Blood: damnation and grace

Blood is perhaps the source of the most important imagery in the play, largely because it relates to thematic material covering the whole range of Faustus' experience.

The blood-pact with Lucifer: Scene 5

Even before Mephastophilis tells him the terms of his contract with the devil, Faustus makes clear his willingness to shed blood – both others' and his own – in pursuit of his ambitions. In these lines, for instance, his blasphemous devotion to the devil is intensified by his offer of infant sacrifice:

The god thou servest is thine own appetite
Wherein is fixed the love of Belzebub.
To him I'll build an altar and a church,
And offer luke-warm blood of new-born babes.
Scene 5, 11-14

The action, as well as the language, of this scene is concerned with blood. For Marlowe's first audience this will have been the play's most shocking episode as they witness a man using his own blood to sign a pact with the devil. He responds immediately to Mephastophilis' request to, ‘stab thine arm courageously' (line 49) with:

‘I cut mine arm, and with my proper blood
Assure my soul to be great Lucifer's' (lines 54-55)

and then draws attention to the flow: ‘View here the blood that trickles from mine arm' (line 57).

The scene then continues in an even more disturbing manner as Faustus' blood congeals and is then melted by Mephastophilis with some hot coals. The congealing is intended as a warning to Faustus as it stops him from signing his promise. Even after he has signed the pact, there is another warning when the words ‘Homo fuge' [‘Fly, O man'] appear on his arm.

Blood and salvation

Blood, then, with its associations of wounding and death, becomes the sign of Faustus' damnation. At the same time, in the mouth of the Old Man, it can also represent his potential salvation, as can be seen from this sequence of quotations from Scene 12:

Break heart, drop blood, and mingle it with tears.
Scene 12, 38

But mercy, Faustus, of thy saviour sweet,
Whose blood must wash away thy guilt.
Scene 12, 44-45

I see an angel hovers o'er thy head,
And with a vial full of precious grace
Offers to pour the same into thy soul.
Scene 12, 53-55

The Old Man, whose last attempt to save Faustus this is, laments Faustus' fate not only with his tears but also with his blood, signalling the goodness and purity of his own heart.

In the next two quotations, he reminds Faustus of the redemptive power of the blood of Christ, shed to cleanse people of sin. (For more on the saving associations of blood, see Big ideas from the Bible, Blood.) That same blood, in the form of grace (see Forgiveness, mercy and grace), is what is contained in the angel's vial.

Faustus is briefly persuaded and begins to repent, earning Mephastophilis' displeasure. In response to the threat to ‘in piecemeal tear thy flesh', Faustus' revived defiance of God and determination is expressed in terms of a promise to renew his blood-oath:

Sweet Mephastophilis, entreat thy lord
To pardon my unjust presumption;
And with my blood again I will confirm
My former vow I made to Lucifer.
Scene 12, 68-71
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