Analysing a passage

The extract

Doctor Faustus, A-text, Scene 3, lines 44-100:

Faus.     Did not my conjuring speeches raise thee? Speak!
Meph.    That was the cause, but yet per accidens,         45
             For when we hear one rack the name of God,
             Abjure the Scriptures and his saviour Christ,
             We fly in hope to get his glorious soul,
             Nor will we come, unless he use such means
             Whereby he is danger to be damned:            50
             Therefore the shortest cut for conjuring
             Is stoutly to abjure the Trinity,
             And pray devoutly to the prince of hell.
Faus.     So Faustus hath already done, and holds this principle:
             There is no chief but only Belzebub,            55
             To whom Faustus doth dedicate himself.
             This word damnation terrifies not him,
             For he confounds Hell in Elysium:
             His ghost be with the old philosophers.
             But leaving these vain trifles of men's souls,        60
             Tell me, what is that Lucifer thy lord?
             Meph. Arch-regent and commander of all spirits.
Faus.     Was not that Lucifer an angel once?
Meph.    Yes Faustus, and most dearly loved of God.
Faus.     How comes it then that he is prince of devils?        65
Meph.    O, by aspiring pride and insolence,
             For which God threw him from the face of heaven.
Faus.     And what are you that live with Lucifer?
Meph.    Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,
             Conspired against our God with Lucifer,            70
             And are forever damned with Lucifer.
Faus.     Where are you damned?
Meph.    In hell.
Faus.     How comes it then that thou art out of hell?
Meph.    Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.            75
             Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
             And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
             Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
             In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
             O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,            80
             Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.
Faus.     What, is great Mephastophilis so passionate
             For being deprived of the joys of heaven?
             Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude,
             And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess.        85
             Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer,
             Seeing Faustus has incurred eternal death
             By desperate thoughts against Jove's deity:
             Say he surrenders up to him his soul
             So he will spare him four and twenty years,        90
             Letting him live in all voluptuousness,
             Having thee ever to attend on me,
             To give whatsoever I shall ask,
             To tell me whatsoever I demand,
             To slay mine enemies and aid my friends,            95
             And always be obedient to my will.
             Go, and return to mighty Lucifer,
             And meet me in my study at midnight,
             And then resolve me of thy master's mind.
Meph.    I will Faustus                Exit          100


  1. The passage is taken from Scene 3 of the play and presents the first encounter between Faustus and Mephastophilis, the play's two central characters. Mephastophilis has already appeared once, as a devil, but Faustus has dismissed him as too ugly and he has returned in the guise of a friar. This, in itself, is a joke, given the play's satirical attitude towards the Catholic Church and the Papacy.

    The exchanges between these two characters carry a great deal of the play's thematic content, so this is an extremely significant moment, as are all their other encounters. These occur at regular intervals and constitute an important element in the structure of the play.
  2. Faustus immediately assumes that Mephastophilis has appeared as result of his conjuring and that he, therefore, has power over Lucifer's representative. Mephastophilis quickly tells him otherwise and also informs him that blasphemous talk is the quickest way to summon devils, who are always ready to attend on souls ripe for damnation. Note that Faustus is quick to affirm his readiness to accept these conditions. He is eager to receive and wield the knowledge and power that he believes Mephastophilis will bring him.
  3. There are many signs that Faustus fails to grasp the full implications of his situation. He does not respond to Mephastophilis' explanation of why he has appeared – not directly at Faustus' command, but of his own accord. Instead Faustus continues to assume that their meeting is governed by his wishes and his agenda. He also fails to take seriously the concepts of Heaven and Hell: his belief is in the Elysium of the ancient world of the Greeks. He refers to the ‘vain trifles of men's souls'. This clearly indicates a carelessness about the serious matters of salvation and damnation.
  4. The following conversation consists largely of one-line questions and answers. These are questions to which Faustus might be expected already to know the answers from his knowledge of theology. Perhaps he sees this as an opportunity to confirm the truth of the story. The story that Mephastophilis tells, about Lucifer's punishment for defying God's power, ought also to act as a warning for Faustus, who is also guilty of ‘aspiring pride and insolence'.
  5. It is also clear that Mephastophilis is in no way reconciled to his fate. Lines 69-71, each ending with the word ‘Lucifer', are an impassioned statement of his sense of how Lucifer sinned and what he and followers have thereby lost and suffered. The following lines beginning, ‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it', are an even more telling statement of loss and suffering.

