Imagery in the final scene

In the final scene of the play, which – after the departure of the scholars – consists of a long soliloquy from Faustus, Marlowe dramatises the inevitable climax of his pact with the devil. He now faces damnation and eternal punishment. Faustus' long speech gathers together many of the strands of imagery that have been present elsewhere in the play and adds new ones, born of his fear and desperation.


The action of the play has telescoped twenty-four years into no more than two to three hours of stage time. This last scene, brief though it is, represents the last hour of Faustus' life. The speed of time passing, captured in the rhythms of his speech, is psychologically rather than literally realistic. The doom that Faustus wishes to avoid seems to rush towards him.

The effect is intensified by the time-check when the watch strikes, marking the passing of the first half hour and when the clock strikes midnight.

Stopping time

In his fear, Faustus hopes to be able to exert some power over the whole universe so as to slow time down or to stop it altogether, but finds that this is hopeless. The passing of time is in the natural order of things, in which Faustus cannot intervene:

Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease and midnight never come.
Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again and make
Perpetual day, or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul.
O lente, lente currite noctis equi!
Scene 13, 58-64

The limits of suffering

Time as perpetuity is also evoked in the final scene: the endless punishment that Faustus will suffer in Hell. He begs for some remission of this agony:

Impose some end to my incessant pain:
Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,
A hundred thousand, and at last be saved.
O, no end is limited to damned souls!
Scene 13, 89-92


The redemptive power of Christ's blood is also recalled in this scene, recalling the blasphemous use of blood in Scene 5, when Faustus signs his name in blood on his agreement with Mephastophilis:

See, see where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah my Christ –
Scene 13, 68-9


Throughout the scene, Marlowe creates a strong sense of Faustus' spiritual suffering, which is often expressed as physical suffering. His body has become the battleground for his soul and Lucifer will allow him no means of escape:

O I'll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?
Scene 13, 67

Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ …
Scene 13, 70

He has reached a point at which his desire to repent is likely to bring him as much pain as damnation and he wishes to escape from the wrath of God, however painful that may be:

Mountains and hills, come, come and fall on me,
And hide me from the heavy wrath of God.
No, no?
Scene 13, 74-76

Dissolution and non-being

The dramatically effective short line ‘No, no?' marks a turn in the speech and in Faustus' mood. The speech now contains a number of images through which Faustus longs for his body, his very self, to be in some way dissolved in order to escape damnation:

Then will I headlong run into the earth.
Scene 13, 77

Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
Into the entrails of yon labouring cloud,
That when you vomit forth into the air
My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to heaven.
Scene 13, 81-85

All beasts are happy, for when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolved in elements.
Scene 13, 98-99

Now body, turn to air,
Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell.
O soul, be changed into little water drops
And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found.
Scene 13, 104-107

‘I'll burn my books'

Faustus' last words before he is taken by Mephastophilis are ‘I'll burn my books'. Books have represented both the highest and lowest points in Faustus' life:

  • As a celebrated scholar in many disciplines, he has shown his knowledge and understanding of the contents of books
  • However, he believes that he has reached the limits of what permitted books can teach him and in Scene 1 he is seen reviewing and dismissing these books – an early dramatisation of his intellectual vanity and arrogance
  • Instead, he turns to forbidden books: ‘these metaphysics of magicians, / and necromantic books are heavenly' (Scene 1, 49-50).

It was usual for magicians who wished to renounce their art to prove their sincerity by disposing of their books. This is even true of a mainly benign magician like Prospero in Shakespeare's play The Tempest (c. 1611), when he promises that ‘deeper than did ever plummet sound I'll drown my book' (5.1.56-57).

The final Chorus: growth and decay

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man!
Scene 13, 112-113

To sum up Faustus' fall, the Chorus employs images drawn from both nature and classical mythology. Faustus is seen as a branch on the tree of humanity, whose growth has been twisted and which has now been sawn away from the trunk.

Apollo was the god associated with music (and, therefore, poetry) whose laurel bough or wreath was awarded to the finest poet in competitions – the poet laureate. Indeed, he describes himself as ‘conjuror laureate' (Scene 3, 32). However, by his turning to the forbidden arts of magic, Faustus has forfeited his right to wear this wreath.

Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.