Doctor Faustus | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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Doctor Faustus | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

In a brief soliloquy Wagner expresses concern that his master intends to die soon. Faustus has given him all his possessions. Yet it seems odd to him that, for a man about to die, the doctor is feasting, drinking, and partying to excess with university students.

As Wagner departs, Faustus enters with three scholars. They have been dining together, and the scholars now beg Faustus to conjure up the peerless beauty Helen of Troy. Seeing that they are sincere in their interest, Faustus consents. With the help of Mephastophilis, Helen appears in all her glory, to the awe and delight of the scholars. They depart happy men.

An old man enters as the scholars are leaving. He offers Faustus yet another chance to repent. Though the doctor's sins are heinous, he still may be saved through the mercy of Jesus Christ, the Savior. Disbelieving and in despair, Faustus takes a dagger offered by Mephastophilis, intending to commit suicide. The old man begs the doctor to stop, declaring that an angel hovers over him, ready to grant him grace. Faustus senses some truth in this and asks the old man to go away while he ponders it. The old man leaves with a heavy heart.

Faustus teeters on the verge of repentance until Mephastophilis calls him a traitor to Lucifer and threatens to tear him apart. With apologies, Faustus declares he will reaffirm his vow in blood and, cutting his arm, writes. Then he commands Mephastophilis to torment the old man who dared tempt him to break his pact with Lucifer. However, the old man's faith is strong, and Mephastophilis predicts that no torment can touch his soul, only his body. Faustus then asks the devil to bring back Helen to be his lover, which the devil does gladly "in a twinkling of an eye." Bedazzled by her beauty and her kiss, Faustus swears she will be his one and only paramour. When Faustus departs with Helen, the old man (who has returned) is threatened by devils. However, as Mephastophilis expected, his faith remains strong and unshaken by their abuse.

Analysis

The scene opens with Wagner, still in the role of Faustus's faithful servant, speaking as a choric narrator (taking the place of the chorus). He relates what Faustus has been doing and confides his personal fears for his master's well-being. Through his description of Faustus's eating, drinking, and carousing, it becomes clear that the doctor has reached new lows in his corruption. While Faustus apparently realizes that his time is nearly up, he seems interested not in repentance, but in indulging in as much sensuality as possible before going to hell.

The scholars enter the scene discussing their latest topic of debate: which lady in all the world was the most beautiful. While they no doubt applied their scholarly gifts for logical dispute to the debate, the topic itself is trivial. These scholars would deny any resemblance between themselves and characters such as Wagner, the clown, or Robin and Rafe. However, their everyday interest in the topic of women and lustful response to the appearance of Helen—though eloquently expressed—demonstrates they are more similar to these characters than they would probably want to admit. Education has not altered the scholars' ordinary interests or added nobility to their characters. They are just three guys fascinated by a beautiful woman.

In this scene the Good Angel and Evil Angel are replaced by the old man. He enters as a force for good, encouraging Faustus to "break heart, drop blood, and mingle it with tears." In other words, with a blood offering and the tears of true repentance, Faustus may yet save his soul. Nevertheless, Faustus chooses despair and wails, "Damned thou art, Faustus, damned! Despair and die!" Christian belief holds that despair is a mortal sin involving deliberate and complete abandonment of all hope for salvation. An individual intentionally rejects the possibility of God's mercy and grace. Despair not only cuts off all hope of escape, it encourages surrender to sinful earthly pleasures. Faustus willfully turns his back on God once more, reaffirms his bargain with Lucifer in blood, and gives in to his lust for Helen. In taking Helen for his paramour, Faustus once again trivializes his power. All his early grand aspirations have shrunk to the pursuit of sensuous, self-indulgent pleasure. His despair is complete.

While there is little difference between the A-Text and B-Text in this scene, the B-Text cuts the final lines when the old man returns and mocks the devils attempting to harm him.

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