Scene five

Synopsis of scene 5

Faustus addresses himself in the second person, reflecting on the pact he is about to enter into with the Devil. The Good and Evil Angels attempt to persuade Faustus to their points of view. Faustus questions Mephastophilis about the Devil and Hell.

Faustus signs the pact with Satan in his own blood. He demands that he be able to appear and disappear at will and that Mephastophilis will serve him in every way. He also asks for books on spells, astronomy and other branches of knowledge. He is, however, disappointed with the limits placed on what he can be told and begins to question the wisdom of his pact with Satan.

The Good and Evil Angels again appear, but just as Faustus seems about to repent, Lucifer himself appears and, to distract Faustus, puts on a show of the Seven Deadly Sins and grants him some extra powers.

Watch scene 5, part 1

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Watch scene 5, part 2

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Commentary on scene 5

This scene is very long and Faustus discusses a wide range of topics – as if he is so hungry for knowledge that he wants to know all the secrets of the Universe at once. However, for the audience, some questions have yet to be answered:

  • Will Faustus repent or not?
  • What exactly will be demanded of Mephastophilis?

boots Helps. Faustus is beginning to realise the irreversible nature of what he is about to do.

despair The word is repeated as an imperative verb. Faustus seems to want to return to God at first, but he then admits that 'The god thou servest is thine own appetite.'

I'll … offer luke-warm blood of new-born babes It would hardly be surprising that an audience would recoil at this idea. In addition to the natural revulsion at infanticide, child-sacrifice was seen as the nadir of spiritual rebellion in the Old Testament. This is the ‘sin of Moloch' as mentioned in Leviticus 18:21 and Jeremiah 32:34-35.

More on child killing: Faustus' statement is also reminiscent of the action of two biblical events:
  • In Exodus, the Jews were slaves and persecuted by the Egyptian Pharaoh, who ordered the slaughter of babies in a brutal attempt at population control (Exodus 1:8-22).
  • The most famous Bible account of infanticide is when the Roman puppet King Herod, afraid that the baby Jesus would be a rival for his throne, ordered the slaughter of all baby boys under two years old (Matthew 2:13-18).
  • These events are potentially so visual and dramatic that they were often included in Mystery Plays and church art.

Contrition, prayer, repentance: what of them? Contrition, prayer and repentance represent ways in which Christians traditionally believe they can find their way back to God after doing wrong.

honour and of wealth These are only the worldly and temporal benefits of following Lucifer, but are more attractive to Faustus as they can be enjoyed now.

More on the Good and Evil Angels: As well as the visual contrast between the two angels, they represent opposing views:
  • Whilst the Good Angel offers hope, the Evil Angel tell Faustus to: ‘Despair in God and trust in Beelzebub
  • The Good Angel claims that Christian practices ‘are means to bring thee unto heaven', but the Evil Angel claims that they are ‘fruits of lunacy, / That makes men foolish that do trust them most.'
  • The Good Angel and the Evil Angel try to persuade Faustus to seek the treasures they offer: ‘heaven, and heavenly things', contrasted with ‘honour and … wealth'.

the signory of Emden shall be mine Faustus is referring to taking control of a rich trading port in north Germany.

Veni veni ‘Come, come,' a phrase well known to the audience from the sentence ‘veni veni spiritus' (‘Come Holy Spirit') in the Latin Mass. Also, they could well be familiar with the Latin hymn, Veni, veni Emmanuel.

Already Faustus hath hazarded that for thee Faustus states that he has put his soul in jeopardy.

What good will my soul do thy lord? / Enlarge his kingdom The image of Satan here is of a predatory and avaricious ruler. He is depicted as seeking more souls as part of his empire-building. This resembles the portrait of the Devil in 1 Peter 5:8:

‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.' TNIV

Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris ‘Misery finds comfort in company.'

my proper blood My own blood.

Chief Lord and regent A regent is a ruler but the word is often used to describe a person appointed to run a state, during the absence or illness of its true ruler. This suggests that Lucifer is only a temporary ruler and that one day God will return to claim his rightful power over the whole of Creation.

perpetual night Hell is described as ‘perpetual night', cut off from the light of God – an irony given that before his fall Lucifer was one of the brightest angels and that his name derives from lux, the Latin for ‘light'. John Milton in Paradise Lost conveys the intensity of Hell's absence of light in a famous oxymoron: ‘darkness visible'.

