To adequately describe the role that Helen plays in Doctor Faustus, it is necessary not only to look at the scene in which she features, but also all the instances that Faustus takes some form of pleasure from physical and sensual things. We need to do this because this is what Helen is symbolic of; she represents the attractive nature of evil in addition to the depths of depravity that Faustus has fallen to.
It is fair to say that Faustus represents the quintessential renaissance man - it is his thirst for knowledge that drives him into his pact with Mephastophilis, indeed it is the Evil Angel that best summarises this:
Go forward, Faustus, in the famous art,
Wherein all nature's treasury is contained:
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.
Scene I, lines 74-77
It is the restless spirit of the renaissance that drives Faustus to seek knowledge. He has already attained what he can through more conventional means, his "bills (are) hung up as monuments", and his "common talk found aphorisms". Faustus compares himself to the most famous figures of the classical period; to Hippocrates, to Aristotle and to Galen. He sees himself as having come to the end of what he can learn through his human tools; he needs something that will allow him to move outside the realm of nature, something supernatural. This is the reason why he came into contact with Mephastophilis, as he sought to use the new power that would come to him to further his own knowledge. It has been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely - this is what has happened to Faustus. He ceases to become the seeker of knowledge, but become...
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...ed in the use of capital punishment as the result of trying to break his end of the bargain. Faustus' rebellion against his deal (a repetition of his body's rebellion against his signing of the contract) is only short lived, and his downfall is assured when Helen arrives.
Helen, then, represents the dangerous beauty of evil, the seduction of the past, and the desire for things pleasurable. Faustus' desire for her, for the most beautiful woman who has ever lived, seems understandable (though not reasonable) to us, because we all have a little bit of Faustus in us. It is, however, unlikely that any of us have a sufficiently Faustian nature to sell our soul to the Devil.
Marlowe, Christopher. "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Eds. M.H. Abrams et. al. New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 1993.
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