However, despite the fact that in Faustus, Marlowe intended to portray the tragic downfall of a great man, he also included the apparently frivolous middle scenes for a specific purpose. The play opens with Faustus alone in his study, contemplating the direction in which he should take his future studies. This first speech is energetic and his words are those of a young man. As Faustus continues to reveal his dissatisfaction with the limits of human knowledge, rejecting each of the various scholarly disciplines available to him, the audience begin to become suspicious of his intentions.
When Faustus proclaims that a greater subject fitteth [his] wit, and that the next step in his education must be necromancy, our worst fears are confirmed. It is important to note that whilst the modern audience may be only slightly shocked by this revelation, to Marlowes contemporaries it would have been horrifying in the extreme. In Elizabethan times, religion permeated all aspects of life, and the majority of people were devout Christians; such and explicit display of blasphemy would have been unheard of!
The dramatic tension increases as the scene progresses, and Faustus arrogant proposal to try [his] brains to gain a deity confirms our opinion of him as a dangerous over-reacher. The entrance of the good and evil angels signals an opportunity for theatrical spectacle, which again helps maintain the tension of this impressive, dramatic opening scene. Faustus is seemingly unaware of these two characters (which perhaps suggests that they are rather states of mind than physical beings) but continues to rhapsodise on the varied ways he will use his power.
Marlowe uses poetic language, and Faustus speech is more like a love song than a soliloquy: Ill have them ransack the ocean for orient pearl and search all corners of the new found world for pleasant fruits and princely delicacies. At this point, we are disturbed by Faustus behaviour; it is as though he is making extravagant promises to a beloved rather than seeking these things for himself. Faustus is eager to confer with his fellow scholars Valdes and Cornelius, who can be seen to represent the traditional tempters from earlier morality plays.
Valdes astonishes the audience even further by promising that their satanic powers will canonise them. This implied holiness could not be further from the truth of their intentions. The first scene ends with Faustus feverishly impatient to conjure that very night. His last four words are dramatic and fearsome in the recklessness: this night Ill conjure, therefore I die. The contemporary audience, who would have believed in the immortal soul, would have been aware of the terrifying fact that if he were to die in the process of conjuring, he would spend an eternity in hell. Soon after, we meet Faustus again.
The scene is pitch black and he has prepared a circle in which to conjure, and some kind of sacrifice. Marlowe uses atmospheric language such as the gloomy shadow of the earth and her pitchy breath, to evoke the tension and drama. This would have been particularly important for the Elizabethan audience who had to rely on their imaginations during the performance, rather than special effects. Faustus invocation is in Latin, which sounds powerful and sonorous. He uses a frightening mixture of the orthodox and the demonic, for example sprinkling the holy water whilst conjuring.
All this convinces us that he is engaged in an extremely perilous undertaking. Some time later, once Faustus has conjured Mephastophilis, he must sign a contract which states that Satan can have his soul in exchange for 24 good years. From this point onwards tension mounts and actions follow in rapid succession until the end of the scene. Faustus must sign in blood, yet when he tries to do so it congeals, forcing Mephastophilis to go and fetch a chafer of hot coal to melt it again. This episode contributed greatly to the dramatic tension of the scene.
The congealing of the blood is part literal, but part metaphorical in the sense that it is Faustus own body recoiling from the deed he is about to commit. The simple bringing of the coals in the smoking dish is also quite dramatic. The sight and smell of the flames remind the audience (and should remind Faustus) of the fact that the contract will result in his damnation in hell. The episode ends with Faustus proclamation consummatum est once he has signed. This startling blasphemy echoes Christs final words on the cross and Faustus is ironically identified with him.
It is arguable that the impressive opening of the play and the dramatic scenes which follow soon after are balanced and complimented by its equally intense ending. Faustus encounters the old man when his 24 years are almost over, which signals that there is hope for his salvation, even at this late stage. It is important that the audience can still relate to Faustus and fell that he is able to make conscious decisions about his fate, all be they the wrong ones. Whilst we continue to be thus engaged with Faustus, every move he makes in this scene creates high tension and greatly enhances the dramatic quality.
About half way through the scene, we witness Mephastophilis providing a desperate Faustus with a dagger to kill himself (suicide being an offence to heaven and an appropriate means of getting to hell). Although the old man talks him out of it, the audience is still wracked with suspense, particularly whilst witnessing Faustus ponder feverishly as hell strives with grace for conquest in [his] breast. However, Faustus soon reverts to his former, cowardly self when Mephastophilis threatens to tear his flesh.
