David Bruce: Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: Retelling of the 1604 A-Text: Act 5 (Scenes 12-13 and Epilogue)


— 5.1 —

[Scene 12]

Wagner said about Faustus to you the readers, “I think my master intends to die soon because he has given me all his goods, and yet, I think, if his death were near, he would not banquet and carouse and swill among the students, as even now he does. They are at supper with such belly-cheer as I, Wagner, never beheld in all my life.”

Earlier, Mephastophilis had said that some friars’ summum bonum was belly-cheer.

Wagner continued, “See, where they come! Most likely, the feast has ended.”

Wagner exited as Faustus entered with three tipsy scholars. Mephastophilis was present, but he was invisible to everyone except Faustus.

“Master Doctor Faustus,” the first scholar said, “since our conversation about fair ladies, and who was the beautifulest in all the world, we have determined among ourselves that Helen of Greece was the admirablest lady who ever lived; therefore, Master Doctor, if you will do us the favor of letting us see that peerless dame of Greece, whom all the world admires for majesty, we should think ourselves much beholden to you.”

“Gentlemen,” Faustus replied, “because I know that your friendship is unfeigned, and because Faustus’ custom is not to deny the just requests of those who wish him well, you shall behold that peerless dame of Greece, no different in pomp and majesty than when Sir Paris crossed the seas with her, and brought the spoils to rich Dardania.”

Actually, Paris took Helen to Troy. Dardania was a city near Troy. As usual, the invisible Mephastophilis did not correct Faustus’ mistake.

Faustus referred to “unfeigned friendship,” but the scholar was asking him to do something that would be a cause of getting him damned.

He also said that the scholars would see Helen of Troy, implying that they would see the real Helen of Troy rather than a demon that had assumed her shape.

Faustus then said, “Be silent, then, for danger is in words.”

Conjuring required silence.

Music sounded, and a demon that had assumed Helen of Troy’s shape passed in front of them and then exited.

In ancient times, Paris, a Prince of Troy, ran away with Helen, the legitimate wife of Menelaus of Sparta, Greece, and took her back to Troy with him, thus starting the famous Trojan War, which lasted for ten years. Helen was known as the most beautiful woman in the world.

The second scholar said, “Too simple is my intelligence to tell her praise. She is the woman whom all the world admires for her majesty.”

The third scholar said, “It’s no wonder that the angry Greeks avenged with ten years of war the forcible carrying away of such a queen, whose Heavenly beauty surpasses all comparison.”

“Since we have seen the pride of Nature’s works, and the only paragon of excellence,” the first scholar said, “let us depart; and for this glorious deed may Faustus be happy and blest forevermore!”

Ironically, it was deeds such as this that put Faustus at risk of damnation.

“Gentlemen, farewell,” Faustus said. “I wish the same to you.”

The scholars exited.

An old man arrived and said, “Ah, Doctor Faustus, I wish that I might prevail and guide your steps to the way of life, by which sweet path you may attain the goal that shall conduct you to celestial rest!

“Break heart, drop blood, and mingle it with tears — tears falling from repentant heaviness of your most vile and loathsome filthiness, the stench whereof corrupts the inward soul with such extremely wicked crimes of heinous sin as no commiseration may expel except the mercy, Faustus, of your sweet Savior, Whose blood alone can wash away your guilt.”

Faustus said, “Where are you, Faustus? Wretch, what have you done?”

Genesis 3:9 states, “But the Lord God called to the man [Adam, who had sinned], and said unto him, Where art thou?” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Faustus said, “You are damned, Faustus, damned; despair and die! Hell calls for right, and with a roaring voice says, ‘Faustus, come; your hour is almost come,’ and Faustus now will come to do you right and pay to you what is due.”

1 Peter 5:8 states, “Be sober, and watch: for your adversary the devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1599 Geneva Bible).

John 13:1 states, “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come, that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, forasmuch as he loved his own which were in the world, unto the end he loved them” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Mephastophilis gave Faustus a dagger, tempting him to commit suicide.

The old man said, “Ah, stop, good Faustus, stop your desperate steps! I see an Angel who hovers over your head, holding a vial full of precious grace and offering to pour it into your soul. So then call for mercy, and avoid despair.”

People commit suicide out of despair, which can be defined as the loss of all hope.

Faustus said to the old man, “Ah, my sweet friend, I feel your words you have spoken to comfort my distressed soul! Leave me a while to ponder on my sins.”

“I go, sweet Faustus,” the old man said, “but with heavy sorrow because I fear the ruin of your without-hope soul.”

