Doctor Faustus (Marlowe)

Doctor Faustus (Marlowe) Summary and Analysis of Act II

Prologue and Act Two:


Scene 2.1. Faustus is in his study with Mephostophilis. He cursed the devil, for depriving him of heaven. Through shallow logic, Mephostophilis proves that heaven is inferior to man. The Good and Evil Angel enter, repeating their old advice. The Good Angel tells him there is still time to repent, and the Evil Angel tell him that as he is a spirit now, God cannot pity him.

Faustus speaks of the conviction that he cannot repent. The despair of that fact would drive him to suicide, if it weren't for the pleasures he has seen. Homer has performed for him, and Amphion (a character from Greek myth) has played his music. He distracts himself now by asking Mephostophilis a series of questions about the structure of the heavens. When his questions about astronomy have been answered, he asks who made the world. Mephostophilis doesn't like this question, and when Faustus speaks of God, the devil flees.

The Good Angel and Evil Angel arrive, repeating their advice about repentance. They depart, and Faustu calls out to Christ to help him. Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephostophilis arrive to intimidate Faustus. They say he injures them by saying the name of Christ, and he agrees to say it no more. To entertain him, they parade the Seven Deadly Sins before him. Faustus is delighted. Lucifer promises to show Faustus hell that night, and gives him a book on shapeshifting.

Scene 2.2. The Clown, here called Robin, has gotten one of Faustus' magic books. He's with Dick, apparently a servant, and two men banter. The Clown has the magic book, but apparently cannot read it. The scene ends with the two men going off to get a drink.


Faustus is torn by the fear that even if he did repent, it would do no good. For the second time in the play, his Evil Angel warns him that he is too far gone. Lucifer arrives and gives Faustus the same advice: "Christ cannot save thy soul, for he is just" (2.1.88). But this advice comes from Evil. Both the Evil Angel and Lucifer are interested in bringing Faustus into damnation; if it really were too late, they would be less concerned with Faustus' prayers.

Faustus is damned because he does not understand the nature of Christian redemption, a central theme of the play. If Faustus repents, and asks forgiveness, then he can still be saved; the Good Angel promises as much. The Good Angel may be interpreted as a dramatic representation of Faustus' better judgment, or it may be a literal character, Faustus' "guardian angel." Many Christian theologians, since the time of the first Doctors of the Catholic Church, had held the opinion that each human on earth had a guardian angel as protector and possible guide. Either way, the advice of the Good Angel is sound. Given the distress of the devils, and their concern about keeping Faustus damned, an observant audience sees that there is no real ambiguity about whether or not repentance would be too late; only Faustus is unsure.

Faustus, though a great scholar, continues to prize knowledge without acquiring wisdom. He distracts himself with questions about the heavens, but does not understand the nature of God's heaven. He understands the forms of the heavens, but not the force behind them. Because he is human, and flawed, he fails to understand the divine mystery of God's forgiving nature. He believes himself damned, and so he finally gives in to the devil's pageantry of sin, and tries to enjoy being damned. Although scholars generally hold that Marlowe did not write the segment where the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Covetousness, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth, and Lechery), the spirit at the end of the scene is basically the same. Faustus agrees to "think on the devil," and throw himself into being hellbound.

Scene 2.2 is another bit of comic relief. It includes bawdy jokes, good-natured humor, and content wholly free from the serious subject matter surrounding it. Some argue that the comic relief scenes, taken together, constitute a counterpoint to the main story of the play. According to this view, the main play is an exercise, Marlowe enjoying his craft, and he undercuts the sincerity of the themes with a running series of scenes mocking the whole idea of demon summoning. The comic scenes and their import would have served as an inside joke, maybe even a private one only enjoyed by Marlowe himself. However, this interpretation might be making too much of a few short moments of comic relief. This interpretive reading of the comic scenes is strongly colored by Marlowe's biography; but trying to read a play by what is believed about the author is always a difficult and uncertain method. The opinion of this study guide scribbler is that there is no conflict between Marlowe the rebellious atheist (if the hearsay about him was true) and the story of Doctor Faustus. For that reading, see the analysis for Act Four, scenes 5-7.