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[This essay, which applied a formalist-structural analysis to Marlowe's play, dates from 1980. It has not
previously been published. Except in note 16, where I have added in square brackets a reference to my 2008
edition of Doctor Faustus, and note 21, which is entirely new, the text and notes have not been updated.]

[Index: Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, magic]

[Date: 1980]

Magic Circle and Celestial Macrocosm:

The Structure of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Michael H. Keefer

More, perhaps, than any other part of Doctor Faustus, the third scene of Act I
(which begins with Faustus's invocation of Mephastophilis) 1 illustrates the difference
between the experience of reading a play and of seeing it performed. The extraordinary
image of grotesque macrocosmic appetite with which the scene opens is striking to the
ear, and repays a reader's meditative pause:
Now that the gloomy shadow of the earth,
Longing to view Orions drisling looke,
Leapes from th'antartike world unto the skie,
And dimmes the welkin with her pitchy breath:

1 I have used this spelling of the spirit's name throughout this essay (except in quotations where other
spellings occur). Mephastophilis is the most common spelling in the 1604 quarto (the most frequently
occurring spelling in the 1616 quarto is Mephostophilis).

Faustus, begin thine incantations.... (A: 244-48) 2
It is followed by an equally resonant image, of which only the members of an
audience will be fully awarethat of Faustus standing in his magic circle. The sequence
of these images is by no means accidental. The lines Faustus speaks as he enters convey a
sense of astronomical immensity suffused with perverse energy, and the magic circle into
which he steps is both a microcosmic symbol of the celestial macrocosm suggested by
these lines, and also a means of appropriating its powers. For the circle contains, along
with the names of saints and cabalistic permutations of the name of God, Figures of
every adjunct to the heavens, / And characters of signes and erring starres (A: 254-55).
Faustus's first lines to Mephastophilis, once the demon has returned to him in the habit of
an old Franciscan Frier (A: 269), are an apocalyptic return to the level of the
I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,
To do whatever Faustus shall commaund,
Be it to make the Moone drop from her spheare,
Or the Ocean to overwhelme the world. (A: 281-84)
He is quickly disabused of the belief that he can exercise such power. But this
scene has established connections between the magic circle and the celestial macrocosm
that deserve exploration. As will shortly become evident, Doctor Faustus is to a
significant degree organized around patterns of constriction and cyclic rhythms of
repetition and return that are related to the images of the magic circle and its macrocosmic

2 All quotations from the play are from W. W. Greg, ed., Marlowe's Doctor Faustus 1604-1616 (1950; rpt.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). Quotations are identified by Greg's line numbers, with A and B
referring to the 1604 and 1616 texts respectively; u/v/ and i/j have been silently normalized. My
quotations from Doctor Faustus are chosen on the principle that while in parallel passages both quartos
seems at different times to provide a superior text, the 1604 version of the play is preferable to the 1616
version (the last three acts of which are disfigured by the additions made by Rowley and Birde in 1602).
See Fredson Bowers, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: The 1602 Additions, Studies in Bibliography 26
(1973): 1-18; and Constance Brown Kuriyama, Dr. Greg and Doctor Faustus: The Supposed
Originality of the 1616 Text, English Literary Renaissance 5 (1975): 171-97.

