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Signi? cance of Comic Scenes in Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe In tragedies, the playwright tries to give relief to the audience by introducing comic scenes or episodes. Literally such comic interludes is known as tragic relief. A tragedy creates tension in the mind of the audience. Therefore it becomes necessary to relax the minds of the audience by including comic scenes in the play. Otherwise, it generates some sort of emotional weakness. The audience of the Elizabethan period pressed for comic interludes to ease their emotion. The producers also emanded them for success of the play. The comic interlude may have an appropriate emotional connection in the development of the tragic play but it is also admitted that in Marlowe’s dramas, this tragic relief seems to be crude. Due to these often Dr Faustus is called a play of weak plot. When we study Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus” closely it shows that there are fourteen scenes in all. Out of them, comic scenes are )ve or six. Many critics are of the opinion that the comic elements in these scenes are low and vulgar. They can not be accepted as organic parts of the tragic play.
According to the critics, the )rst comic scene has been worked out with some care, a comic burlesque of the main plot. It is also felt that most of the comic scenes in Dr. Faustus are of later interpolation and not of Marlowe. Marlowe introduced the comic scenes in “Dr. Faustus” for many purposes. First of all he introduced crude bu+oonery because it was common stock-in-trade of the Elizabethan dramatists. They could not ignore the demands of the groundlings. The Elizabethan audiences justi)ed the inclusion of comic scenes in which Faustus teases and rouble the Pope and his guests, outwit the horse-dealer, and make a fool of the talkative knight, planting a pair of horns on his head. They are essential for dramatic purpose to enable Faustus to display his miraculous powers. Secondly, the purpose of the comic scenes was to o+er a temporary relaxation to the audience. Third, Marlowe’s description about Faustus’ pranks on the Pope shows Marlowe’s hatred for church and Pope. It is obvious that Marlowe employed the same strategy Shakespeare used, that of employing a Fool to add humor and levity.
Also, as with Shakespeare, the Fool conveys important information and/or illuminates important aspects of relationships between principal characters: Shakespeare’s King Lear and his Fool are the prime example of this strategy. Marlowe uses the fool the horse-courser for levity but also to convey important information. Granted, the information this fool facilitates isn’t on the grand scale of Lear’s fool but is important to exposing Faustus’ character development and the increasing intensity of the falling action that leads up to the climax and resolution.
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What art thou, Faustus, but a man condemn’d to die? Thy fatal time doth draw to ? nal end; Despair doth drive distrust into my thoughts: Confound these passions with a quiet sleep: Tush, Christ did call the thief upon the Cross; Then rest thee, Faustus, quiet in conceit. [Sleeps in his chair. ] This quote reveals the important signi)cance of the courser fool and the comic scene. First, Faustus is given opportunity to lament the changes that are taking over his thoughts, changes that run deeply into his personality: “Despair doth drive distrust into my thoughts: / Confound hese passions. ” His time is running out, his years are almost over, and, “condemned to die,” despair drives his thoughts and passions into directions that are unfamiliar to him. This revelation of his character development increases our sympathy for Faustus. Second, Faustus reveals his deep and hope-)lled thoughts about Christ. In an allusion to the thieves upon the cross with Jesus at Calvary, Faustus builds an analogy between himself and one thief. This reveals increasing intensity by showing that he is hoping to be called to edemption by Christ: “Christ did call the thief upon the Cross; / Then rest thee, Faustus. ” This statement has further signi)cance of its own because it bears heavily upon the climax and resolution when Faustus begs to know how to be redeemed: “I do repent; and yet I do despair: / … / What shall I do to shun the snares of death? ” To sum up, these comic scenes are signi)cant and It may be said that the various comic scenes serve to )ll the interval between Faustus’s attainment of magical power and the damnation, which overtakes him after the gap of twenty-four years.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Comic Scenes in Dr Faustus
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Summary: Scene 1
These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly!
