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Doctor Faustus | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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Doctor Faustus | Quotes


Till, swoll'n with cunning of a self-conceit, / His waxen wings did mount above his reach, / And melting, heavens conspired his overthrow.

Chorus, Prologue

The chorus introduces proud, brilliant Faustus by comparing him to the mythic character Icarus. Icarus's father, Daedalus, made him artificial wings of feathers and wax, allowing him to fly. In spite of his father's warnings, Icarus foolishly flew too close to the sun. His wings melted, and he plummeted to his death. As the comparison suggests, Faustus ignores all dire warnings to repent and give up his evil pursuits. His thirst for knowledge leads to his destruction.


'Tis magic, magic that hath ravished me.

Doctor Faustus, Act 1, Scene 1

The motivation for Faustus's pursuit of dark knowledge, the forbidden study of magic, is established in this statement. Faustus has reviewed all traditional paths to knowledge—logic, medicine, law, and religion—and finds them unfulfilling; he thirsts for something more. He tells his friends and accomplished magicians Valdes and Cornelius that his mind and imagination are seized by the desire to study necromancy. He then asks them to teach him the art of magic.


For when we hear one rack the name of God, / Abjure the scriptures and his saviour Christ, / We fly in hope to get his glorious soul.

Mephastophilis, Act 1, Scene 3

This is Mephastophilis's first appearance in answer to Faustus's conjuring. He tells Faustus that the magician's spell is not the reason he has appeared. He is not obligated to do so. Rather, Faustus's use of conjuring is a sure sign that he has rejected God and religion and therefore his soul is likely ripe for the taking. This offers a servant of Lucifer an opportunity too good to ignore.


Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.

Mephastophilis, Act 1, Scene 3

Faustus ignorantly assumes that because Mephastophilis is in his presence, then the devil is out of hell, even though he is forever damned. Mephastophilis explains that he has seen the face of God and tasted the eternal joys of heaven. Now that he is deprived of these, he is in hell, no matter where he goes. Rather than take to heart the devil's counsel to abandon the pursuit of black magic—to "leave these frivolous demands"—Faustus sends Mephastophilis off to negotiate a deal with Lucifer.


But Faustus, thou must bequeath it solemnly / And write a deed of gift with thine own blood, / For that security craves great Lucifer.

Mephastophilis, Act 2, Scene 1

Lucifer has agreed to give Faustus 24 years of power and limitless knowledge in exchange for his immortal soul. To make the pact binding, he demands that the doctor write it up like a contract and sign it in his own blood. Blood is the bodily fluid that maintains life. Lucifer believes he will have Faustus more securely in his power if he is in possession of the doctor's blood.


Come, I think hell's a fable.

Doctor Faustus, Act 2, Scene 1

Lucifer has accepted Faustus's offer, and Faustus has written and signed the pact in blood. He then asks Mephastophilis about the nature and whereabouts of hell. However, though he's talking to a resident of hell and has just signed a pact with Lucifer, Faustus dismisses hell's reality. Mephastophilis answers, "Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind," but Faustus continues to insist it is an old wives' tale. Since physical sensation cannot survive death, Faustus cannot imagine pain exists in the afterlife. At this moment in the play, he fails to grasp the spiritual torment that hell will be.


Tut, Faustus; marriage is but a ceremonial toy. If thou lovest me, think no more of it.

Mephastophilis, Act 2, Scene 1

Faustus has told Mephastophilis that he wants a wife. To discourage the notion, Mephastophilis presents him with a devil dressed up as a dreadful woman. Faustus rejects her, as expected. Mephastophilis then asks Faustus to think no more about marriage. This request is due to the sacred nature of marriage. It is a union blessed by God and involves a religious ceremony, so as a devil, he wishes no part of it.


Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven, / But fearful echoes thunder in mine ears: / 'Faustus, thou art damned!'

Doctor Faustus, Act 2, Scene 3

Throughout the play Faustus suffers pangs of doubt about his unholy chosen path. Time and again there are chances for him to turn back. Yet each time he considers repentance and entertains hopes of salvation, something reminds him that he is hopelessly damned. As fearful as this is, Faustus next recalls "the sweet pleasure" he has gained in pursuit of power and knowledge. So believing himself beyond forgiveness or reprieve, he hardens his heart and continues down the path.


Christ cannot save thy soul, for he is just.

Lucifer, Act 2, Scene 3

In a moment of dreadful doubt, Faustus calls upon Christ to save his soul. Lucifer appears to chastise him and dissuade him from breaking their pact. He tells Faustus that Christ, being fair, cannot pardon Faustus. He knows what the doctor has done and must judge him accordingly.


Confound these passions with a quiet sleep: / Tush, Christ did call the thief upon the cross.

Doctor Faustus, Act 4, Scene 1

Faustus is reflecting on his condemned state, knowing that his time to die is drawing near. His thoughts are darkened with despair that he hopes a restful sleep will dispel. He tries to comfort himself with thoughts of a thief crucified on the same day as Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament of the Bible. Known as the Good Thief or Penitent Thief, the man had led a sinful life but expressed belief in Christ's divinity while dying. As a result, he is mercifully forgiven his sins, and his soul is called into heaven. Faustus's last hope is that he will be granted mercy the same way.


Was this the face that launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Doctor Faustus, Act 5, Scene 1

This is an allusion to mythological Helen of Troy, over whom the Trojan War was fought. At Faustus's request, Mephastophilis has summoned the beautiful Helen. Her abduction by Trojan Prince Paris from her husband, the king of Sparta, sparked the 10-year conflict between Greece and Troy. More than a thousand ships set sail from Greece to avenge the wrong. Mephastophilis summons Helen to tempt Faustus, appeal to his baser nature, and thereby reinforce his dedication to Lucifer.


Gentlemen, farewell. If I live till morning, I'll visit you; if not, Faustus has gone to hell.

Doctor Faustus, Act 5, Scene 2

Faustus has at last confessed his involvement with Lucifer to three scholars who once applauded his magic skills. Appalled and frightened for him, the scholars urge him to pray for God's mercy as they will pray for him, also. Faustus sends them away just as the clock strikes eleven—one hour before his scheduled death.


Mountains and hills, come, come, and fall on me / And hide me from the heavy wrath of God!

Doctor Faustus, Act 5, Scene 2

In his last hour of life, Faustus grows certain that Lucifer has made redemption of his soul through Christ unattainable. All that is left is God's just punishment for his evil ways. He begs Earth to hide him. It is a foolish notion born of desperation, as religion teaches that God is all-knowing and all-seeing. Faustus's words echo biblical text from the Book of Revelation 6:16—"And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (the "Lamb" being Christ, the Lamb of God).


Ugly hell, gape not! Come not, Lucifer! / I'll burn my books—ah, Mephastophilis!

Doctor Faustus, Act 5, Scene 2

Faustus's time is up, and Lucifer's devils have arrived to drag him off to hell. At last Faustus comprehends in full what is going to happen—hell is real, and he is doomed to spend eternity in it. In a final, frantic bid for escape, he vows to burn his books of spells, a traditional gesture by magicians to prove they were renouncing magic.


Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight, / And burned is Apollo's laurel bough / That sometime grew within this learned man.

Chorus, Epilogue

The chorus closes the book on Faustus saying that, just as the crooked branch of a healthy tree must be pruned, so Faustus, grown twisted by his choices, has been cut off from life. Apollo's laurel bough refers to the crown of laurel worn by victorious athletes in ancient Greece. It is a symbol of great ability and achievement, such as Faustus sometimes exhibited. It is also a symbol of immortality through fame—a status Faustus achieved at the cost of his soul, which now burns in the fires of hell.

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