Doctor Faustus (Marlowe)

Doctor Faustus (Marlowe) Summary and Analysis of Act III, Scenes 1-10

Prologue and Act Three:


Scene 3.1. The Chorus describes how Faustus went to the top of Mount Olympus, and in a chariot drawn by dragons, studied the stars and the celestial structure. He then rode a dragon's back to study cosmography, the shapes of coasts and kingdoms, and is now flying to Rome, where the feast honoring St. Peter is about to be celebrated.

Scene 3.2. Mephostophilis and Faustus arrive in Rome, Faustus describing the places he's been. They wait in the Pope's own private chamber for him, as Mephostophilis describes Rome's wonders. When Faustus wants to see them, Mephostophilis restrains him, so that they can torment the Pope and his subordinates.

The Pope enters with cardinals, Bishops, and Raymond, King of Hungary, and Bruno, a man in chains. Bruno is a man whom the Emperor of Germany tried to make Pope, and he is now vanquished. The Pope makes Bruno bow as his foot stool and abuses him verbally. The Pope sends cardinals to proclaim the statutes naming Bruno's fate. Faustus, who watches with Mephostophilis, unseen, orders Mephostophilis to follow the cardinals to the consistory and magically put them to sleep. He plans to restore Bruno's liberty and return him to Germany. The Pope informs Bruno that the Emperor and he are to be excommunicated, in order that the Pontiff's supremacy might be made clear.

Faustus and Mephostophilis re-enter, magically disguised as the cardinals who are now sleeping, under Mephostophilis' spell. They declare the sentence of the Synod (council of Bishops). They take Bruno away, supposedly to be burned at the stake. The Pope blesses them, which Mephostophilis loves ("So, so, was never devil blessed thus before" [3.3.197]), and they take Burno away.

Scene 3.3. Faustus and Mephostophilis look forward to the confusion when the cardinals awake and return to the Pope. They make themselves invisible, and the antics continue.

All goes according to plan. The unfortunate cardinals return, and confusion breaks out when it becomes clear that they don't know where Bruno is. As the Pope is sitting for his meal, Faustus speaks blasphemies (an invisible man talking) and snatches the Pope's food and wine. A Bishop suggests that the villain might be a ghost come from Purgatory. Faustus starts to hit the Pope, who exits with his train. Friars return, with bell, book, and candle to perform rites that will rid the room of the evil presence. Faustus and Mephostophilis beat up all the friars, throw fireworks, and leave.

The Chorus returns to tell us that Faustus returns home, where his vast knowledge of astronomy and his abilities earn him wide renown. He becomes a favorite of Emperor Carolus the Fifth (Charles V, 1515-56), and his feats in that court we will presently see.

Scene 3.4. Robin the Clown, here working as an ostler (a person who takes care of horses) promises his friend Rafe that with his magic book, he can perform pleasure-giving feats. They steal a silver cup from a Vintner; when the Vintner arrives Robin summons Mephostophilis to deal with him. The devil puts squibs (sizzling fireworks) in the backs of Robin and Rafe, and they run around like loons. Rafe returns the cup to the Vintner, who seems unable to see Mephostophilis.

Mephostophilis is furious at having been summoned all the way from Constantinople to perform tricks, and he tells Robin and Rafe that he will turn one into an ape and the other into a dog. He leaves. Robin and Rafe, as yet untransformed, seem thrilled at the idea of getting to be animals.


The choice of Mount Olympus as a launch pad (3.1) is symbolic. Mount Olympus is the abode of the gods in Greek myth, and Faustus reaching its summit suggests the nobility and glory due to man in the Greek worldview. From there, Faustus ascends into the heavens themselves, reaching beyond the "Primum Mobile," beyond the planets. Renaissance astronomy conceived of the heavens as a series of concentric spheres, centered on the earth. The Primum Mobile was the first sphere to move, the mover of all the others. In the physical world, Faustus has found a limit to human knowledge: the primary source, the prime mover, of the heavens. His mind, trained in traditions that have their roots in Greek method and learning, methods that place man and his mind at the center of the universe, has reached new heights. Taking off from Mount Olympus is as close to divine (in one sense of divine) as a human can get.

But the descent comes rather quickly. Faustus moves from studying astronomy to cosmography (study of the earth) almost immediately, foreshadowing his descent.

The scene in Rome shows Faustus at his worst. He does nothing here but play cheap pranks, wasting time in a way that benefits humanity in no way. The scene allows Faustus to be sacrilegious without offending his Protestant audience, because the object of scorn here is the pope. The depiction of the pope would have been gratifying to the Protestant audience: he comes off as cruel, power-hungry, and as far from a holy man as a man can be.

Also, there are jabs here at Catholic belief. When one of the cardinals suggests that the invisible attacker might be a spirit come up from purgatory, his incorrect guess brings particular pleasure to Protestant viewers. Ghosts existed in Catholic teaching, and were thought to be spirits of purgatory (a place where sinners are punished, but not eternally). Protestants rejected such teaching, and held that ghosts were not the souls of people they claimed to represent, but devils in disguise.

Likewise, when the friars return with "bell, book, and candle," Mephostophilis' reaction is a kind of mock-concern: "Now Fautus, what will you do now? / For I can tell you, you'll be cursed with bell, book and candle" (3.3.91-2). Protestants flattered themselves with the belief that Catholics were superstitious. A more grounded charge was that Catholics were too idolatrous of priestly authority. Note that the incantations of the friars (a fairly inaccurate parody of an exorcism) do nothing. Faustus also laughs at the friars: "Bell, book and candle, candle, book and bell, / Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell" (3.3.93-4). Here is another jab at Catholic authority; in 3.1, the Pope says to Bruno, with relish, that he will excommunicate Bruno and the Emperor for their defiance. Excommunication was exclusion from the community of the believers; to Catholics, it meant a sure sentence to hell. But as the friars enter, cursing Faustus, it becomes clear that they have no power over him. Faustus will be going to hell, but not because of a priest's authority. Man is damned by his own action, and not by the authority of a priest. From the Protestant point of view, the friars perform a superstitious ritual cursing two beings who are already cursed.

Once again, in 3.4 we have a scene of sheer foolery. Robin and Rafe seek magic for no greater use than drunkenness and sexual pleasure. Mephostophilis does not seem particularly interested in getting Robin and Rafe to sell their souls, and he also is furious at having been called. His irritation undercuts his earlier statement that on the sound of magic incantations, he comes not because magic compels him, but because he is eager to capture any man's soul (1.3). The likeliest explanation is that this comic scene is outside the more serious scope of the main story, and is therefore outside the main story's rules.

But Robin is at least honest about his motivations. While Faustus once claimed he would use magic to change the world, in 3.2-3 he used it for rather cheap tricks. The nobility of initial intention apparently lacks real integrity. At the end of 3.3, the Chorus has told us that Faustus' knowledge has made him a bit of celebrity. Faustus has used his magic, not to benefit mankind, but to do a bit of social climbing.