More on the association of evil with darkness: The association of night with evil has strong societal and biblical roots. Even in our well-lit and electronic age, night is used as a cover for criminal acts and is often seen as a dangerous time to go out onto the streets. This contrasts with the biblical teaching about Jesus who is described as ‘the light of the world' in John 8:12, while John's Gospel states that: ‘God is light and in him is no darkness at all.' (1 John 1:5.)

be propitius – Be found favourable or acceptable.

set it on Put the fire on his arm to make the blood flow.

Consummatum est ‘It is finished.' These words (here, taken from the Vulgate) were famously spoken by Jesus just before dying on the cross (John 19:30). It is taken by Christians to refer not only to the end of Christ's life but also to his task of releasing humankind from the power of sin. The use of the words here might have been thought of as shocking, even blasphemous, and also makes clear the extent to which Faustus' faith in God is replaced by his allegiance to Satan.

Homo, fuge! ‘Man, run away (or flee)': a final warning to Faustus even as he seals his pact. The words echo those of the Bible at Psalms 139:7-8 and 1 Timothy 6:11.

that Faustus may be a spirit in form In wishing for this, Faustus wants to move beyond his merely human existence and somehow be part of the world inhabited by spirits or demons, from which humans are usually excluded. (See Psalms 8:3-5.)

these presents What I have presented (the legal documents). The whole episode is a parody of legality.

Prince of the East Lucifer, whose name can mean ‘Morning Star', or 'Light-bringer / bearer'.

elements The four elements (earth, air, fire and water) of the world.

every creature shall be purified This refers to the testing process on the Day of Judgement, as described in 1 Corinthians 2:11-15. See Aspects of literature > Impact of the Bible > Big ideas from the Bible > Judgement.

I think Hell's a fable … mere old wives' tales Faustus' dismissive attitude towards Hell is an example of his intellectual hubris. It is countered by Mephastophilis in two ways:

  • His feeling description of his own sufferings, as in his speech beginning, ‘Within the bowels of these elements', and ending, ‘All places shall be hell that is not heaven'.
  • His sardonic replies, such as ‘Ay think so still, till experience change thy mind'

Fond – foolish

Penelope The wife of Ulysses (or Odysseus), who waited ten years for his return from the Trojan War, refusing to accept that he was dead and rejecting all advances from her many suitors.

As wise as Saba The Queen of Sheba, who questions even the famously wise King Solomon in 1 Kings 10:1-3.

iterating Repetition, chanting

[Note. In some editions of the play there is a scene break at this point, followed by the comic Scene Six (see later) between Robin and Rafe. The next scene then
begins with Faustus' speech ‘When I behold the heavens'. See The Texts of Doctor Faustus.]

When I behold the heavens … of those joys Considering the heavens gives Faustus pain. The Psalms were well known because they were regularly sung in churches, and two of them describe the joy that comes from looking at the universe: Psalms 111:2-6; Psalms 8:3-5.

Faustus repent … never shall repent The debate continues between the Good and Evil Angels for Faustus' soul. These angels are an externalised version of the debate within Faustus' own mind. More on angels and demons?

but Faustus never shall repent This line foreshadows the end of the play, suggesting that Faustus' fate is inevitable. Although at this point there may well be suspense regarding Faustus' decision, the Evil Angel makes a very different prediction.

My heart's so hardened I cannot repent! The idea of having a hard heart (against God) would be familiar to Marlowe's audience:

  • From well-known wicked figures in the Bible, such as the Egyptian Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21)
  • As a typical feature of humanity's spiritual blindness –Mark 6:52 and Psalms 82:5
  • From stories about how a hard heart may be softened (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26), indicating that Faustus still has a choice
  • BUT balanced against this were the ideas of Calvin, which were spreading to England from Europe. The idea (also found in the Bible – Romans 1:20-21) that some people are destined to remain immovably opposed to God, became linked to Calvin's emphasis on predestination, thus suggesting that Faustus is damned by his choice.

dispatch myself Kill myself

And long ere this … conquered deep despair It is pleasure (hedonism) rather than hope that overcomes Faustus' despair. For believers, the antidote to despair was the hope of salvation. However, Faustus is constructing his own, non-Christian world view, which is reflective of a modern and exploratory view of the human psyche.

HomerHomer The great poet of Ancient Greece, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Both the place and date of his birth are uncertain: scholars place the latter anywhere between the twelfth and seventh centuries BCE.

