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MonkeyNotes-Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
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Notes

This scene marks the beginning of the play’s outcome: Faustus’ tragic end. As confirmed by Wagner’s speech, Faustus shows no outward sign of repentance. Wagner reports that his master continues to “banquet and carouse and swill” with the scholars. The old man, who enters immediately after the banquet, makes a strong case against Faustus’ choice of evil. He corrects Faustus’ earlier interpretation of the Bible by indicating that all sinners have opportunities for repentance. This forces Faustus momentarily to regret his actions. His despair is, nevertheless, mocked by Mephistophilis, who continues to demand total obedience. Faustus, the rebel, is not allowed to rebel against “the father of all rebel.” He re-affirms his allegiance to the “Prince of the East.” When he asks that the old man be punished, Mephistophilis’ answer proves the truth of the old man’s words. The devil has little power over those with strong faith, and therefore the old man can be made to suffer physically, but not spiritually. Faustus begins to understand that the only power that the devils have over the human soul is that which humans give to them.

Faustus, however, does not pay attention to the old man’s words. He wants Mephistophilis to stage yet another show to delight and distract him. Mephistophilis gratifies him with the “sweet embraces” of Helen of Troy. Naturally, this is not Helen herself. Just as “the royal shapes/ Of Alexander and his paramour” were represented by spirits, so Helen too is impersonated by a spirit. Faustus, in embracing her, commits the sin of bodily intercourse with demons.


Faustus’ address to Helen of Troy employs a formal, lyric blank verse developed by Marlowe. Helen herself is a paragon of female beauty and one of the most famous figures of antiquity. Her loveliness and charm inspired Paris to kidnap her from her husband, Menelaus, and thus the Trojan War began. One of the scholars present is determined to “see that peerless dame of Greece.” Another scholar praises her by saying that “all the world admires her majesty.” A third scholar remarks that her “heavenly beauty passeth all compare.” Nevertheless, “the face that launched a thousand ships” serves as a symbol of both beauty and doom.

The thousand ships launched were ships of war, and the “topless towers of Ilium” were burnt because of her. The images which Faustus chooses to praise her beauty are also images of destruction: the sacking of Wittenberg, the killing of Achilles, and the consuming of Semele by the brightness of Jupiter. Ironically enough, Faustus is not aware that the one thing Helen cannot give him is his soul, which has been “sucked forth” for ever.

The Old Man has no time for Faustus’ poetic rapture. Hence, the audience sees him pronouncing an eternal death sentence on Faustus. His voice is both granted and denied authority. The more sympathetic the audience feels toward the old man, the more devastating is Faustus’ rejection of him.

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MonkeyNotes-Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
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