    Mephastophilis here seems very human, with his evocation of Hell not simply as an external reality, but also as an inward, psychological condition of torment. He reproves Faustus for his ‘frivolity' and suggests that, although he himself is damned, his soul is still vulnerable to recollections of the joys he once experienced.
  6. Faustus is clearly somewhat surprised by Mephastophilis' speech and taunts him over his continuing regret about his expulsion from heaven, boasting of his own courage – ‘manly fortitude'. ‘Manly' here has an interesting double meaning:
    He believes that a man may have something to teach a devil, but once again, he is ignoring the warning contained in Mephastophilis' words.
    • On the one hand, it suggest that courage is a masculine quality
    • It also suggests that it's a human quality, in contrast to Mephastophilis' ‘fainting heart'.
  7. In the circumstances, the remainder of Faustus' speech is remarkable. He refers to himself in the third person. This was a mode of address often adopted in Elizabethan drama by kings and other rulers, indicating his high self esteem. Faustus sends his message to Lucifer as if they were on equal terms. His speech consists of a series of demands, as if he were negotiating a peace treaty or some other worldly agreement. Lines 93-95 sound like points in a document.

    Faustus' demands suggest that he expects to be given a great deal of power, in satisfying his own appetites (‘all voluptuousness') and in acting for his friends and against his enemies. Faustus' pride, arrogance and presumption are very evident in this speech. He seriously overestimates the strength of his own position and underestimates the power of both God and Lucifer. Mephastophilis' brief and functional reply allows the effect of Faustus' speech to remain in the audience's mind.
  8. The passage shows Marlowe employing a number of forms and tones of discourse. Overall, the passage is in blank verse (using iambic pentameter), the form appropriate for a scene with such serious implications. Within this, however, the style varies:
    • Faustus makes wordy and lofty speeches, suggesting his confidence in his power and his control of the situation
    • Mephastophilis, in his opening speech (his longest in this scene) uses a similar style but is more direct and forceful, setting out the realities of the situation
    • Their question-and answer exchange is even more direct and, although it has a patterned rhythm of line for line, it also seems colloquial
    • Mephastophilis' language becomes increasingly passionate and emotional, representing a kind of psychological torment that Faustus initially laughs at, largely because he has not yet experienced it.
    The varying registers of language employed in this scene make it very fluid and dynamic, with the balance of sympathy and irony swinging back and forth between the two characters. The audience is kept on its toes as Faustus and Mephastophilis react in unexpected or challenging ways.
  9. For Marlowe's first audience, the appearance of Mephastophilis would probably have evoked a mixed reaction. There would certainly have been a thrill at any special effects accompanying his entrance, as well as a fascination at witnessing a mortal and a supernatural being in conversation. At the same time, however, there would have been considerable anxiety at Faustus' experiments with magic and conjuring, alongside a deeper concern about matters of damnation and salvation. Overall, the scene establishes a number of expectations and anticipations and arouses the audience's curiosity as to how events will develop.

Comment on the analysis

  1. This paragraph establishes the context of the chosen passage and comments on its significance within the play, in terms of both structure and theme. It is the first of a number of such encounters, all of which represent crucial points in the development of the plot.
  2. Here, there are comments on what the passage reveals about Faustus' character, in particular his intellectual pride and his assumption that he is in command of the situation.
  3. These lines are very revealing of the character of Mephastophilis and allow us to see him in human terms in his regret at lost happiness. The comments also show an awareness of the different registers of language employed in this scene and the effect this may have on the reader / spectator.
  4. The comments here show an awareness of the meaning underneath the lines and the difference between Faustus' understanding and that of the audience. As spectators / readers, we may be aware of the warning implicit in Mephastophilis' lines, but Faustus is either oblivious or dismissive, however feelingly Lucifer's representative may speak.
  5. These remarks show how Mephastophilis' speech humanises him and may evoke an unexpectedly sympathetic response from the audience. Once again, Faustus' reaction demonstrates an ironic gap in understanding between him and the audience.
  6. This is a more detailed comment on the single word ‘manly'. It shows an understanding how the choice of such a word, carrying more than one meaning, may help us to understand Marlowe's characterisation of Faustus and Mephastophilis. It also causes us to ask questions about what constitutes manliness. Is it simply to do with courage or is it also about the capacity to feel?
  7. Once again, the comments on Faustus' long speech show an understanding of his character: the lofty and lordly tone in which he addresses Mephastophilis and sends his message to Lucifer are an early indication of his self-delusions about power and control.
  8. It is important to show that you understand how language, style and metre are fundamental to the overall effect of a scene, especially, in this case, how the energy of the scene moves between the two protagonists.
  9. This places the scene (and the play) in its social, cultural and religious context. By commenting on its likely reception by its first audiences, it is possible to show how Marlowe both plays upon - and challenges - the anxieties and expectations of the spectators.
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