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MonkeyNotes-Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
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Act IV, Scene 2

Summary

Faustus summons the spirits of Alexander and his paramour to appear before the Emperor. The spectacle includes Alexander’s fight with Darius, King of Persia. The apparitions salute the Emperor, who moves to embrace them, but Faustus prevents this. The Emperor is entranced by the vision. Benvolio has fallen asleep and grown horns on his head, and the Emperor is delighted with the joke. Benvolio is woken and is very angry on discovering what has happened. The Emperor begs Faustus to remove the horns. Faustus agrees, but Benvolio is still angry, vowing that he will have revenge on Faustus for this humiliation.


Notes

By now, Faustus has become a professional entertainer who stages shows for emperors and dukes. At the court of Carolus the Fifth he stages a show for the audience with Mephistophilis’ help. The weaknesses as well as the strengths of Faustus as a professional “entertainer” are emphasized. It is true that Faustus can summon the spirits of Alexander and his paramour. Yet there is something unsettling and unsatisfactory about this show, as Faustus himself says: “These are but shadows, not substantial.”

The creation of a character like Benvolio has a precise artistic purpose. The Emperor corresponds to that section of the audience that is carried away by the life-like representations of Alexander and his paramour. Benvolio, however, corresponds to the section of the audience that is not so receptive. It is no wonder, therefore, that Benvolio heckles Faustus by declaring that he “looks as like a conjurer as the Pope to the Costermonger (a street-vendor)”.

For Benvolio’s scoffing and impertinence, Faustus punishes him by setting horns upon his head, the traditional symbol of the cuckold. Benvolio’s fate is likened to that of Actaeon. The youth Actaeon gazed on Diana, the goddess of chastity, when she was bathing. He was discovered by her and turned into a stag to be hunted down by her dogs.

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