Good and Evil Angels and the Old Man

Good and Evil Angels

Conscience vs. temptation

AngelsThe most straightforward way of describing the part played by the Good and Evil Angels in Doctor Faustus is that they are external, visible embodiments of the two impulses that are at war within Faustus' mind. Their first appearance is at the beginning of the very important Scene 5, in which Faustus actually signs his pact with Mephastophilis. It is likely that in any staging of the play they will have appeared on either side of - and perhaps slightly above - Faustus, thus emphasising their role in physical terms.

Such figures were familiar from morality plays and, as in Doctor Faustus, they usually spoke alternately, each putting one side of argument. Here, it is the role of the Evil Angel to tempt Faustus with the power he is promised by the Devil, while the Good Angel reminds him of the dangers of his behaviour. When they reappear, at the beginning of the equally significant Scene 7, they continue in these roles, with the Evil Angel strengthening Faustus' resolve.

Contesting for Faustus' soul

The Angels make only one further appearance, in the same scene, at the point where Faustus realises that there are some questions that Mephastophilis will not answer and that he has reached the limits of what he can gain from his devilish bargain. As on previous occasions, the Angels are seen at a crucial moment, when Faustus is wavering: 

Too late.

Never too late, if Faustus can repent.

If thou repent, devils shall tear thee in pieces.

Repent, and they shall never raise thy skin.
Exeunt [ANGELS]

Ah Christ my Saviour, seek to save
Distressed Faustus' soul.
Scene 7, 75-80

On this occasion, by contrast with their earlier appearance in Scene 7, the Good Angel has the last word and Faustus appears to be weakening to such an extent that Mephastophilis brings in Lucifer and Beelzebub to remind Faustus of his bargain.

The Old Man

Old Man by Peter Paul Rubens available through Creative CommonsAfter Scene 7, the Good and Evil Angels disappear from the play and their function is taken over by the Old Man, who appears only in Scenes 12 and 13. This represents a very important shift in the play, for Faustus is not being appealed to by non-human beings but by a fellow human being and one who has lived his life according to Christian precepts.

Warnings and messages

From this human, Christian perspective, the Old Man brings Faustus a number of warnings and messages:

  • That the Christian way is still open to him if he repents:
    ‘the ‘sweet path …
    That shall conduct thee to celestial rest' (Scene 12, 36-37)

  • He reminds Faustus of the foul nature of his sins:
    ‘thy most vile and loathsome filthiness,
    The stench whereof corrupts the inward soul' (Scene 12, 40-41)

  • By contrast, he also reminds Faustus of the redemptive power of Christ's blood:
    ‘mercy, Faustus, of thy saviour sweet,
    Whose blood alone 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' (53-55)

  • More than once he uses the word ‘sweet', to refer both to God's grace and to Faustus himself, whom he also addresses as ‘good'. The sweetness is in direct contrast to the foulness of Faustus' sins; and, when applied to himself, it demonstrates that the Old Man retains his faith in Faustus as a soul who might yet be redeemed.

The Old Man's faith

Later in Scene 12, the Old Man reappears and witnesses Faustus' speech to Helen beginning, ‘I will be Paris, and for love of thee' (Scene 12, 96-108). He is conscious that Faustus has turned his back on repentance. He is then attacked by a number of devils, whom he defies by his turn towards God, emphasising the strength that he gains from his faith:

‘Ambitious fiends, see how the heavens smiles
At your repulse, and laughs your state to scorn' (Scene 12, 115-116).

Faith and choice

This attack is the outcome of Faustus' request to Mephastophilis, made as proof of his determination not to repent:

‘Torment, sweet friend, that base and crooked age
That durst dissuade me from thy Lucifer,
With greatest torment that our hell affords' (Scene 12 74-76).

Mephastophilis' reply is extremely interesting, because it emphasises his weakness when he encounters a truly believing Christian:

‘His faith is great, I cannot touch his soul,
But what I may afflict his body with
I will attempt – which is but little worth' (Scene 12, 77-79).

(See Themes > Religious and philosophical themes > Grace and damnation.) The episode serves to remind the spectator that Faustus did not have to sign away his soul. He made a choice – a choice which might have been different had his faith been stronger.

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