Christopher Marlowe - Doctor Faustus Act 2

We must keep in mind the temptation of Christ, described in Matthew:4 and Luke:4. In this, the devil dares Jesus to engage in what, in the context of this play, we might call magic, and also offers Jesus dominion over the world. Jesus refuses outright on the basis of his faith in God. We will see how differently this is presented in Act 2.

Act 2 Scene 1

The first Scene contains some of the most beautiful and compelling of Marlowe's imagery. Somewhat incidentally, the reading of the first two lines of Faustus' opening monologue is more likely "Now, Faustus, must thou needs be damned,/ And canst thou not be saved?"

Recalling the inner voices of the angels in 1.1, Faustus asks himself if he does not hear an appeal to "Abjure this magic; turn to God again." But it was Mephistopheles who used that word, abjure, back in Act 1 Scene 3. Was it Faustus' inner voice that spoke to him? His introspection does not last long. He quickly says, 

Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again.
To God? he loves thee not;
The god thou serv'st is thine own appetite,
Wherein is fix'd the love of Belzebub:
To him I'll build an altar and a church,
And offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes.

The angels return to engage in a very brief argument with Faustus. His inversion of Christian dogma is on the way to completion. He says, 

When Mephistophilis shall stand by me,
What god can hurt thee, Faustus? thou art safe.
Cast no more doubts.--Come, Mephistophilis,
And bring glad tidings from great Lucifer;--
Is't not midnight?--come, Mephistophilis,
Veni, veni, Mephistophile!
[Come, come, Mephistophile!]

His "glad tidings" brings to mind (among others) Luke 2:10 (from the Elizabethan Geneva Bible),

Then the Angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you glad
tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people.

Mephistopheles insists that Faustus write and sign a contract in his own blood (there will be a repeat of this in Act 5). Faustus complies, not without some to-do. In the midst of this Faustus sees the Latin phrase, Homo, fuge, - Man, flee - appear on his arm.  Faustus says,

Consummatum est; this bill is ended,
And Faustus hath bequeath'd his soul to Lucifer.
But what is this inscription on mine arm?
Homo, fuge:  whither should I fly?
If unto God, he'll throw me down to hell.
My senses are deceiv'd; here's nothing writ:--
I see it plain; here in this place is writ,
Homo, fuge:  yet shall not Faustus fly.

References to flight are to be found in (at least) two places in the Bible, one in the Old and the other in the New Testaments. Keeping to the Geneva Bible, in Psalms 139 we find,

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I lie down in hell, thou art there.

And in 1 Tomothy 6,

But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness,
godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness.

Faustus finishes writing his contract and gives it to Mephistopheles, who says, "Now, Faustus, ask what thou wilt." Faustus asks where is hell, and Mephistopheles responds with this soaring speech:

Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortur'd and remain for ever:
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be:
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that are not heaven.

The English Faust Book, in Chapters 10 through 13, treats of the nature of hell, and does so very nicely. Marlowe has made this his, using his poetic powers to shorten and make more memorable this description (as he already did in Act 1), but the Faust Book should not be shortchanged in this particular area,

Faustus and Mephistopheles negotiate for a while, although it seems that Mephistopheles is leading the overly confident Faustus into an inescapable trap - or perhaps he is already in that trap. Faustus repeatedly says that he does not believe in the Christian afterlife, but he is always just short of being entirely sure. As the Scene winds down, Mephistopheles dissuades Faustus from marriage (too much a part of religious rites) by providing him with any woman he wants. Finally, Mephistopheles gives Faustus four books that contain words and ceremonies that will make knowledge and power available to the captivated magician. 

The Faust Book treats this rather shortly in Chapter 10, there being only one book, but intriguingly includes that "The copy of this enchanting book was afterwards found by his servant, Christopher Wagner." Marlowe had already featured books in Act 1. Being that there are so many of them, we might consider whether they are only convenient stage props or if the playwright is perhaps making one more comment about humanism. The Bible, of course, is a book, and Marlowe's audience would have considered it to hold the key to many mysteries. Has Faustus been looking at the wrong books - remember that in Act 1 he dismissed the Bible. What else might be going on?