The old man exited.

Faustus said to himself, “Accursed Faustus, where is mercy now? I do repent, and yet I do despair. Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast. What shall I do to shun the snares of death?”

Mephastophilis said, “You traitor, Faustus, I arrest your soul for disobedience to my sovereign lord. Revolt, or I’ll tear your flesh into pieces.”

By “revolt” he meant, “Revolt against God, and return to the vow you made to Lucifer.”

“Sweet Mephastophilis,” Faustus said, “entreat your lord to pardon my unjust presumption, and with my blood I will again confirm my former vow I made to Lucifer.”

“Do it, then, quickly, with unfeigned heart,” Mephastophilis said, “lest greater danger attends your drifting away from Lucifer.”

Faustus cut his arm and began writing with his blood.

“Torment, sweet friend, that base and crooked age — that old man who dared to dissuade me from following your Lucifer,” Faustus said to Mephastophilis. “Torment the old man with the greatest torments that our Hell affords.”

“His faith is great; I cannot touch his soul,” Mephastophilis said. “But what I may afflict his body with, I will attempt, which is but little worth.”

What “little worth” refers to is ambiguous. It can mean 1) the old man’s body is of little worth compared to the worth of his soul, 2) Mephastophilis’ attempt to torment the old man’s body is of little worth and effectiveness because the old man is protected by God, or 3) both #1 and #2.

(Earlier, the Good Angel had said to Faustus, “Repent, and they [demons from Hell] shall never scratch your skin.”)

“One thing, good servant, let me crave from you, to glut the longing of my heart’s desire,” Faustus said. “Let me have as my paramour that Heavenly Helen whom I saw just now, whose sweet embracings may extinguish completely those thoughts that dissuade me from my vow. That will help me keep the oath I made to Lucifer.”

“Faustus, this, or whatever else you shall desire, shall be performed in the twinkling of an eye,” Mephastophilis said.

“Helen of Troy” returned and stood in front of Faustus, who said these words:

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,

“And burnt the topless towers of Ilium [Troy]?

“Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.”

He kissed “Helen,” and then he continued:

“Her lips suck forth my soul: See, where it flies!

“Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.”

He kissed “Helen,” and then he continued:

“Here will I dwell, for Heaven is in these lips,

“And all is dross that is not Helena.”

The old man entered and stood, listening.

Faustus continued:

“I will be Paris, and for love of you,

“Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sacked;

“And I will combat with weak Menelaus,

“And wear your colors on my plumed crest [helmet];

“Yes, I will wound Achilles in the heel,

“And then return to Helen for a kiss.

“Oh, you are fairer than the evening air

“Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars.

“Brighter are you than flaming Jupiter

“When he appeared to hapless Semele;

“More lovely than the monarch of the sky

“In wanton Arethusa’s azured arms;

“And none but you shall be my paramour!”

What is the answer to the question “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, and burnt the topless [very high] towers of Troy?”

The best answer is, No. This is not Helen of Troy. This is a demon from Hell. Twenty-four years ago, Faustus had asked for a wife, and Mephastophilis had brought him a demon that had assumed the form and face of a beautiful woman. Faustus had called the demon dressed in women’s clothing “a hot whore.” Now, he was willing to have sex with a demon.

Can “Helen” make him immortal with a kiss?

Faustus’ soul is already immortal; the question that should be asked is where will his soul reside for all eternity. A kiss from “Helen” makes it more likely that Faustus’ soul will reside in Hell.

When Faustus was considering selling his soul to Lucifer, he thought that he would do good things for Wittenberg, but now he was willing for Wittenberg to be sacked, just like Troy was at the end of the Trojan War.

Faustus said that he will be Paris and he will combat “weak” Menelaus. In the Iliad, Paris and Menelaus met in single combat, and Menelaus defeated Paris; in fact, Menelaus would have killed Paris except that Aphrodite, goddess of sexual passion, helped Paris escape from him.

Faustus said that he would wound Achilles in the heel. Although this is not recounted in the Iliad, Paris, with the help of the archer god Apollo, did wound Achilles in the heel — a wound that killed him.

Faustus said this about “Helen”: “Brighter are you than flaming Jupiter / When he appeared to hapless Semele.”

Semele was one of the many mortal women with whom Jupiter, king of the gods, had an affair. Jupiter made an inviolable oath to give Semele whatever she asked for, and she asked to see him in his true form. Because he had made an oath that he could not violate, Jupiter did as she asked, and the sight of Jupiter in his true form killed her.

