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The Appeal of Evil in Dr. Faustus
Christopher Marlowe had a thorough idea of what his audience wanted. The audience of that time wanted to be wild and evil but due to the strong influence of the church this was not possible. Most people want to see violence, sin, and give in to temptation but could not because of the label that society and the church would place on them. Marlowe gave them a play where they could see and experience all of the things that people wanted to do but could not or would not because they were dangerous and sinful. In Act I Marlowe sets up the dramatic summoning of the Devil. First Marlowe lets Faustus describe the setting:
Faustus. Now that the gloomy shadow of the night,
Longing to view Orion’s drizzling look,
Leaps from th’ antarctic world unto the sky
And dims the welkin with her pitchy breath……(I.iii, 1-4)
If we look at this passage we see many references to how the stage looked and what the atmosphere of the audience was like. First, Faustus states that the setting is now perfect to begin the summoning of the Devil. Darkness would cover the stage and the audience as the gloomy shadow of night dimmed everything. The darkness loomed so low and black that Orion could not even be seen. Faustus went on to describe the scent in the air, the scent of Pitch, the scent of Hell! The audience was mystified and horrified at the same time. Now that the setting has been set and piqued the audience’s interest, the incantations can begin:
Faustus, begin thine incantations
And try if devils will obey thy hest,
Seeing thou hast prayed and sacrificed to them.
Within this circle is Jehovah’s name
Forward and backward anagrammatiized,
Th’ abbreviated names of holy saints,
Figures of every adjunct to the heavens,
And the characters of signs and erring stars,
By which the spirits are enforced to rise: (I.iii, 5-13)
Here we see that Faustus starts to summon the Devils from the depths of Hell. Faustus claims that he has sacrificed and prayed to them, that he has made Jehovah’s name anagrammatiized. At this point the audience would have been actually frightened. They would be fearful of what God might do for Faustus taking the names of holy men and changing the letters around and spelling words from them.
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Then fear not, Faustus, to be resolute
And try the utmost magic can perform.Thunder.
Sint mihi dei Acherontis propitii! Valeat numen
triplex Iehovae! Ignei, aerii, aquatici, spiritus, sal-
vete!Orientis princeps, Belzebub inferni ardentis
monarcha, et Demogorgon, propitiamus vos ut ap-
pareat et surgat Mephostophilis! Quid tu moraris?
Per Iehovam, Gehennam, et consecratam aquam quam
nunc spargo, signumque crucis quad nunc facio,
et per vota nostra, ipse nunc surgat, nobis
Enter A Devil. (I.iii,14-24)
In this scene Faustus tries to conjure a Devil from the depths of hell and succeeds in doing so. He has used the "Black Magic" against God’s will and has committed a great sin. When the audience saw him use the "Black Magic" they responded with awe, admiration, fear, and curiosity. Faustus has convinced himself that he has gone this far already; he might as well finish what he has started He has sinned and there is no turning back now. As Faustus proceeds there is a loud clap of thunder. And there is anger in the heavens. God is mad, and he lets Faustus and the audience know it. Because of the church and the Bible the people were accustomed to hearing Latin, and even though they might not know all the words the audience heard the names and would have recognized them as unholy and realized that this was an sinful and unholy prayer. The voices were at a peak volume and the music was at a low rumble, and when the devil appeared there was a BOOM, as a trap door opened and the Devil came on stage in a puff of smoke. The people being on the edge of their seats would jump and scream as a servant of the evil Lucifer appeared.
As well as enjoying fear, the audience also enjoys the spice of looking at a gorgeous woman. In the final act, we see that Faustus is easily swayed from the path of good by material and powerful things, and thus this is the last factor in his supernatural downfall and eternal damnation. In this scene from the play we see that Faustus can do things that are just unbelievable. He is asked by the scholars to conjure up Helen of Greece, to see if she is truly the most beautiful woman that ever lived:
1 Scholar. Master Doctor Faustus, since our confer-
ence about fair ladies, which was the beautifulest in
all the world, we have determined with ourselves
that Helen of Greece was the admirablest lady that
ever lived. Therefore master doctor, if you will do
us so much a favor as to let us see that peerless dame
of Greece, whom all the world admires for majesty,
we should think ourselves much beholding unto
If we are to look at the language of the previous passage we see that there are several references to Helen being the most beautiful woman of all time! She is incomparable to any other woman to ever walk the earth. Here we see that the scholars know that the power of Faustus is unbelievable, he can work wonders that only the God’s can work. We become witness to the absolute extent of his power and how he has misused it for twenty four years doing childish things.
For that I know your friendship is unfeigned,
It is not Faustus custom to deny
The request of those that wish him well:
You shall behold that peerless dame of Greece
No otherwise for pomp or majesty
Than when Sir Paris crossed the seas with her
And brought the spoils to rich Dardania.
Be silent then, for the danger is in words.
Music sounds. Mephostophilis brings in Helen:
she passeth over the stage
He has been able to conjure Helen of Greece, and when he is also witness to her absolute beauty he is certain that with her that he will not suffer terribly in eternal damnation. The audience, like the scholars, wants to see the most beautiful woman in the world. The scene was very dramatic and when Helen was brought on stage she is probably in a Roman Toga to give the audience the full appreciation of her looks. The crowd only gets a quick look at the woman but it is enough to put the crowd into a frenzy. That would be another thing that would bring more people in to see the play.
2 Scholar. Was this fair Helen, whose admired worth
Made Greece with ten years’ wars afflict poor Troy?
3 Scholar. Too simple is my wit to tell her worth,
Whom all the world admires for her majesty.
1 Scholar. Now we have seen the pride of nature’s
We’ll take our leaves, and for this blessed sight
Happy and blest be Faustus evermore.
Faustus. Gentlemen, farewell, the same wish I to you. (V,I,10-35)
In the final section of this scene we see that the scholars and Faustus finally realize that he is doomed to eternal damnation. His time left on earth is very limited. Faustus begins to feel that he has made a very bad deal. In a way you feel sorry for him he wasted what could have made scientific advances that would still not be known as of today.
Christopher Marlowe definitely used elements of the supernatural to thrill and captivate his audience. As you can see Faustus is truly a tragic hero, and because of his supernatural powers he caused his own downfall Doctor Faustus would not have been entertaining without these within the play. All of the elements which were included in this play make it one of the best all times. Not many other authors of his time or any others could have written with such passion or charisma. There is one major thing in the play that I would have added and that would be to elaborate on the battle between God and Lucifer, and exactly how God won the battle.