Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlow
Analysis of Act I, scene i
(By Mrs. HR)
The scene opens with Faustus in his Wittenberg study opening scholarly books about the studies of Philosophy, Medicine, Law, and Theology. With each excerpt he reads (in Latin, of course), he finds some flaw in reasoning and closes the text with disgust. Ultimately, he opens (and accepts) a text on Necromancy (aka Magic) and asks his assistant, Wagner, to bring two of Faustus' friends, Valdes and Cornelious, to him so he can share that he'll be pursuing magic. Before his friends, who are presumably familiar with the studies of Necromancy and have been pressuring Faustus to follow suit, enter, Faustus is visited by a Good Angel discouraging his magical studies and a Bad Angel encouraging them. Ultimately, Valdes and Cornelious visit, Faustus gives his news, the friends state that Faustus will be an incredible magician, and the group leaves to feast.
Faustus rejects Philosophy because he believes he already can argue logic perfectly.
Faustus rejects Medicine because he can never raise the dead or give eternal life.
Faustus rejects Law because it is not scholarly to merely fight over "stuff."
Faustus rejects Theology, despite first saying that "when all is done, divinity is best" because the Bible says that "the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and "if we say we do not sin we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8).
***Interestingly, Faustus neglects to finish reading both passages which note eternal life through forgiveness.
***Interestingly again, Faustus later tells his friends that "divinity is basest of the three" (line 108)
Analysis of Language and Allusions
* All Latin translations can be found in the footnotes of our books
* Line 20: "Are not thy bills hung up as monuments" - BILLS in this reference is synonymous with the modern word PRESCRIPTIONS
* As we will see throughout the text, Faustus often alludes to Neoclassic subjects such as line 76: "Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky" (Jove alludes to the Roman king of the gods, rather than the Christian title)
Analysis of Characterization and Development
The books as props in Faustus' study both support Faustus' position as a well-learned man and tangibly emphasis Faustus' rejection of respected disciples to the audience. We not only hear Faustus speaking about Philosophy, Medicine, Law, and Theology with disregard; we see him picking up and then rejecting the Bible, the works of
Marlowe personifies Marlowe's conscience, perhaps, through the inclusion of reoccurring angels, one good and one bad, through the drama. Rather than present many long soliloquies of internal monologues (like Hamlet), the audience sees literal fighting over Faustus' soul by actors/actresses on stage.
The drama opens with the Chorus suggesting that Faustus' waxen wings will melt and heaven will conspire against him. Through the first scene, Faustus appears to have little regard for moral decision-making nor heaven. His part lines to the audience, however, are:
"This night I'll conjure, though I die therefore."
Such final words foreshadow unfortunate events to come for Faustus and suggest his apparent confidence and disregard for divinity are not as they seem.