He instructs sweet Mephastophilis to punish the old man instead, ignoring his conviction that my faith, vile hell, shall triumph over thee. Following this episode, Faustus asks for Helen of Troy as his paramour, and speaks to her, where he advised the scholars strictly not to. We feel that Faustus must realise he has made a fatal choice -he knows that the image he sees before him is a spirit- and watch in compelling revulsion as he kisses the devil. The speech he makes is a rhapsodic love poem, which is stunning when we consider the harsh theatrical contrast between Faustus words
(e. g. O, thou art fairer than the evening air clad in the beauty of a thousand stars) and the sight of the old mans flesh being torn to pieces on stage. Even more horrifying is the way in which the brilliant scholar uses the language of love poetry to damn himself, and yet the lyrical beauty of the verse remains. When he says her lips suck forth my soul, Faustus is not only using a rapturous metaphor: it is actually happening! By now, the tragedy is inevitable; Faustus has rejected all hope of salvation, and the audience wait for his impending doom with trepidation.
The final scene, in which we witness Faustus death is both memorable and moving. His solitude at the end of the play compliments his solitude at the beginning, and the fact that he struggles alone maintains the dramatic tension right up until he is taken to hell. Marlowe purposefully ends the play with Faustus soliloquy, to vocalise his inner thought and emotional condition. His terror, frantic hopes and despair are all enhanced by the soliloquy, which gains dramatic power by its graphic, physical nature.
In his fervour, Faustus actually tries to leap up to [his] God, but fails to do so because some infernal force pulls him down. It is a very tragic scene, particularly as Faustus in his desperation tries to conjure and command the earth to gape open but realises that o no, it will not harbour me. There is a poignant contrast between the disillusioned scholar we see here and the successful conjurer of the previous scenes. When the clock strikes to signal his final half hour, Faustus bargains frantically with God to let him live for a hundred, or even a thousand years in hell but still be saved.
Upon the arrival of the devils he is seized by fear and panic, willing his soul to be changed into little water drops and imploring God to look not so fierce in him. His final desperate plea Ill burn my books is deeply moving considering the futile nature of the gesture. Whilst the tension of the final scenes is obvious, without some of the light-hearted episodes which precede it, much of the dramatic quality would be lost. For this reason, Marlowe includes a number of comic scenes to relieve some of the suspense during the middle section of the play.
As well as providing entertainment and an opportunity for spectacle (for example, the slapstick comedy of the Pope scene, and the grotesque rhetoric of the seven deadly sins) these scenes also have several important points to make. A good example of this happens fairly early on in the play, where Wagner procures one of Faustus books and persuades the flea-ridden clown to become his servant. Marlowe is making the point that whilst these two characters may be banal and frivolous, they are just as capable of conjuring as Faustus! Wagner apparently has just as much success without selling his soul for the privilege.
They also draw our attention to the contract which Faustus is about to make. When Wagner says that the clown would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, though it were blood raw, we note that Faustus proposed contract amounts to something of similar value (i. e. it will gain him nothing). In this scene, conjuring is de-based so that even the illiterate clown is taught how to use black magic. This contrast with Faustus great learning demonstrates how little intellect really is needed for such pursuits. We soon witness a scene between another two comic characters, Robin the ostler, and his companion, Rafe.
Robin has stolen one of Faustus books and wishes to use it to gain sexual experience. Whilst this amuses the audience, we are also reminded to reflect on the unfolding tragedy. Whilst the ostlers may be venturing in too deep, they are innocents and their desires amount to little more than a few silly capers. When we compare this to Faustus feverish necessity to push the boundaries of human knowledge we become aware of just how dangerous the situation is. As Faustus begins to age, he too appears to become aware of the consequences of his actions.
The amusing trick he plays on the horse-courser in scene ten plunges him into a despondant mood, forcing him to reflect upon his fate. He is now using his powers on even lower forms of entertainment than he did by making a mockery of the Pope in scene seven. He realises that he has done nothing special and is yet but a man, which is enforced by the horse-coursers callous assumption that he is a horse doctor. In Elizabethan times, such a profession would not have been highly respected, and Faustus is outraged that this is how he is being perceived.
In conclusion, I would say that although the main dramatic events of the play occur either at the beginning or at the end, the middle scenes also have value and interest. Whilst Marlowes main intention for the comic scenes was to provide amusement for the audience and some respite from the tension of the main plot, they also contribute significantly to some of the main themes of the play by comparing Faustus behaviour to that of his contemporaries, and thus drawing our attention to the gravity of his actions.