Alexander's love, and Oenone's death This refers to the legend of Paris (Alexander's other name), who fell in love with Oenone. He later fell in love with and kidnapped the famously beautiful Helen of Troy, thus initiating the Trojan War. Oenone killed herself when Paris died. This tale is mentioned as an example of love and constancy on the part of Oenone.

he that built … his melodious harp According to legend, the gifted harpist Amphion's music made the stones jump into place to build the walls of Thebes.

divine astrology Faustus actually questions Mephastophilis about astronomy. At that time, these areas of study were often conflated.

termine Limit.

erring stars The planets, which according to Ptolemy's view of the universe are able to move more freely than the stars. See Writers in context > The world of Shakespeare and the Metaphysical poets > making sense of the tangible world > Astronomy and astrology.

situ et tempore Across both space and time.

Tush … Wagner can decide! The things Mephastophilis ‘reveals' are so elementary that even a fool like Wagner can understand them. This is another hint that Faustus is disappointed by what he learns as a result of his pact with Satan.

freshman's suppositions Basic concepts for a first year undergraduate student.

intelligentia Guiding spirit, thought to guide the planets' movements.

empyreal The word can mean both ‘fiery' or ‘highest' , the latter referring to the highest or most distant sphere of heaven, where God was said to live.

conjunctions, oppositions, aspects Words used to describe: the closest proximity of two planets; their furthest distance apart; and their relative positions in the sky.

Per inaequalem … totius (Latin) ‘As a result of unequal movement in relation to the whole.'

move Provoke or anger.

Tell me who made the world? Note that Mephastophilis refuses to answer this crucial question, causing Faustus to think about God and question his decision. For the contemporary understanding of the answer to this question, see Aspects of literature > Impact of the Bible > Big ideas from the Bible > Creation, creativity, image of God

We come to tell thee … of Christ The appearance of both Lucifer and Beelzebub at this point suggests the troubling and fundamental nature of Faustus' question to Mephastophilis. There are, it seems, limits to Lucifer's power and what makes him angry is being reminded of God's primacy.

interest in Legal claim on. The insistence on the legally binding nature of the pact suggests the different kinds of power enjoyed by God and his antagonists.

O, Faustus … thy soul This is Faustus' first moment of real terror, and foreshadows the conclusion of the play.

thou shalt see … their proper shapes This parade of the Seven Deadly Sins is an opportunity for dance, mime, clowning and acrobatics of a kind often found in the Elizabethan theatre.

as pleasing unto me … the first day of his creation - The Garden of Eden is sometimes called Paradise. Adam lived there with Eve until expelled by God, according to the account in Genesis. See Aspects of literature > Impact of the Bible > Big ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, second Adam

Talk not of Paradise … nothing else Any reminder of God's work makes Satan very irritable.

several Separate or different.

Ovid's flea A Latin poem (wrongly attributed to Ovid) called Elegy for a Flea remarks on the ability of a flea to move anywhere. This theme is taken up by John Donne in his poem, The Flea.

cloth of arras A fine tapestry made in the city of Arras in Flanders. Pride's desire for the best of everything is an example of the self-centredness and pride thought to be the chief sin, because self-regard is often the motivation for committing other sins.

I am Wrath. I had neither father nor mother Wrath presents himself as parentless, to emphasise his lack of control over his strong feelings.

with this case of rapiers, wounding myself Marlowe uses this image to describe the self-destructive nature of uncontrolled rage.

I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper, and an oyster-wife. These are dirty, smelly jobs.

But must thou sit and I stand Envy addresses the small audience on stage and the audience in the theatre watching Doctor Faustus.

Martin Martlemas-Beef Beef preserved for the winter on or around St Martin's Day on 11 November.

Margery March-Beer A strong beer brewed in March.

Progeny Offspring.

I am one that loves an inch of raw mutton This is a double entendre, appropriate to Lust, who uses a phallic image.

stockfish Dried fish, implying a lack of sexual potency.

O might I see hell, and return again, how happy were I then! Faustus talks of returning from Hell, as if he has forgotten that the terms of his pact will commit him to Hell at the end of the contract. Note that Lucifer and his companions are doing all they can to divert Faustus and prevent him from repentance.

chary With care

Investigating scene 5

  • What have you discovered about Faustus' character from his choices in scene 5?
  • How does Marlowe use language to reflect the dualistic nature of the struggle between good and evil, within and outside Faustus? Consider:
    • The good angel and evil angel (for example, do these two characters suggest the struggle within Faustus or is Marlowe representing objective good and evil in the universe?)
    • The use of imagery
    • The impact of parallelism.
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