Apollo the Sun-god is the monarch of the sky, and Arethusa is a nymph who bathed in a stream of blue — azured — water. Possibly, Faustus is saying that “Helen” is more beautiful than a scene of the Sun shining down on a blue stream of water.

Faustus and “Helen” left in order to go somewhere they could have sex.

The old man said to himself, “Accursed Faustus, miserable man, from your soul you exclude the grace of Heaven, and flee from the throne of his tribunal-seat!”

Some devils entered.

The old man said, “Satan begins to sift me with his pride.”

Luke 22:31 states, “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired you, to winnow you as wheat” (1599 Geneva Bible). Other Bibles, such as the Coverdale Bible of 1535, use the word “sift” instead of “winnow.”

The old man continued, “As in this furnace God shall try my faith, my faith shall triumph over you, vile Hell.”

He was referring to the Book of Daniel, chapter 6. God protected Daniel after he was thrown in the den of lions.

The old man continued, “Ambitious fiends, see how the Heavens smile at your repulse, and laugh your state to scorn!”

Psalm 2:4 states, “But he that dwelleth in the heaven shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (1599 Geneva Bible). The Bishops Bible (1568, revised in 1572) states, “He that dwellest in heaven will laugh them to scorn.”

The old man continued, “Hence, devils! Go to Hell! For from here I flee to my God.”

The old man exited in one direction, and the devils exited in another direction.

— 5.2 —

[Scene 13]

Faustus was in his study in Wittenberg with the three scholars.

“Ah, gentlemen!” Faustus said.

A glance at Faustus showed that he was not well. His “ah” was a sound of mourning.

“What ails you, Faustus?” the first scholar asked.

“Ah, my sweet chamber-fellow, if I had lived with you, then I would have lived always!” Faustus said.

Students at the university shared quarters.

Faustus continued, “But now I die eternally. Look, isn’t he coming? Isn’t he coming?”

The students thought that Faustus was ill and hallucinating.

The second scholar asked, “What does Faustus mean?”

“Perhaps he has acquired some sickness by being over-solitary,” the third scholar said.

“If that is so, we’ll have physicians in to cure him,” the first scholar said. “It is only a surfeit; never fear, man.”

A surfeit is an excess, often of food and drink.

Faustus said, “It is a surfeit of deadly sin, which has damned both body and soul.”

“Yet, Faustus, look up to Heaven,” the second scholar said. “Remember that God’s mercies are infinite.”

The second scholar was correct.

“But Faustus’ offence can never be pardoned,” Faustus said. “The serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus.”

Faustus was suffering from pride. He believed that he had committed sins so evil that they were unpardonable. But God can pardon any sin as long as it is sincerely repented. The only sin that is unpardonable is sin that makes the sinner unable to sincerely repent. A sinner who has continually sinned can grow hard-hearted and be unable to sincerely repent.

Faustus continued, “Ah, gentlemen, hear me with patience, and don’t tremble at my speeches! Though my heart pants and quivers to remember that I have been a student here these thirty years, I wish that I had never seen Wittenberg and never read a book!”

Books are not evil in themselves. A book of magic can be read for other purposes than summoning demons from Hell. Faustus had been a great scholar and had delighted in pursuing knowledge, but he had made a choice to pursue knowledge the wrong way.

One way to pursue knowledge is through hard study: reading (and writing) the relevant books, thinking hard, and debating with others, including teachers, who can be good guides to knowledge but who are only guides. Teachers can’t learn for the student — they can only try to help the student learn. Another way to pursue “knowledge” is to take the easy way: Let someone tell you stuff without investigating whether that stuff is true or false.

Faustus had made a deal with Mephastophilis: Faustus would give Lucifer his soul, and Mephastophilis would tell Faustus stuff and would give Faustus books that would tell him stuff.

Although Faustus had written the deed of gift to give Lucifer his soul, Mephastophilis had not given Faustus the knowledge that Faustus had wanted. Instead, Mephastophilis had given Faustus answers that any first-year university student could give, and then he had distracted Faustus with frivolous entertainments so that Faustus would not pursue knowledge. In addition, Mephastophilis had not corrected Faustus’ erroneous “knowledge.”

Acquiring real knowledge and especially discovering new real knowledge often takes great effort, although yes, learning can often be pleasurable. In order for Isaac Newton to make many of his most important discoveries, he had to invent the calculus, which in itself is one of his most important discoveries.

Faustus had been choosing between Heaven and Hell, yes, but he had also been choosing between astronomy and astrology and choosing between chemistry and alchemy and choosing between science and magic and choosing between the hard way and the easy way.