Faustus, within his circle, is strictly enclosed, and he has drawn this line around
himself. He is at the same time projecting his will out of the circle with what seems,
initially, to be complete success: Who would not be proficient in this art? / How pliant is
this Mephastophilis? (A: 272-73). The purpose of a magic circle is in part protective: it is
a barrier through which hostile spirits supposedly cannot penetrate. 3 Faustus has already
produced analogous defensive images in the notions of wall[ing] all Germany with
Brasse, and making the swift Rhine, circle faire Wittenberge (B: 115-16); and although
he has planned aggressively to chase the Prince of Parma from our land (A: 125, B:
120), it is only at the end of scene three, as he steps from his magic circle, that his military
imaginings become decisively projective: Ile be great Emprour of the world, / And make
a bridge through the mooving ayre, / To passe the Ocean with a band of men (A: 34951). This shift seems appropriate, for a magic circle is also an inverse microcosm of the
power structure of the macrocosm, and Faustus imagines that his use of it can give him
quasi-divine powers of intervention in that macrocosm.
Although this understanding of the magic circle may seem extravagant, there is a
parallel to it in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's explanation, in his Heptaplus, of the
analogical significance of the structure of Moses' tabernacle: the outer courtyard, open to
the weather and containing men and sacrificial animals, figured the sublunary world with
its elemental nature and alternations of life and death; the inner sanctuary, with its sevenbranched candelabra, figured the celestial world, the spheres of the fixed stars and the
planets; and the Holy of Holies, which was occupied by winged Cherubim, figured the
supercelestial world, the eternal dwelling place of the angels, the heavenly kingdom of
3 In the further additions which appear in the much later 1663 quarto of Doctor Faustus, Faustus learns, in
open contradiction to what is elsewhere assumed, that spirits can indeed venter on a man in his circle:
Mephostophilis attacks and carries off a magician of the Sultan of Babylon. See C. F. Tucker Brooke,
ed., The Works of Christopher Marlowe (1910; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), pp. 201-02. A basic
source of information on magic circles and their supposed properties is the spurious fourth book of
Agrippa's De occulta philosophia. See R. H. Popkin, ed., Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim:
Opera (2 vols.; c. 1600; facsimile rpt Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1970), vol. 1, De occulta philosophia,
seu de ceremoniis magicis, liber quartus, esp. pp. 451-61.
4 Heptaplus, Ad Lectorem Praefatio: ... Sed quid remotiores has similitudines prosequimur? Nam si
postrema pars tabernaculi erat hominibus & brutis communis, secundam, quae tota auri splendore

Faustus's circle could be described as a blasphemous imitation of the inner parts of
this structure, the Holy of Holies and the sanctuary. From his position in the circle, he
hopes to make use of the powers of the supercelestial and celestial worlds:
Within this circle is Jehova's Name,
Forward, and backward, Anagramatis'd:
Th'abreviated names of holy Saints,
Figures of every adjunct to the heavens,
And Characters of Signes, and [erring] Starres,
By which the spirits are inforc'd to rise.... (B: 234-39) 5
The defensive purpose of the magic circle acquires resonance when one
remembers the Calvinistic undertones of Marlowe's opening scene. 6 Faustus has turned to
magic in desperation, as a response to the promise of eternal death which he found in the
scriptures: he is trying to defend himself against the power of God. Since the circle
represents an attempt to appropriate that very power for his own use, Faustus's position is
paradoxical. So, indeed, are the words of his invocation.
The first sentence of this invocationSint mihi dei acherontis propitii, valeat
numen triplex Iehovae (A: 259)7signals a recognition that the dominion stretching as
farre as doth the minde of man (A: 91) to which Faustus aspires as a desperate answer to
everlasting death cannot be attained except by employing the existing structure of
spiritual forces. Feeling himself excluded from the kingdom of heaven, he will make use
fulgebat, candelabrum illuminabat septem lucernis distinctum, quae ut dicunt omnes interpretes Latini,
Graeci & Hebraei septem Planetas significant: In tertia parte omnium sacratissima, alata cherubin erant,
nonne nostris tres mundos oculis subjiciunt? & hunc quem & bruta & homines incolunt, & coelestem in
quo planetae coruscant & supercoelestem habitaculum angelorum. Cesare Vasoli, ed., Giovanni Pico
della Mirandola, Gian Francesco Pico: Opera Omnia (2 vols.; Basel, 1557-1573; facsimile rpt.
Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969), vol. 1, sig. A3v. (Here and elsewhere I have expanded abbreviations in
Latin texts.)
5 I have altered euening in B: 238 to the reading of A: 255: erring.
6 See Pauline Honderich, John Calvin and Doctor Faustus, Modern Language Review 68 (1973): 8-10.
7 May the gods of Acheron be favourable to me! Away with the triple divinity of Jehovah! This
translation of valeat numen triplex Iehovae follows F. S. Boas and J. D. Jump. A. W. Ward translated
these words as May the threefold deity of Jehovah prevail!; Robert H. West has recently argued for
The three-fold power of Jehovah aid me! (The Impatient Magic of Doctor Faustus, English Literary
Renaissance 4 [1974], 231). The versions of Ward and West, though possible, are absurd in the context
of this play. For although the verb valeo has a wide range of meanings, the form valeat, used in this
way, can only be a forceful gesture of dismissal. Compare Cicero, De nature deorum I. 124: si talis est
deus, ut nulla hominum caritate teneatur, valeat (Arthur Stanley Pease, ed., M. Tulli Ciceronis De
Natura deorum [2 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1955-58], vol. 1, p. 536).

