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Doctor Faustus | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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Act 1, Scene 4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Scene 4 of Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus.

Doctor Faustus | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



Wagner engages in some banter with a clown, or peasant, by calling him "boy." Insulted, the fellow asks how many "boys" he has seen with beards like his. Wagner then asserts that the fellow looks unemployed and hungry enough to sell his soul to the devil for some meat to eat. He tries to recruit him to become his servant, but the clown seems unwilling. So Wagner threatens him with magic—to turn all the clown's lice into evil spirits that will tear him to pieces. When this fails, he forces money on the fellow that the man tries to return. In frustration Wagner calls up two devils, Baliol and Belcher, who chase the terrified clown. After a few moments, Wagner sends the devils away. Now the clown, impressed by Wagner's demonstration, consents to serve Wagner if he will teach him to summon devils, too, and other feats of magic.


As the play progresses, an alternating pattern of serious and comic scenes becomes apparent, with the comic scenes offering a parody by providing a mocking imitation of the preceding serious scene. These scenes serve to ridicule the presumed greatness of Faustus's achievements as he masters black magic at the price of his soul. In this scene Wagner demonstrates that even the unschooled can summon devils.

In a bit of comic relief, Wagner's actions once again reflect the previous events involving Faustus. Mimicking his master, Wagner engages a clown (meaning a rustic fellow or peasant) to be his servant. Determined to convince the fellow to serve him, Wagner employs insults, crude logic, and bribery. Traditional means of persuasion prove too weak to be effective. Like his master, Wagner decides that the only way to get what he wants is through magic.

In the previous scene (Scene 3), Faustus conjured a devil. In this scene Wagner conjures Baliol and Belcher to frighten the clown. Just as Faustus hopes to engage the services of Mephastophilis through magic, Wagner hopes to engage the services of the clown through intimidation by magic. Wagner also mimics the two scholars, the intellectual snobs from Act 1, Scene 2. While he objected to the pompousness of the two nosey scholars, he now assumes a superior attitude and talks down to the clown, again recalling Faustus's arrogance and sense of entitled superiority.

Variations of the A-Text and B-Text identify the clown as Robin, a character who otherwise appears for the first time in Act 2, Scene 2.

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