Faustus continued, “And what wonders I have done, all Germany — and yes, all the world — can witness.”

Faustus had thought that he would use his knowledge and powers to become Emperor of the World; instead, he had become an entertainer for the Holy Roman Emperor and then for the Duke and Duchess of Vanholt.

Faustus continued, “And for these wonders Faustus has lost both Germany and the world — and yes, Heaven itself, Heaven, the seat of God, the throne of the blessed, the kingdom of joy — and Faustus must remain in Hell forever, Hell, ah, Hell, forever! Sweet friends, what shall become of Faustus, being in Hell forever?”

“Yet, Faustus, call on God,” the third scholar said.

“On God, whom Faustus has abjured!” Faustus said. “On God, whom Faustus has blasphemed! Ah, my God, I would weep! But the devil draws in my tears so that I cannot weep. Gush forth blood, instead of tears! Yes, gush forth life and soul! Oh, he stops my tongue! I would lift up my hands; but see, they hold them — they hold them!”

“Who, Faustus?” the scholars asked.

“Lucifer and Mephastophilis,” Faustus said. “Ah, gentlemen, I gave them my soul for my magical cunning!”

“God forbid!” the scholars said.

“God forbade it, indeed,” Faustus said, “but Faustus has done it. For the vain pleasure of twenty-four years has Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I wrote them a deed of gift of my soul with my own blood. The twenty-four years have almost expired; the final time will soon come, and he — Lucifer — will fetch me.”

The first scholar asked, “Why didn’t Faustus tell us about this before, so that divines might have prayed for you?”

“Often have I thought to have done so,” Faustus said, “but the devil threatened to tear me in pieces if I named God and to fetch me, body and soul if I once gave ear to divinity.”

Anytime he was threatened with bodily pain from a devil, he backed off and backed down.

He added, “And now it is too late.”

No, he was wrong. He still had time to repent.

Faustus said, “Gentlemen, go away, lest you perish with me.”

This showed that some goodness remained still within Faustus.

The second scholar asked, “Oh, what shall we do to save Faustus?”

“Don’t talk about me, but save yourselves, and depart,” Faustus said.

This showed that some goodness remained still within Faustus.

The third scholar said, “God will strengthen me; I will stay with Faustus.”

“Tempt not God, sweet friend,” the first scholar said, “but let us go into the next room, and there pray for him.”

“Yes, pray for me, pray for me,” Faustus said, “and whatsoever noise you hear, don’t come to me.”

This showed that some goodness remained still within Faustus.

He added, “Nothing can rescue me.”

He was despairing; he had lost all hope that he could be saved. This is the sin that can keep someone from Heaven by making it extremely difficult for that person to sincerely repent his or her sins.

The second scholar advised Faustus, “Pray, and we will pray that God may have mercy upon you.”

Prayer by other people helps, but what wins God’s forgiveness of sins is sincere repentance by the sinner.

“Gentlemen, farewell,” Faustus said. “If I live until morning, I’ll visit you; if not, Faustus has gone to Hell.”

“Faustus, farewell,” the scholars said as they exited.

The clock struck eleven. At midnight Faustus’ twenty-four years would be over.

Faustus made a sound of mourning again: “Ah.”

He then said to himself, “Faustus, now you have only one bare hour to live, and then you must be damned perpetually!

“Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of Heaven, so that time may cease, and midnight never come. Fair Nature’s eye — the Sun — rise, rise again, and make perpetual day; or let this hour be only a year, a month, a week, a natural day, so that Faustus may repent and save his soul!”

Sincerely repenting one’s sins can take only a moment. Sometimes that moment is the last moment of one’s life. It was as if Faustus were asking to be saved — but not yet!

Faustus said, “O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!

The Latin means, “Oh, run slowly, slowly, horses of the night.”

Ovid’s Amore (Liber I, XIII, line 40) states, “Lente currite noctis equi.” This is the prayer of a man who wishes to spend more time in the arms of his lover.

Faustus continued, “The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike, the devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.

“Oh, I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?

“See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament! One drop would save my soul, half a drop.”

He added, “Ah, my Christ!”

Was his “Christ” Jesus or Lucifer?

Then he added, “Ah, rend not my heart because of the naming of my Christ!”

Was his “Christ” Jesus or Lucifer?

Faustus continued, “Yet will I call on him: Oh, spare me, Lucifer!