of the kingdom of hell. But the fact that Faustus's invocation springs out of despair makes
it contradictory in tone, and distinguishes it from the practices of actual magicians.
Medieval magicians, confident in their piety, had used sacred things, ceremonies, and
holy names as a means of compelling spirits to their service. 8 And Renaissance Hermetists
who were interested in spiritual magic believed, with a still more insistent piety, that their
knowledge of Cabala explained the spiritual structure of the universe, and that the
regeneration which they sought would give them an immediate power over spirits.9 In
neither case is there any element of Satanism (something very much more serious than
mere blasphemy).
Faustus, in contrast, once he has dismissed the triple divinity of Jehovah,
marries heaven and hell in a quite different mixture of compulsion and prayer: ... per
Iehovam [G]ehennam & consecratam aquam quam nunc spargo, signmque crucis quod
nunc facio, & per vota nostra ipse nunc surgat nobis dic[a]tis Mephastophilis (A: 26265).10 Renaissance demonologists argued that devils only pretended to obey the
commands of magicians in order to seduce them into further impieties; this is the view
taken in the prose Faustbooks.11 Faustus, however, is praying to the devils as well as
attempting to compel them; he is approaching the stereotype of the witch.
Yet although Faustus thus deviates from the documented practices of magicians, it
8 Norman Cohn writes: Whether the [medieval] magician was trying to scale the heights of scholarship
in a flash or whether he was trying to make men kill one another, he set about it in a most pious fashion.
Nowhere, in the surviving books of magic, is there a hint of Satanism. Nowhere is it suggested that the
magician should ally himself with the demonic hosts.... Europe's Inner Demons (1975; rpt. London:
Paladin, 1976), p. 169.
9 A representative and important text is Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia, III. 36 (De homine
quomodo creatus ad imaginem Dei); it is reprinted, with introduction and notes by Paola Zambelli, in
E. Garin et al., eds., Testi umanistici su l'ermetismo (Rome: Fratelli Bocca, 1955). More generally, see
D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (London: Warburg Institute,
1958), and F. A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964; rpt. London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1978).
10 By Jehovah, hell, and the holy water which I now sprinkle, and the sign of the cross which I now
make, and by our prayers, may Mephastophilis himself now rise, dedicated to our service.
Mephastophilis informs Faustus that the shortest cut for conjuring / Is stoutly to abjure the Trinitie, /
And pray devoutly to the prince of hell. He replies: So Faustus hath already done... (A: 297-300).
The invocation is itself a kind of Satanic prayer, but perhaps other prayers can be understood to have
preceded it.
11 See Hans Henning, ed., Historia von D. Johann Fausten: Neudruck des Faust-Buches von 1587 (Halle:
Verlag Sprache und Literatur, 1963), ch. 2, pp. 14-16; and The Historie of the damnable life, and
deserved death of Doctor John Faustus, ch. 2, in P. M. Palmer and R. P. More., eds., The Sources of the
Faust Tradition from Simon Magus to Lessing (New York: Oxford University Press, 1936), pp. 137-38.