(See Important Quotations Explained)
In a long soliloquy, Faustus reflects on the most rewarding type of scholarship. He first considers logic, quoting the Greek philosopher Aristotle, but notes that disputing well seems to be the only goal of logic, and, since Faustus’s debating skills are already good, logic is not scholarly enough for him. He considers medicine, quoting the Greek physician Galen, and decides that medicine, with its possibility of achieving miraculous cures, is the most fruitful pursuit—yet he notes that he has achieved great renown as a doctor already and that this fame has not brought him satisfaction. He considers law, quoting the Byzantine emperor Justinian, but dismisses law as too petty, dealing with trivial matters rather than larger ones. Divinity, the study of religion and theology, seems to offer wider vistas, but he quotes from St. Jerome’s Bible that all men sin and finds the Bible’s assertion that “[t]he reward of sin is death” an unacceptable doctrine. He then dismisses religion and fixes his mind on magic, which, when properly pursued, he believes will make him “a mighty god” (1.62).
Wagner, Faustus’s servant, enters as his master finishes speaking. Faustus asks Wagner to bring Valdes and Cornelius, Faustus’s friends, to help him learn the art of magic. While they are on their way, a good angel and an evil angel visit Faustus. The good angel urges him to set aside his book of magic and read the Scriptures instead; the evil angel encourages him to go forward in his pursuit of the black arts. After they vanish, it is clear that Faustus is going to heed the evil spirit, since he exults at the great powers that the magical arts will bring him. Faustus imagines sending spirits to the end of the world to fetch him jewels and delicacies, having them teach him secret knowledge, and using magic to make himself king of all Germany.
Valdes and Cornelius appear, and Faustus greets them, declaring that he has set aside all other forms of learning in favor of magic. They agree to teach Faustus the principles of the dark arts and describe the wondrous powers that will be his if he remains committed during his quest to learn magic. Cornelius tells him that “[t]he miracles that magic will perform / Will make thee vow to study nothing else” (1.136–137). Valdes lists a number of texts that Faustus should read, and the two friends promise to help him become better at magic than even they are. Faustus invites them to dine with him, and they exit.
Analysis: Scene 1
The scene now shifts to Faustus’s study, and Faustus’s opening speech about the various fields of scholarship reflects the academic setting of the scene. In proceeding through the various intellectual disciplines and citing authorities for each, he is following the dictates of medieval scholarship, which held that learning was based on the authority of the wise rather than on experimentation and new ideas. This soliloquy, then, marks Faustus’s rejection of this medieval model, as he sets aside each of the old authorities and resolves to strike out on his own in his quest to become powerful through magic.
As is true throughout the play, however, Marlowe uses Faustus’s own words to expose Faustus’s blind spots. In his initial speech, for example, Faustus establishes a hierarchy of disciplines by showing which are nobler than others. He does not want merely to protect men’s bodies through medicine, nor does he want to protect their property through law. He wants higher things, and so he proceeds on to religion. There, he quotes selectively from the New Testament, picking out only those passages that make Christianity appear in a negative light. He reads that “[t]he reward of sin is death,” and that “[i]f we say we that we have no sin, / We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us” (1.40–43). The second of these lines comes from the first book of John, but Faustus neglects to read the very next line, which states, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thus, through selective quoting, Faustus makes it seem as though religion promises only death and not forgiveness, and so he easily rejects religion with a fatalistic “What will be, shall be! Divinity, adieu!” (1.48). Meanwhile, he uses religious language—as he does throughout the play—to describe the dark world of necromancy that he enters. “These metaphysics of magicians / And necromantic books are heavenly” (1.49–50), he declares without a trace of irony. Having gone upward from medicine and law to theology, he envisions magic and necromancy as the crowning discipline, even though by most standards it would be the least noble.
Faustus is not a villain, though; he is a tragic hero, a protagonist whose character flaws lead to his downfall. Marlowe imbues him with tragic grandeur in these early scenes. The logic he uses to reject religion may be flawed, but there is something impressive in the breadth of his ambition, even if he pursues it through diabolical means. In Faustus’s long speech after the two angels have whispered in his ears, his rhetoric outlines the modern quest for control over nature (albeit through magic rather than through science) in glowing, inspiring language. He offers a long list of impressive goals, including the acquisition of knowledge, wealth, and political power, that he believes he will achieve once he has mastered the dark arts. While the reader or playgoer is not expected to approve of his quest, his ambitions are impressive, to say the least. Later, the actual uses to which he puts his magical powers are disappointing and tawdry. For now, however, Faustus’s dreams inspire wonder.