Act 2 Scene 2

Robin, a clown and stable boy, has stolen one of the books Mephistopheles gave Faustus. In this comedic Scene, Robin claims to know what the book contains and to know how to use its magical procedures. In a short speech that must have evoked laughter from Marlowe's audience, Robin and his friend Ralph say (in prose),

RALPH. Come, what doest thou with that same book? thou canst
not read?
ROBIN. Yes, my master and mistress shall find that I can read,
he for his forehead, she for her private study; she's born to
bear with me, or else my art fails.

Yes he can read and he intends to cuckold his master. This is a comic trivialization of the gifts from Mephistopheles that Faustus prizes so highly. Although the dialogue may have come from a collaborator of Marlowe, there is tight integration with the flow and intent of the play. There is no comic rekief in the English Faust Book (the German author being much too serious for that).

Act 2 Scene 3

This Scene probably played better on stage than it reads off the page. We will ignore the artistic aspects of what seems a bit of a kludge.

Faustus decides, for the moment at least, to repent. Remember that, as discussed earlier, Calvin adamantly stated that God would never forgive apostasy, so in the Protestant view repentence was if not too little, certainly too late. The two angels appear again. The good angel urges Faustus to repent (evidently not having been notified of Calvin's claims), while the evil angel says that God cannot pity Faustus. Do we have an instance where the dark side has more profound (Protestant) knowledge of God than the bright side? Faustus seems confusedly aware of all this, as he says,

My heart's so harden'd, I cannot repent:
Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven,
But fearful echoes thunder in mine ears,
"Faustus, thou art damn'd!" then swords, and knives,
Poison, guns, halters, and envenom'd steel
Are laid before me to despatch myself;
And long ere this I should have slain myself,
Had not sweet pleasure conquer'd deep despair.
Have not I made blind Homer sing to me
Of Alexander's love and Oenon's death?
And hath not he, that built the walls of Thebes
With ravishing sound of his melodious harp,
Made music with my Mephistophilis?
Why should I die, then, or basely despair?
I am resolv'd; Faustus shall ne'er repent.--

Part of the scholar's confusion seems to be that Homer would have somehow known about the much later Alexander, or perhaps Homer had been retained as a songwriter. However, this does show off Faustus as a lover of artistic beauty. At any rate, he is quite aware that his despair is easily set aside by transitory pleasure and promise of more goodies, even if only for a grand total of twenty four years. Faustus vaccilates between being a doomed, tragic figure and an airhead. Marlowe's irony will continue to be apparent in what follows.

Faustus then engages Mephistopheles in a question and answer session concerning by then an old fashioned view of astronomy. Copernicus, just before mid-century, had published his heliocentric theory. Galileo was hard at work at what, in the early 1600s, would be his careful astronomical observations and theories. Telescopes would be available in the early 1600s. The times were changing and here was Faustus, unimpressed with Mephistopheles' useless answers because they did not add anything to the scholar's supposed knowledge. Was it Marlowe's intention to show Faustus as a proponent of  medieval Scholasticism? To show him wasting time and opportunity? To say that consort with the devil could not result in anything of real value?

The angels come back for a brief appearance and Faustus makes the dreadful mistake of calling on God. He is reminded of his damnation by the appearance of Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mephistopheles. Faustus immediately crumbles and having made their point, Lucifer and company tell him they are there to show him "some pastime." "Talk of the devil and nothing else," he is instructed. Thereupon follows an interlude featuring the Seven Deadly Sins that no doubt played quite well. As a parting gift, Lucifer presents Faustus with yet another book. 

Act 2 Questions to Consider

Marlowe repeatedly displays books as presents of the spirits, as well as showing them to be of no special value since even the clown Robin can use them. This is Marlowe the poet and playwright, for whom the spoken and printed word is an absolute necessity. What might he have meant? What might his audience have understood?

Compare and contrast Faustus' demands of Mephistopheles with the devil's propositions to Jesus.


Updated 2014-03-20