is possible that Marlowe found a hint for this Satanism in a well-known Hermetic work
that he may well have read: Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia.12 In the preface
to this text, Agrippa warned off hostile readers in language that can hardly have failed to
give rise to doubts about the piety expressed elsewhere in it: the gate of Acheron is in
this book; it speaks stones; let them beware lest it beat out their brains. 13
Striking though the verbal confusion of Faustus's invocation may be, the spatial
and psychological paradox of Faustus's situation is perhaps more helpful to us in
interpreting the structure of the play. I say psychological as well as spatial because
Pico also describes in his Heptaplus a fourth world, in which there appears everything
that can be found in all the other three. This fourth world is of course man, the
microcosm.14 Like Moses' tabernacle, man is a topologically inverted image of the
cosmos; and Renaissance Neoplatonists and Hermetists speak with a single voice in
counselling men to look within themselves for God, to escape from their corruptible
bodies and corrupting passions into their inner celestial and divine selves. 15
Faustus's problem is that when he turns inward, he finds at the centre of his being
what he can only understand as a God of wrath.16 And so (one might say, in the
12 Marlowe's Faustus aspires to be as cunning as Agrippa was, / Whose shadowes made all Europe honor
him (A: 150-51). Moreover, certain passages in Doctor Faustus are strongly reminiscent of passages in
De occulta philosophia: compare, for example, A: 83-94 (B: 76-89) with De occulta philosophia, III. 6
(Popkin, ed., Opera, vol. 1, p. 321). It seems probable that Marlowe was also familiar with Agrippa's De
incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium atque excellentia Verbi Dei declamatio: Faustus's first
soliloquy is a declamatio invectiva rather in the manner of this work.
13 De occulta philosophia libri tres (Cologne, 1533), Ad Lectorem: ... Credo ego istos tam pertinacis
supercilii censores Sibyllis & sanctis magis, vel ipso evangelio prius sibi interdicturos, quam ipsum
magias nomen recepturi sint in gratiam, adeo conscientiae suae consulentes, ut nec Apollo, nec Musae
omnes, neque angelus de caelo me ab illorum execratione vendicare queant. Quibus & ego nunc consulo
ne nostra scripta legant, nec intelligant, nec meminerint: nam noxia sunt, venenosa sunt, Acherontis
ostium est in hac libro, lapides loquitur, caveant ne cerebrum illis excutiat (sig. Aa ii).
14 The masculine term is appropriate, given the insistent misogyny of the Hermetic tradition in which Pico
participated. This misogyny is particularly evident in the Hermetic account of the Fallon which see
Yates, Giordano Bruno, pp. 23-24.
15 For examples from Agrippa's works, see De occulta philosophia, III. 36; and De vanitate, Operis
peroratio: ...iam non in scholis philosophorum & gymnasiis sophistarum, sed ingressi in vosmetipsos
cognoscetis omnia... (Popkin, ed., Opera, vol. 2, p. 311).
16 The first words of Faustus's Good Angel are significant O Faustus, lay that damned booke aside, /
And gaze not on it lest it tempt thy soule, / And heape Gods heavy wrath upon thy head. / Read, read the
Scriptures: that is blasphemy (B: 97-100). This seems the sort of thing a Good Angel ought to say. But
spoken to someone who has already fallen into temptation, who has in fact succumbed to what was
known as the devil's syllogism (from which the only appeal can be to God's mercy and his grace), it
can only tend to confirm his conviction that the second half of Romans 6: 23 does not apply to him. [For
commentary on the issues alluded to here, see my edition of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: A

terminology of Renaissance psychology) he is driven inexorably out of his inner self, his
intellect and rational soul, and into his passions, his distended imagination, and his
O something soundeth in mine eares,
Abjure this Magicke, turne to God againe,
I and Faustus will turne to God againe.
To God? He loves thee not,
The god thou servest is thine owne appetite,
wherein is fixt the love of Belsabub,
To him Ile build an altare and a church,
And offer luke warme blood of new borne babes. (A: 444-51)
It is Faustus's own blood, however, that must be offered; and his own flesh tells
him the consequences: But what is this inscription on mine arme? / Homo fuge, whither
should I flie? (A: 517-18). The episode of the seven deadly sins shows well enough the
direction he follows. O this feedes my soule (A: 797), he says of this pastime. Tut
Faustus, Lucifer replies, in hel is al manner of delight (A: 798).
Faustus's magic circle, then, represents a self-containment, undertaken for
defence, and as a means of concentrating power in order to escape from the limits he sees
pressing on his wilful soul in all the academic disciplines, and especially in theology. But
his self-containment quickly leads to to a futile self-imposition of much more alarming
limitations. In fleeing outward from his inner self, Faustus is abandoning the central
position from which the Renaissance magus hoped, once he had been reborn into his true
divine nature, to exercise marvellous powers. He is abandoning all hope of begetting a
deity (B: 89), and risks instead becoming something less than human.
And in another sense, the magic circleto take this image now in its relation to
Faustus's bargain with Luciferis a kind of prison, a local manifestation of that
inescapable hell described by Mephastophilis: Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd, /
In one selfe place: but where we are is hell, / And where hell is there must we ever be
(B: 513-15). Faustus has by this time bound himself to hell by a Deed of Gift (B: 423)
critical edition of the 1604 version, with a full critical edition of the revised and censored 1616 text and
selected source and contextual materials (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2008), pp. 177-78.]

