In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis points out that the greatest victory for Satan is to gain a soul without giving anything in return. Lewis, a professor of literature himself, may well have had Marlowe's Doctor Faustus in mind when he made this observation. When he determines that he will make the pact with Mephistophilis, Faustus is quite clear about the scope of his ambition:
Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I'd give them all for Mephistophilis.
By him I'll be great emperor of the world,
And make a bridge thorough the moving air,
To pass the ocean with a band of men:
I'll join the hills that bind the Afric shore,
And make that country continent to Spain,
And both contributory to my crown.
The Emperor shall not live but by my leave.
Nor any potentate of Germany.
Although modern audiences often do not find the comic scenes particularly amusing in themselves, there is certainly a dark comedy in the dichotomy between these grandiose ambitions and Faustus's actual accomplishments. Having resolved to "be great emperor of the world," he ends up as a court jester to the real emperor, entertaining those who actually do wield power. The comic scenes also give a sense of urgency to the final section of the play, first when Faustus determines that he must gain something worthy of the terrible bargain he has made and orders Mephistophilis to conjure up Helen, then when he wonders whether it is still possible to repent. At this point, the pathos and the audience's sympathy for Faustus are increased by the very banality of the comic scenes, which gain their impact retrospectively, by contrast with the grimness of Faustus's fate.