Scene nine

Synopsis of scene 9

CuckoldEmperor Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, which covered half of western Europe at the time, receives Faustus and asks for a demonstration of his powers. Faustus summons the spirits of Alexander the Great and his lover. A knight loudly expresses doubt about Faustus and is blighted with a pair of cuckold's horns on his head as a punishment. Faustus is persuaded to remove the horns from the knight's forehead. Faustus ends the scene alone on stage, thinking about how much time he has left before he must surrender his soul.

Commentary on scene 9

Emperor Charles V. More on the Emperor and the Holy Roman Empire?

I'faith, he looks much like a conjuror After the Emperor's evident fascination with Faustus' reputed powers, the Knight's sardonic comment points the audience to what may be the reality of the situation. In spite of his grandiose aspirations at the beginning of the play, Faustus has become a kind of international entertainer.

My gracious sovereign … your majesty shall command me These are obsequious words in which Faustus appears to accept the role of entertainer. He seems to be enjoying the chance of being the centre of attention at the Imperial court.

Then, Doctor Faustus … praise thee while I live Charles has a very serious request to make concerning his ancestry and the foundation of his powers. Marlowe's first audience might have associated this with the fact that his aunt was Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, who was divorced from him against her will.

I'faith, that's just nothing at all The Knight again interjects with a sceptical comment, thus providing for the audience a kind of running commentary on what is going on. Here, he points out that Faustus is being evasive about his true powers, before admitting that he cannot resurrect bodies: he can only summon spirits in the forms of figures from the past. These comments are important in helping the reader/ spectator to understand that Faustus has actually received very little in exchange for his eternal soul.

marry A contraction of ‘by (the Virgin) Mary': a mild oath.

now there's a sign of grace in you, when you will confess the truth The Knight is making a joke but one with a serious basis, since he creates humour by using the language of Christian teaching. It was important for believers to confess and repent of their sins, in order to receive God's grace or mercy.

lively Vividly.

Alexander and his paramour Alexander the Great of Macedon (356-323 BCE); his paramour could be either his Athenian mistress Thais or his wife Roxana.

in their most flourishing estate In their healthiest condition and at the height of their powers; or, as we might say today, in the prime of life.

Diana turned me to a stag The Knight ridicules Faustus' powers by referring to the legend of Diana, goddess of the moon, hunting and chastity. When Actaeon saw Diana and her nymphs bathing naked, she turned him into a stag and he was chased down and torn to pieces by his own hunting hounds.

he left the horns for you! Faustus threatens the knight with a cuckold's horns.

Sure, these are no spirits … two deceased princes The Emperor is convinced that the spirits conjured up by Faustus are three-dimensional bodies.

Stage direction Enter the Knight … on his head Note that the Knight has briefly left the stage so that the actor can put on the horns.

Thou damned wretch … undo what thou has done The Knight switches to blank verse for this more serious speech.

That time doth run … thread of vital life From this point in the play references to the passing of time become more frequent. The image of a thread is used to convey the fragility of life and echoes the Greek myth of the Fates, spinning out the allotted life span of each human. More on the imagery of time passing?

Calls for the payment of my latest years Faustus is referring to the terms of the pact.

Investigating scene 9

  • Compare this version of the scene with that of the B text (see below).
  • In what ways does this scene resemble Scene 7 and in what ways is it different? Consider:
    • Events
    • Setting
    • Attitude
    • Mood
    • Outcome.
  • What is the effect of the passing of time upon Faustus' mood?
  • Comparing the presentation of Faustus in Scenes 7 and 9, use a grid or table to make a note of:
    • The language used by Faustus
    • The way in which he tricks some of the other characters in the scenes
    • How Mephastophilis assists Faustus.
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