in his own blood; hell is not circumscribed, but he is.
The pact appears to be a cheat, for Faustus has not in any noticeable way become
a spirit, even though the pact stipulated that he should be a spirit in forme and
substance (A: 541, B: 488). But is he any the more free to cancel his bargain? He
entered into it, in part, as into a sanctuarya motivation made evident in one of his more
notable blasphemies: when Mephastophilus shal stand by me, / What God can hurt thee
Faustus? (A: 464-65). The answer to this naive boast is painfully obvious. And whenever
Faustus thinks to break out of his bargain, he is stopped, either by an inner failing (in
which, since he confesses My heart is hardned, I cannot repent [B: 589], early
audiences might have recognized the working of a Calvinist God on one He has
condemned as reprobate),17 or else by the threat of demonic violence.
Faustus's bravado is indeed more conspicuous than his bravery. But it is a shock
to the audience as wellwhen his cry Ah Christ my Saviour, / seeke to save distressed
Faustus soule (A: 711-12) is followed at once by the appearance of an infernal trinity:
Lucifer, Belzebub, and Mephastophilis. He shrinks away from them: O what art thou
that look'st so terribly.... O Faustus they are come to fetch thy soule (B: 657, 659).

In his discussion with Mephastophilis in the second scene of Act II, Faustus is
drawn repeatedly from contemplation of the celestial and supercelestial worlds to an
awareness of their nature as the proper end of humankind: When I behold the heavens,
17 As A. D. Nuttall has observed in Overheard by God: Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and
St. John (London: Methuen, 1980), Calvinism was a dominant presence in late-sixteenth and
seventeenth-century English culture. Taking their cue from God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart in
Exodus 4: 21, 7: 3, 7: 13, and 10: 1, 20, 27, Calvinists understood an impenitent hardness, whether
wavering or obdurate, as a condition determined by the will of God. Calvin himself wrote, in
commenting on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, that it is not meet to assign the preparing unto
destruction to any thing other than to the secret counsel of God: which also is affirmed ... in the rest of
[Paul's] text. That God stirred up Pharaoh [Rom. 9: 17]: Then that he hardeneth whom he will [Rom. 9:
18]. Whereupon followeth that the hidden counsel of God is the cause of hardening. The Institution of
Christian Religion, written in Latine by M. John Calvine, and translated into English according to the
Authors last edition ... by Thomas Norton (1561, rpt. London, 1587), III. xxiii. 1, fol. 315.

then I repent, / And curse thee wicked Mephastophilus, / Because thou hast depriv'd me of
those joyes (A: 628-30). His impulses of repentance, despair, and renewed curiosity
initiate that pattern which C. L. Barber described, of a circular motion
from thinking of the joys of heaven, through despairing of ever
possessing them, to embracing magical dominion as a
blasphemous substitute. The blasphemous pleasures lead back, by
an involuntary logic, to a renewed sense of the lost heavenly joys
for which blasphemy comes to seem a hollow substitutelike a
stolen Host found to be only bread after all. And so the unsatisfied
need starts his Ixion's wheel on another cycle.18
The disputation with Mephastophilis makes Faustus more acutely conscious of the
purpose of the macrocosm which surrounds himIf Heaven was made for man, 'twas
made for me: / I will renounce this Magicke and repent (B: 579-80)and at the same
time of his own alienation from this purpose: My heart is hardned... (B: 589).
The macrocosmic imagery of this disputation on divine Astrology (B: 603) is
As are the elements, such are the heavens,
Even from the Moone unto the Emperiall Orbe,
Mutually folded in each others Spheares,
And jo[i]ntly move upon one Axle-tree,
Whose termine, is tearmed the worlds wide Pole (B: 607-11)
and such words as mutually folded and jointly move may also convey an odd
suggestion of something akin to tenderness. But the concentric structure expounded by
Mephastophilis appears to be felt by Faustus as constricting: he responds with irritation to
the further explanation of planetary motions which follows: These slender questions
Wagner can decide: / Hath Mephostophilis no greater skill (B: 618-19). Was he perhaps
anticipating an allusion to the theories of Copernicus (as in the English Faustbook),19 or
18 C. L. Barber, 'The form of Faustus' fortunes good or bad', Tulane Drama Review 8 (1963-64): 99.
19 The Historie of the damnable life, ch. 21 (Palmer and More, p. 172): ... we thinke that the Sunne
runneth his course, and that the heavens stand still: no, it is the heavens that move his course, and the
Sun abideth perpetually in his place.... It may seem surprising that the astronomy of Marlowe, the
advanced thinker, is less advanced than that of his principal source. The reason may be sought in the

