Valdes and Cornelius and the Three Scholars

Valdes and Cornelius

These characters, described by Faustus as ‘my dearest friends', appear only in Scene 1. They are already practising magicians and they have clearly had previous conversations with Faustus, persuading him to ‘practise magic and concealed arts' (1, 102).

They present the benefits of their art very much in terms of power and fame, especially in Valdes' speech beginning: ‘Faustus, these books, thy wit, and our experience / Shall make all nations to canonize us' (1, 119-120). They clearly hope to recruit Faustus to increase their own power – there are several references to what they may achieve together.

However, they are disappointed in their hope of creating a triumvirate of magical power, because, once Faustus has learnt enough to summon Mephastophilis, he has no further contact with them.

Three Scholars

ScholarRepresentatives of good scholarship

The Scholars first appear on stage immediately after Valdes and Cornelius make their exit, so that the two groups of characters are associated in the audience's minds. Learning from Wagner that his master is dining with these two known magicians, they resolve to do what they can to save him. They are thus identified as the representatives of ‘good' or permitted knowledge, as against the ‘bad' or forbidden knowledge offered by Valdes and Cornelius.

No such encounter is dramatised in the play, but it could be argued that the Good and Evil Angels, who first appear in Scene 7, take up the roles of the Scholars and Valdes and Cornelius respectively, competing for Faustus' soul.

Unsuspecting conspirators

The Scholars reappear in Scene 13, but the audience is asked to believe that they have been in touch with Faustus in the intervening years, and have at least taken part in a ‘conference about fair ladies, which was the beautifullest in all the world' (Scene 12, 9-10). It is at their request that Faustus conjures the vision of Helen of Troy, the winner of this title, so it would seem that they have forgotten their doubts about Faustus' activities as a magician.

Of course, they only know about his public reputation for performing such feats: they are presumably ignorant of his pact with the Devil, the true source of his power. Under these circumstances, the words spoken by the First Scholar are ironic: ‘for this glorious deed / Happy and blest be Faustus evermore' (Scene 12, 31-32). The audience knows that Faustus will be damned for such deeds.

Audience representatives

The Scholars make one final appearance, at the beginning of Scene 13, when they find Faustus in despair and try to comfort him. It is only now that he reveals the true source of his power, which shocks them. Although they wish to stay with him during his final hours, he tells them to leave him and save themselves. He knows that however good their intentions, they are powerless to save him. In this sense, Marlowe is using the Scholars to dramatise likely audience reactions – horror, compassion, the desire to resolve Faustus' situation – and to convey that, ultimately, merely human intervention is insufficient.

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