The Comic Scenes Of Dr. Faustus
When I first began reading Dr. Faustus I did not even realize that there were comic scenes. Only after being told and after watching the movie did I realize that there were comic scenes. Many critics say that Christopher Marlowe did not even write these scenes, but instead say that they were written later by other playwrights. After realizing that there was in fact comedy in the play, I began to ponder why it was in the play.
My first thought was that they were there to lighten the mood of such a dark and serious play. Any good playwright knows that you can’t hold an audience’s attention with hours of serious, deep and emotional content without also having something to lighten the mood. With this point of view I realized that it was very possible that Mr. Marlowe did not in fact write the comic sections of this play (I really wanted to believe that he wrote them), maybe a later playwright found that the play was too serious.
The fact that I wanted Marlowe to be the author of the whole play (I don’t like it when someone comes along a changes a piece of art, or that people say that someone changed it because it is just too good to be true) made me dig deeper to try and find something that sounded more sensible to me. I would have to say that it was eight lines in scene five that were spoken by Mephastophilis in response to a question from Faustus. These Lines were (pg. 442 lines 110-125): Mephastophilis. Now Faustus, ask what thou wilt. Faustus. First will I question thee about hell:
Tell me, where is the place that men call hell? Mephastophilis. Under the heavens. Faustus. Ay, but whereabouts? Mephastophilis. Within the bowels of these elements, Where we are tortured and remain forever. Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed In one self place; for where we are is hell, And where hell is, there we must ever be. And to conclude, when all the world dissolves, And every creature shall be purified, All places shall be hell that is not heaven. Not only is this some very powerful poetry but it seems to say everything about the comic scenes.
After I read this part of the play I began to realize the reason why the comic scenes are in this play. What Mephistophilis seems to be saying is that everyone that is not in heaven, is in hell. This means that everyone on earth is in hell. Mephastophilis says exactly this; for where we are is hell. How did these lines put the comic scenes into perspective for me? It made me look at the whole play in a different light. If everyone that is not in heaven is in hell, then everyone in this play is in hell and has committed some type of sin.
The scene in which Lucifer comes with the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery) depicted the ways which people commit sins. When I went back through the play and looked at after I was enlightened, I noticed that the comic scenes very much reflected the scenes with Dr. Faustus. Take for instance when Wagner conjured up Baliol and Belcher (Scene Four) this is almost exactly what Faustus did in the previous scenes. The comic scenes that seemed to reflect what Faustus did, also seemed to increase the readers knowledge of how powerful Faustus was.
In all the scenes that other people tried to conjure up the devil, they could not handle the devils and usually failed in their attempts. Take for instance scene eight, lines twenty to forty-five, when Robin and Rafe conjured up Mephastophilis they could not handle the sight of him and he changed them into an ape and a dog respectively, because they were just playing games. This scene shows how powerful Dr. Faustus was and how seriously he took magic. The other comic scenes either showed how everyone in the play had committed some type of sin, or how Faustus used his magic to play childish pranks.
Take scene five for example when the Clown and Wagner are talking: Clown. But do you hear? If I should serve you, would you teach me to raise up Banios and Belcheos? Wagner. I will teach thee to turn thy self to anything, to a dog, or a cat, or a mouse, or a rat or anything. Clown. How! A Christian fellow to a dog, or a cat, or a mouse, or a rat? No, no sir, if you turn me into anything let it be in the likeness of a little pretty frisking flea, that I may be here, and there, and every- where. O I’ll tickle the pretty wenches’ plackets!
I’ll be amongst them i’faith. The last five lines that the clown says here are almost exactly like what Pride, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, says in scene five, lines 284-288: Pride. I am Pride: I disdain to have any parents. I am like to Ovid’s flea, I can creep into every corner of a wench: sometimes like a periwig, I sit upon her brow; or like a fan of feathers, I kiss her lips. Indeed I do – what do I not! But fie, what a scent is here? I’ll not speak another word, except the ground were perfumed and covered ith cloth of arras.
This points out that evil can infect even the lowliest of creatures such as the Clown. The last function of the comic scenes that I was able to find is that of pointing out how trivial Faustus’ magic is. Many scenes point this out; scene seven when Faustus goes into the Pope’s chamber, scene nine when Faustus puts horns on the knight, and scene ten where he gives the horse-courser a bum horse and lets his leg be pulled off, are all comic scenes that show how low Faustus has stooped in his magic.
In the end I did find that the comic scenes in Dr. Faustus did in fact have a definite purpose, and not just to lighten the mood (although this very well could have been one of the reasons). Due to the fact that the comic scenes all fit in so well and had a lot of depth I do think that they were actually written by Christopher Marlowe. After reading through this play and watching the movie, no matter how whacked out it was, I did really like this play.