even to those of Giordano Bruno?
The concentric structure which this disputation brings out is not merely spatial, but
temporal as well. All of the planetary spheres, Mephastophilis remarks, Move from East
to West in foure and twenty houres, upon the poles of the world, but differ in their
motions upon the poles of the Zodiacke (B: 615-17). It may after all be the lack of
novelty that Faustus finds annoying. He proceeds, contemptuously, to list the periods of
the planets' revolutions:
Who knowes not the double motion of the Planets?
That the first is finisht in a naturall day?
The second thus, Saturne in 30 yeares;
Jupiter in 12, Mars in 4, the Sun, Venus, and
Mercury in a yeare; the Moone in twenty eight daies.
[Tush these are fresh mens suppositions....] (B: 620-24, A: 685)
I would suggest that Marlowe had a definite motive in introducing these
interlocking spheres with their different linked periods of rotation into his play. For they
could be said to constitute a celestial machinery that provides a macrocosmic counterpart
to the rhythms of Faustus's career. The most obvious of these rhythms is the short-term
cycle of despair, blasphemous aspiration, complacent pride, and renewed despair that is
an undertone in the first act of the play, and becomes prominent in the second.
It is enclosed, and after the pageant of the seven deadly sins, almost wholly
supplanted for two acts by the larger rhythm of Faustus's ventures from his academic life
out into the world and back again. This second rhythm begins in the first two acts with
Faustus's dismissal of his scholastic studies, and with his disputations on astronomy, and
is completed for the first time in the narration of the chorus that precedes Act III:
He viewes the cloudes, the Planets, and the Starres,
The Tropick, Zones, and quarters of the skye,
From the bright circle of the horned Moone,
Even to the height of Primum Mobile:
And whirling round with this circumference,
exigencies of his dramatic structures.

Within the concave compasse of the Pole,
From East to West his Dragons swiftly glide,
And in eight daies did bring him home againe. (B: 783-90)
The next lines of this same chorus begin a new cycle, which takes Faustus to Rome; and
in the chorus to Act IV, this cycle is completed: Hee stayde his course, and so returned
home, / Where such as beare his absence, but with griefe, / ... Did gratulate his safetie
with kinde words (A: 933-34, 936). In the last lines of this chorus, Faustus moves out
once again into the world, this time to the Emperor's court.
Anther rhythm of departure and return, larger yet, is apparent in that obscure
sense of fitness which, as in Donne's famous conceit of the compasses, draws Faustus's
circle just, and makes him end where he began:
Now Mephastophilis, the restless course
that time doth runne with calme and silent foote,
Shortning my dayes and thred of vitall life,
Calls for the payment of my latest yeares,
Therefore sweet Mephastophilis,
let us make haste to W[it]tenberge. (A: 1134-39)
On the same scale is the pattern of Faustus's use of verbal magic. In his first
soliloquy, he anticipated immense powers: All things that move betweene the quiet
Poles / Shall be at my command (B: 83-84). However, he quickly learns that it is beyond
his power to make the Moone drop from her Sphere, / Or the Ocean to overwhelme the
world (B: 264-65)or even to gain the unconditional obedience of the spirit by whom
he expected to be able to do such things. His conjuring speeches (A: 290) were only
per accidens the cause of Mephastophilis' appearance: the spirit makes it quite plain that
he sees Faustus as a potential victim rather than a master. Only by surrendering himself to
Lucifer can Faustus gain demonic serviceand the master-servant relationship which
ensues is highly equivocal. As I have shown elsewhere, the superior A-version of Doctor
Faustus is consistent in denying any transitive power within the play to verbal magic,
which works only upon the mind of Faustus, and the audience's imagination. 20 In the non20 See my article Verbal Magic and the Problem of the A and B Texts of Doctor Faustus, forthcoming in
the Journal of English and Germanic Philology [published in 1983].

