Scene three

Synopsis of Scene 3

Faustus practises magic for the first time and summons Mephastophilis, a demon who serves Satan. Faustus questions him about the world of Satan and his followers. Faustus reveals that he wants to make a pact with Lucifer: if Faustus can have anything he desires for twenty-four years, at the end of that time the Devil can have his soul. Mephastophilis leaves, promising to return with an answer from his master.

Commentary on Scene 3

the gloomy shadow … unto the sky Faustus describes the onset of the night using personification, as if the night were trying to jump up to see the constellation of Orion in the sky.

welkin Sky.

pitchy Dark or black.

hest Command.

Within this circle is Jehovah's name Casting spells began by drawing a circle on the floor with Jehovah's name written inside it. It was thought that this caused the spell to be effective and protected the magician, who stood inside the circle, from harm.

anagrammatized With the letters rearranged to form other words.

Figures … erring stars Charts showing the planets, the signs of the zodiac and the major stars.

Sint mihi dei … dicatus Mephastophilis (Latin) Faustus uses Latin, the language of philosophy, theology and, in most countries, the Bible, to summon Mephastophilis. In translation, this reads:

‘May the gods of Acheron please me! Farewell to the threefold power of Jehovah! Hail, spirits of fire, air and water! Beelzebub, Prince of the East and monarch of burning Hell, and Demogorgon we ask you to make Mephastophilis appear and rise! Why are you delaying? By Jehovah, Gehenna, the holy water I am sprinkling and the sign of the cross I make and by our vows, may Mephastophilis himself arise at our command!'

Acheron In Greek mythology, one of the rivers of Hades (Hell).

Demogorgon One of the deities of Hell.

Gehenna Originally a place of sacrifice near Jerusalem, but also used to describe a place where people are tormented and, thus, as a name for Hell.

consecratam aquam … signumque cruces Ironically, Faustus uses the sign of the cross and sprinkles holy water as part of this blasphemous invocation.

Thou art too ugly to attend on me A sign of Faustus' vanity and his inability to face the reality of what he has done.

Franciscan FriarFranciscan friar; / That holy shape becomes a devil best Faustus cheekily asks the devil to adopt a more appropriate human form. His suggestion of a Franciscan friar is a [3satirical reference to the alleged immorality and corruption of the clergy. The Franciscan rule demanded humility and poverty, but Faustus' comment suggests that its members behaved in a quite different manner. Satirical comments on the hypocrisy of the clergy were quite common in medieval and Renaissance writing, for instance in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. See Religious / philosophical context.

I see there's virtue in my heavenly words! Like many of Faustus' words in the scene, these remarks are ironic and are an inversion of Christian ideas or practice.

pliant Accommodating, submissive.

Full of obedience and humility Faustus claims that Mephastophilis possesses these virtues, but they were strongly associated with Christ (see Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 8:9; John 4:34). They are also among the rules of the Franciscan order.

laureate Pre-eminent or recognised above others. Faustus is full of excitement and self-admiration at the success of his spell.

Thou canst command great Mephastophilis Faustus confuses calling Mephastophilis and commanding him. Can he really give orders to or control Mephastophilis?

Quin regis … fratris imagine? ‘Why don't you return in the form of a friar, Mephastophilis?'

her sphere At that time, the planets were believed to move around the earth in fixed circles. See Writers in context > The world of Shakespeare and the Metaphysical poets > Making sense of the tangible world > Astronomy and astrology.

Or the ocean to overwhelm the world Again, Faustus wishes to do what God has done before, by recreating the Flood as described in Genesis 7:1-4, 11-12, 17,24.

I am a servant … must we perform This mirrors the function and position of angels, who are at God's command. This remark, and the following dialogue, reveal to the audience the true nature of the relationship between Faustus and Mephastophilis. It is Faustus' waning faith, rather than the power of his spells, that has summoned Mephastophilis.

per accidens (Latin) ‘By accident'. Mephastophilis' appearance is incidental to Faustus' spells.

rack the name of God Abuse God's name, and thereby break the third of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:7:

‘You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.' TNIV

and also the two basic commandments given by Jesus in Mark 12:28-31. ‘Rack' comes from the torture of a person on a rack. Torture was an all-too-common and very public part of Renaissance life. The word conveys the extreme nature of blasphemy in the contemporary mind.

confounds hell in Elysium Conflates or places Hell in Elysium, the ancient Greek version of the afterlife, a paradisiacal place. See Afterlife

the old philosophers The philosophers of the ancient world who knew nothing of the Bible's teaching on judgement.

vain trifles of men's souls Faustus reverses the words of Jesus about the worth of the soul in Mark 8:36:

‘For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'

Once again, he seems unaware of the irony of what he is saying.

Lucifer Another name for Satan, used in Isaiah 14:12. Since Lucifer means 'bearer (or bringer) of light', the name is often used to describe his splendour as the brightest of God's angels before his fall. More on Lucifer and Satan?

Was not that Lucifer … for ever damned with Lucifer Mephastophilis here gives the conventional biblical account of Satan's rebellion and expulsion from Heaven.

aspiring pride and insolence This is a good description of Faustus' own aspirations, but yet again the irony is lost on him.

Why this is hell … My fainting soul This description of Hell focuses less on the idea of an actual physical location than on it being an inner state, a continuing present reality and a constant sense of separation from God with no promise of salvation. See Hell.It also reveals that Mephastophilis is a being capable of feeling, pain, loss and regret.

More on Faustus' pact with Satan: Faustus' pact and his pursuit of Satan are based on a reversal of Christian ideas and rituals:
  • The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are reversed and rejected – Faustus addresses the Prince of the East, Beelzebub and Demogorgon
  • ‘There is no chief but only Beelzebub' (l.57-58) reverses Mark 12:30 and Deuteronomy 6:4
  • He describes men's souls, and by implication his own soul, as ‘vain trifles'
  • Mephastophilis describes his torment (l.74-81) which is a reversal of the descriptions of Heaven in Revelation or Isaiah 6:1-4

Learn thou … manly fortitude Faustus seems to be lording it over Mephastophilis here and this adds an ironic element to the scene.

Jove Jehovah, or God the Father.

So he will spare … thy master's mind This is the basis on which Faustus offers to make his pact with Lucifer.

So If.

Letting him live in all voluptuousness Faustus' plans have already become less about fame or lasting glory and more about amusement and hedonism. His request here would remind the play's Christian audience of the comments in Ephesians 4:18-19.

Had I as many souls Faustus moves from describing himself in the third person to using the first person. This reflects the shift from his semi-formal laying out of the terms of the pact, to a reflection on the powers he hopes to acquire. The frequent use of ‘me … my … mine … I' emphasise his pride and egotism.

bind Border on.

continent to Continuous with.

Investigating scene 3

  • List the ways in which Faustus challenges or offends God in this scene.
  • What aspects of Faustus' personality begin to emerge in the scene?
  • What is your reaction to the events of this scene?
    • How do you think it is likely to differ from the reactions of an Elizabethan audience?
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