Prologue and Act Five, Scene 2 and Epilogue:
Scene 5.2. Thunder. Enter Lucifer, Belzebub, and Mephostophilis. Tonight is the night when Faustus will give up his soul, and the unholy three seem to be looking forward to it.
Faustus and Wagner enter. Faustus asks Wagner how he likes the will, which (as we learned in 5.1) leaves all to Wagner, and Wagner expresses gratitude.
The three scholars enter. They notice that Faustus looks ill. When they suggest bringing a doctor, Faustus tells them he is damned forever. Tonight he is to lose his soul. The scholars advise him to repent, but Faustus thinks it's too late. He regrets having ever seen a book. The scholars and Wagner do not sense the presence of the devils. Faustus tells them that he cannot even raise his arms up to God, for the devils push his arms down.
The First Scholar asks why Faustus did not speak of this before, so that they might pray for him, and he answers that the devils threatened him with bodily harm. Faustus tells them to leave him, to escape harm when the devils come. The Third Scholar considers staying with him, but his colleagues convince him not to invite danger. They go to the next room to pray for Faustus. The Scholars exit.
Mephostophilis taunts Faustus. Faustus blames Mephostophilis for his damnation, and the devil proudly takes credit for it. Mephostophilis exits, leaving with the line, "Fools that will laugh on earth, must weep in hell" (5.2.106).
The Good and Evil Angels arrive. The Good Angel laments that Faustus has now lost the eternal joys of heaven. Now, it is too late: "And now, poor soul, must thy good angel leave thee: / The jaws of hell are open to receive thee" (5.2.124-5). The Good Angel exits.
The gates of Hell open. The Evil Angel taunts Faustus, naming the horrible tortures seen there. Faustus is terrified by the sight, but the Evil Angel reminds him gleefully that soon he will feel, rather than just see. The Evil Angel exits.
The Clock strikes eleven. Faustus begins his final monologue. He pleads beautifully, and futilely, for time to stop its forward rush. He realizes time cannot stop, and delivers these memorable lines: "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. Ah, my Christ!" (5.2.156-8). He has a vision of an angry God. He pleads with different aspects of nature to help him, but they can't.
The clock strikes for half past the hour. He pleads that God will shorten his time in hell to a thousand, or even a hundred thousand years. But he knows that hell is eternal. He wishes that Pythagoras' theory of transmigration of souls (reincarnation) were true. He wishes that he could be an animal, whose souls are not immortal. He curses his parents, then curses himself, and finally curses Lucifer. The clock strikes midnight. With thunder and lightning scarring the skies, he cries aloud for his soul to dissolve into the air, or drops of water, so that the devils cannot find it. The devils enter. As Faustus begs God and the devil for mercy, the devils drag him away.
Scene 5.3. Enter the three Scholars. They've been much disturbed by all of the terrible noise they heard between midnight and one. They find Faustus' body, torn to pieces.
Epilogue. The Chorus emphasizes that Faustus is gone, his once-great potential wasted. The Chorus warns the audience to remember his fall, and the lessons it offers.
Faustus lacks the high dignity of a great tragic hero, but he seems nevertheless to be well liked by his fellow men. Wagner seems concerned about his master, and the three scholars like Faustus. The cynical audience member might argue that the three scholars only like Faustus because he conjures great wonders for them, and that Wagner likes Faustus because the damned scholar is leaving him all his wealth. But this cynical view does not square with what we actually see on stage. Wagner's opinion of his master may have improved after he was named Faustus' heir, but he seems genuinely concerned for Faustus. He certainly doesn't seem to be looking forward to Faustus' death. And the Scholars all seem to be upstanding men, the Third Scholar going so far as offering to stay with Faustus when the devils come.
The clock striking eleven might suggest the parable told by Jesus in chapter 20 of the Gospel of Matthew. But the point of Christ's parable is that those who accept him in the eleventh hour can still be saved, while Faustus at this point seems to be irrevocably damned. Before the clock strikes eleven, Faustus' Good Angel abandons him. What is Marlowe suggesting? Marlowe possibly may not have the Gospel of Matthew in mind. The chiming clock may only be there to heighten suspense by giving Faustus an agonized last hour before a dramatic midnight death. But another possibility is that Marlowe is playing loosely with the Christian framework, in order to make his own point. If Marlowe is indeed using Doctor Faustus to suggest that rejecting traditional systems of morality has to be followed by replacing those systems with something valid, then repentance right before the end would most definitely be meaningless. Faustus' potential is squandered.
But the play draws from the great richness of the Christian worldview. Faustus' beautiful lines about Christ's blood streaming in the firmament show how well Marlowe can use, and transform, Christian imagery. The whole final monologue is quite rich, and would make an excellent choice for a close reading paper. Faustus is doing more than making a powerful last lament before his death and damnation. Within 57 lines, the speech leaps from concept to concept, spanning vast centuries and idea systems that are worlds apart. Though a close reading seems beyond the scope of this study guide, attention should be paid to the different sections of the monologue. Faustus makes an odd and distinctive appeal to the forces of nature (5.2.163-174); he alludes to various theories and conceptions of the soul (5.2.177-189); even when despairing, toward the monologue's end, he uses striking imagery.
Much of Faustus' despair comes from the fact that he has no one but himself to blame. He curses his parents for giving birth to him, but quickly realizes where the real fault lies: "Cursed be the parents that engendered me! / No, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer / That hath deprived thee of the joys of heaven" (5.2.190-192). Faustus knows that he at least shares the responsibility for his own damnation, even if he partly implies that the devil made him do it. His last moments show a pathetic, terrified man.
The Chorus emphasizes the lost potential represented by Faustus' failure. He is the cut "branch that might have grown full straight" (5.3.20). They close with the conventional admonition to obey the commands of heaven.
Doctor Faustus can be read convincingly as a Christian text, with an authentic and literal Christian core. Reading the play as an atheistic or ironic work is much harder to justify, and seems unduly colored by Marlowe's vague and ambiguous biography. But Doctor Faustust may be something else entirely: a cautionary tale, certainly, but one that uses the Christian framework, respectfully and admiringly, for issues concerning Marlowe.
The play is very difficult to perform now, because contemporary audiences are separated from the complex worlds Marlow drew upon to create his play. Religion, obviously, was a much stronger part of the audience's life during Marlowe's time, and the concerns and new conflicts of the Renaissance were once current cultural waters rather than movements and concepts to be studied in class. But Doctor Faustus is invaluable as a text because it helps the reader to understand the times in which Marlowe lived and wrote. The play also has many fine speeches, and Marlowe's work helps us to better appreciate Shakespeare.
For those who make the effort to understand his plays within the context in which they were produced, Marlowe needs no apology. Marlowe's supposed recklessness is famous, but works like Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine show a deep moral seriousness, and a great mind at work. These qualities transcend the texts' value as cultural documents, and will continue to bring pleasure to those readers who make the effort to appreciate Marlowe on his own terms.