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How might one explain and analyze the lines in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus...

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rozh | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted May 19, 2012 at 10:38 PM via web

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How might one explain and analyze the lines in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus that immediately precede Faustus's signing of his contract with Satan?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 20, 2012 at 2:54 AM (Answer #1)

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In Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus, Faustus himself reads aloud his contract with Satan. The lines of this speech might be explicated and analyzed as follows:

FAUSTUS   Then hear me read it, Mephastophilis.

[Then listen to me recite the contract aloud, Mephastophilis.] Part of the irony of this whole speech is that Faustus has already proven himself so untrustworthy that Satan demands that Faustus commit his soul to him in writing. Part of the further irony of this episode is that Faustus is actually free, at any time he chooses, to tear up the contract and renew his relationship with God. Unfortunately, he never makes that decision, which he has the chance to make until almost the very last moments of his life. Mephastophilis, in his initial conversations with Faustus, almost tried to warn Faustus against committing himself to Satan. By this point in the play, however, thanks in part to Faustus’s foolish pride, Mephastophilis has become a much more conventional demon.


On these conditions following:

[These are the rules by which I will abide, according to the contract I am about to sign.] Ironically, Faustus is the one who writes the terms of his contract with Satan, and, as will be seen, he is so foolish that he chooses terms that are actually not very favorable to him.

 

First, that Faustus may be a spirit in form and substance.

[First, the contract specifies that Faustus will be a spirit or soul in shape and in fact.] Ironically, Faustus already is a spirit in form and substance. He was made such by God.

 

Secondly, that Mephastophilis shall be his servant, and at his command.

[Secondly, the contract specifies that Mephastophilis will serve Faustus and obey Faustus’s orders.] This is ironic, because by the end of the play Mephastophilis will have much more power than Faustus, even before the contract has expired.

 

Thirdly, that Mephastophilis shall do for him, and bring him whatsoever.

[Thirdly, the contract specifies that Mephastophilis will do anything Faustus commands and will bring Faustus anything Faustus desires.] This is ironic because it essentially repeats the second clause. Such repetition may illustrate Faustus’s pompous love of his own words.

 

Fourthly, that he shall be in his chamber or house invisible.

[Fourthly, the contract perhaps specifies that when Faustus is in his room or in his home, he will not be able to be seen. Or more probably this clause means that when Mephastophilis is in Faustus’s room or home, Mephastophilis should be invisible.] If Faustus wants to be invisible, it may be that he seeks invisibility because he hopes to deceive people. If Faustus wants Mephastophilis to be invisible, it may be because Faustus would be ashamed if his friends knew he was consorting with devils.]

 

Lastly, that he shall appear to the said John Faustus, at all times, in what form or shape soever he please.

[Finally, Mephastophilis must be visible to Faustus however Faustus wishes to see him.] These lines imply the superficiality of Faustus’ judgement. Mere appearances matter to him more than spiritual reality. Mephastophilis, as a demon, will be spiritually ugly no matter how physically appealing his external appearance may be.


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