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MonkeyNotes-Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
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Act I, Scene 4

Summary

Faustus’ servant, Wagner, tries to fool a Clown, who is unemployed, half-naked and half-starved. Wagner would like to employ the Clown as his errand-boy, but the Clown has no desire to serve Wagner. Wagner tries to browbeat the Clown by summoning two devils, Banio and Belcher, with magic words, which he has picked up from Faustus’ magic books. The Clown has no alternative but to agree to accept employment under Wagner.


Notes

This is another farcical interlude, which provides amusement to the audience even in the course of a tragic play. However, this scene also serves a dramatic purpose. Wagner’s desire to command the Clown is a parody of Faustus’ desire to command Mephistophilis. According to Wagner, the Clown “would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, though it were blood-raw.” This remark recalls Faustus’ agreement to give his soul to the devil, not “for a shoulder of mutton,” but for twenty-four years of power and delight. The Clown, however, is not prepared to give his soul to the devil on the terms suggested by Wagner. If he must sell his soul to the devil for food, he would like to have the mutton well-roasted and seasoned with a good sauce. The Clown evidently puts a high price on his soul.

There is more fun in this scene. When Wagner threatens to call two devils, the Clown does not take him seriously. He replies that he will “belch” Belcher, since he is “not afraid of a devil.” The very next moment, however, the Clown starts running up and down, crying because the two devils have actually made their appearance. The Clown’s bluff has been exposed, and he feels humbled.

However, the moment the devils are sent away by Wagner, the Clown recovers his composure and asks Wagner “(W)ill you teach me this conjuring occupation?” Wagner promises to teach him the art by which he would be able to turn himself into a dog, a cat or a mouse. Finally, Wagner orders him to walk close behind him, “quasi vestigiis nostris insistere” (to tread in his footsteps). The Clown says: “God forgive me, he speaks Dutch Fustian” (high- sounding nonsense). But he agrees to obey Wagner.

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