlowe’s play does not present Faustus in his early life and student career. It is rather a dramatic presentation of the decline of his scholar and theological character under the evil influence that led him to his damnation.
Doctor Faustus Summary
Table of Contents
The play begins with Faustus in his study, determining his future course of reading, suited to his nature and fortune. He has already gained mastery over so many subjects. He begins to examine the scope and utility of different subjects, he had already studied. He takes, one after another such subjects as logic, physics (medical science), law, and divinity and theology But he finds no satisfaction to his temperament and prospect in any one of them.
After a prolonged deliberation, he finally makes his mind to study necromancy or the black art of magic. He is quite assured of the rare benefit he must gain out of this study. He sends his servant Wagner to call his intimate friends Valdes, and Cornelius to have conversation with them to settle his ultimate course finally.
Of course, Faustus’s conscience pricks him, tries to prevent him from having recourse to the dark art of necromancy, but his vaulting ambition to possess immense power and authority by means of that subject shuts out and silences the honest pleading of his conscience.
So, Faustus, advised by his materialistic friends, makes his final choice to be an expert in the art of magic. He is mad to command the world and pays no heed to the pack of his conscience or the persuasion of his university mates.
Faustus summons Mephistopheles, who is made to appear in the shape of a Fransican Friar, and has a straight dialogue with him. He agrees to sell his soul to Lucifer provided that he is given the total service of Mephistopheles for twenty-four years.
Faustus’s terms are accepted by the Lord of the infernal world who is too eager to possess his enterprising soul. A contract is signed between them and Faustus agrees to go to hell in Lucifer’s domain after enjoying Mephistopheles rare service for twenty-four years.
Now starts the wonderful magical functions of Faustus’s art. He is eager to enjoy in full the boon he has gained. He continues to read different books on magic, gathers knowledge, learns the dark art of magic and begins to exercise his power. Of course, his conscience still tries to restrain him and, warns him against the consequence of his unfortunate decision But, Faustus is too much under the cover of the devilish power and can no more deviate from the course he has already willingly chosen.
With the help of Mephistopheles, Faustus travels at his ease extensively and performs the wonderful feats of his magic. He visits Rome, disturbs and insults the Pope, during the feast of St. Peter by his mischievous magical contrivances. He also responds to the invitations of the German Emperor. At his request Faustus conjures up the spirit of Alexander the great with that of his paramour. At the same time, he justly punishes a skeptical knight who troubles and taunts him during his conference with the Emperor.
But this is not all. Faustus also attends the palace of Duke of Vaunholt and pleases the Duchess by bringing lovely ripe grapes for her at the wintry season from the other part of the world. The Duke is highly pleased and liberally bestows rich gifts on him.
But the span of Faustus’s power grows to a close, just as the allotted period of twenty-four years rolls out gradually. Faustus becomes saddened, as his damnation is near at hand.
At last comes the dreadful hour: the clock strikes twelve and pathetically crying Faustus is dragged to hell by the devils. All his wishes and laments are of no avail. The great man in Faustus is dammed, eternally for his unholy ambition to possess dark knowledge and unauthorized power.
Doctor Faustus Analysis
I. Faustus under the Lure of the Evil Knowledge of the Magic Art.
The play begins with Faustus’s deliberation within himself as to what subject he should study extensively. Of course, his objective is to win fame and power
He scrutinizes different subjects — logic, physic (medicine), law, divinity and theology and rejects each of them. He finds none of them suited to his nature and temperament. His final choice is the dark science of necromancy. With the help of this he may wield immense power and authority.
This is the Exposition of the play and serves to indicate the trend of Faustus’s degradation to his damnation to come soon.
Act 1, Scene 1 and Scene 2
II. Faustus’s Temptation, the Beginning of his Decline
Faustus makes his decision. The black art of magic is best for him. He pays no heed to any friendly warning or care for no prick of his own conscience. He agrees, and signs the agreement with Lucifer. The terms settled are his enjoyment of the service of Mephistopheles for twenty-four years and the surrender of his soul to Lucifer after the expiry of that period
The Development starts here from. Faustus is tempted and agrees to sell his soul to the infernal power to enjoy pelf and power for twenty-four years.
Act 1, Scene 3 to Act 2, Scene 1
III. Faustus’s Wonderful Feats with the Aid of Evil
Faustus masters magic and Mephistopheles’ service and performs wonderful feats to win commendation and reputation. He travels extensively and visits courts and palaces and succeeds in his exhibition of magical skill. First, he is in Rome, at the palace of the Pope, and deliberately plays mischief and makes fun of the mighty head of the Roman Church from his invisible station. As his fame spreads, he is invited by the Emperor of Germany. He gives him immense delight by conjuring up the spirits of Alexander, the great, and his paramour. Of course, he puts to ridicule and scorn a knight who scoffed at his magical skill. Faustus’s third big venture is at the court of the Duke of Vaunholt. He brings a dish of delicious grapes much to the wonder and pleasure of the Duchess.
The Development continues, as Faustus excels in his magical art in different noteworthy places achieving fame and name.
Act 2, Scene 2 to Act 4, Scene 3
IV. Faustus’s tragic end
Faustus’s end draws nearer. The period of twenty-four years rolls on and his find phase comes. Faustus is pricked by his conscience and gives way to a deep sense of quiet and despair. He is terribly excited and grows nervous as the final hour of his life comes at hand. Devils come to fetch his soul to hell amid his pathetic cries.
This is the Catastrophe. Faustus has a gloomy and tragic end, as the devils drag him down to Hell.
V. The moral end
The play has a moral note at the end with the comment of the chorus on the need of restraint in human conduct and ambition.
Doctor Faustus Title
Marlowe’s plays are found usually titled after the name of his hero and, in one case, his heroine. His three important plays, besides Doctor Faustus, are names after his heroes–Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta and Edward the Second. Of his incomplete plays the Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage, is after the name of his heroine.
In Doctor Faustus the same trend to title his play after his hero remains. In fact, this is just enough, for the action of the play is here dominated, as in Tamburlaine and The Jew of Malta, by the Marlovean hero Faustus. Like those plays, this is single-starred and the hero steers the entire action and the emotional appeal of the tragedy.
The supposed source of Marlowe’s play is the English translation, entitled The History of the Damnable Life and the Deserved Death of Doctor Faustus of the German story Faustbuch. Marlowe’s dramatic action covers the story of Faustus life, his surrender to, under the lure of power and fame, the evil-force and his rightly deserved damnation. Nothing else is worth mentioning in the action of Marlowe’s play. The dramatic action starts with Faustus’s deliberation on the course of study to be chosen by him. This ends with his end in hell, when dragged out by devils. In fact, Faustus is the key figure all through the action of the play.
Moreover, the sole figure of significance is Faustus. Except, Mephistopheles, all others are merely shadowy sketches and serve little purpose in the making of the play.
Indeed, there can be nothing else, save Doctor Faustus, as the title of the play.
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