“Where is it now? Christ’s blood is gone, and look, where God stretches out His arm, and bends His ireful brows! Mountains and hills, come, come, and fall on me, and hide me from the heavy wrath of God! No! No!”

Luke 23:30 states, “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us: and to the hills, Cover us” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Revelation 6:16 states, “And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the presence of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Faustus continued, “Then will I headlong run into the earth: Earth, gape! Oh, no, it will not harbor me!

“You stars that reigned at my nativity, it is your influence that has allotted death and Hell to me.”

Faustus wanted to blame his stars for his damnation: He believed — or wanted to believe — that the stars that reigned when he was born were responsible for his death and for his punishment in Hell.

Many people of the time believed in astrology, but they also believed in free will. The stars could influence a person’s character, making that person wise or courageous, for example, but nevertheless that person still has free will and will make the decisions that lead to that person’s salvation or damnation. Today, many people believe both in genetics and in free will. Genetics may give a person certain characteristics, but nevertheless that person still has free will and will make the decisions that lead to that person’s salvation or damnation.

Faustus continued to address the stars: “Now draw up Faustus, like a foggy mist, into the entrails of yon laboring clouds, so that, when you clouds vomit forth into the air, my limbs may issue from your smoky mouths, so that my soul may then ascend to Heaven!”

He wanted the stars to draw him up into the clouds, which would form a thunderstone from his grosser parts. The thunderstone would be ejected when lightning flashed, leaving behind Faustus’ purer part — his soul — which would ascent into Heaven.

The clock stuck the half-hour.

Faustus said, “Ah, half the hour is past! All the hour will be past soon.

“Oh, God, if you will not have mercy on my soul, yet for Christ’s sake, whose blood has ransomed me, impose some end to my incessant pain in Hell. Let Faustus live in Hell a thousand years, a hundred thousand, and at last be saved.”

This was a prayer, but it was not the right kind of prayer. Faustus was not sincerely repenting his sins; he was praying to escape some of the punishment for committing his sins.

Faustus said, “Oh, there is no end to pain suffered by damned souls in Hell!

“Why weren’t you, Faustus, born a creature that lacks a soul? Why is this soul that you have immortal?

“Ah, if Pythagoras’ metempsychosis — his transmigration of souls — were true, this soul would fly from me, and I would be changed into some brutish beast!

“All beasts are happy, for when they die, their souls are soon dissolved into the elements, but my soul must live always to be plagued in Hell.

“Cursed be the parents who engendered me!”

He gained some possession of himself and said, “No, Faustus, curse yourself, curse Lucifer who has deprived you of the joys of Heaven.”

1 John 1:9 states, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Even now, Faustus’ soul could be saved. All it would take is sincere repentance of his sins. He would have to take responsibility for his sins, instead of blaming Lucifer, if he were to be able to repent them.

The clock began to strike twelve.

“Oh, it strikes! It strikes!” Faustus said. “Now, body, turn to air, or Lucifer will bear you quickly to Hell!”

Thunder sounded and lightning flashed.

Faustus said, “Oh soul, be changed into little drops of water, and fall into the ocean, never be found!”

Devils, including Lucifer and Mephastophilis, entered Faustus’ study.

Faustus said, “My God, my God, look not so fierce on me!”

Faustus’ “God” was Lucifer.

Faustus said, “Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while! Ugly Hell, gape not! Come not, Lucifer! I’ll burn my books!”

He uttered the sorrowful cry “Ah.”

The clock struck the eleventh of twelve strokes.

This was the last moment of Faustus’ life.

Even now, Faustus can be saved. According to Christian theology, a man (or woman) can come to Christ in the final moment of his (or her) life and be forgiven. All it takes is sincere repentance. In his Purgatory, Dante writes about meeting on the Mountain of Purgatory sinners who sincerely repented in their last moment of life. One such sinner was Buonconte of Montefeltro, who repented and in the last moment of his life uttered this word:



In the last moment of his life, Faustus uttered this word:



The clock struck twelve, and the devils carried Faustus off to Hell.


[Chorus 4]

The Chorus said these words:

“Cut is the branch that might have grown full [completely] straight,

“And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough [mark of excellence],

“That sometime [formerly] grew within this learned man.

“Faustus is gone: Regard his Hellish fall,

“Whose fiendful fortune [diabolical end] may exhort the wise,

“Only to wonder [To be content with only wondering] at unlawful things,

“Whose deepness does entice such forward wits [eager thinkers]

“To practice more than Heavenly power permits.”


Terminat hora diem; terminat auctor opus.

Translation: The hour ends the day; the author ends the work.

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