Marlovian additions to the play, it is claimed that Faustus's Magicke charmes can
pierce through / The Ebon gates of ever-burning hell, / And hale the stubborne Furies
from their caves (B: 1256-58), but in the A-text Faustus explains in the same imperial
court that he operates by the art and power (A: 1078) of his familiar spirit. The
desperate invocations of his final speechStand still you ever mooving spheres of
heaven, / That time may cease, and midnight never come .... Mountaines and hilles, come
come, and fall on me... (A: 1453-54, 1470)are thus a futile return to the kind of magic
that Faustus originally hoped to practise, to a verbal magic that was never more than a
When, in this last soliloquy, we encounter once again the ever mooving spheres
of heaven of which the play has so often reminded us, we are also presented with a
collapsing structure of time intervals which telescopes into the one bare hower (A:
1451) that Faustus has to live:
Faire Natures eie, rise, rise againe, and make
Perpetuall day, or let this houre be but a yeere,
A moneth, a weeke, a naturall day,
That Faustus may repent, and save his soule,
O lente lente cur[r]ite noctis equi:
The starres moove still, time runs, the clocke wil strike,
The divel wil come, and Faustus must be damned. (A: 1455-61)

One recognizes, with a certain shock, that the A-version of Doctor Faustus
observes a kind of unity of timenot in the Aristotelian sense, but in an analogical
manner that provides an equal concentration of the action, and may be imaginatively
more exciting.
Between the evening of Faustus's first soliloquy (he dines with Valdes and
Cornelius, and signs his first pact just after midnight) and his last desperate moments as

the clock strikes twelve, twenty-four years have elapsed. We are indeed made to feel this
as the greater part of a natural life-span. The papal episode was a young man's mischiefmaking, but at the imperial court Faustus seems to speak with the confidence of maturity
(I am referring to the A-version of this act), and in the simple but dignified exchanges
between Faustus and the pregnant duchess in the Vanholt scene there is an unexpected
autumnal grace.
However, as time rushes westward in the final scenes of the play, and the different
cyclical movements come into phase for the climactic moments of the speech to Helen,
the confession to the scholars, and the last soliloquy, these traces of a life's development
fade from view, and the twenty-four years' action comes to seem the fantastically
compressed events of a single naturall day. The complex rhythms of Faustus's action
and suffering in the world differ in their motions upon the poles of the Zodiacke, but
they All move from East to West in foure and twenty houres, upon the poles of the
If the double motion of the Planets in Doctor Faustus insinuates that the
twenty-four years which elapse between the signing of the pact and Faustus's death are, in
some mysterious manner, no more than twenty-four hours, Marlowe's impetuous
presentation has already begun to suggest the same thing. After the disputations on
astronomy, which ended with the dangerous question, now tell me who made the
world? (B: 636), Faustus fed his soulor rather, was force-fedupon the pageant of the
seven deadly sins. To his request, O might I see hell, and returne againe safe, how happy
were I then, Lucifer replied: Faustus, thou shalt, at midnight I will send for thee (B:
733-35). This promise, which clearly answers only the first half of the request, is not
fulfilled until the end of the play. Having, so to speak, breakfasted with the seven deadly
sins, Faustus interrupts the Pope's luncheon, is himself feasted mongst [the Emperor's]
noblemen (A: 945), is woken from his afternoon nap by the horse-courser, and dines
with the scholars. He amuses himself with Helen in the evening, and in the gathering
darkness confesses to the scholars a surffet of deadly sinne that hath damnd both body
and soule (A: 1399. Lucifer, as he promised, sends for him at midnight.
To the degree that a summary like this makes Faustus sound uncomfortably like

another Solomon Grundy,21 it is misleading. But the very fact that such a summary is
possible is an indication of Marlowe's attentiveness in this play to the unity of time.
The fugitive sense of a strange analogical equivalence of times becomes more
nearly explicit in the astonishing acceleration of stage time in the last scene of the play:
an hour drains away in less than sixty lines. The effect is of a kind of temporal vertigo. In
the English Faustbook, Faustus tells how, descending from one of his flights, ... I looked
upon the worlde & the heavens, and me thought that the earth was inclosed in comparison
with the firmament, as the yolke of an egge within the white, and me thought that the
whole length of the earth was not a span long.... 22 From his perspective thus nigh the
heavens, on the edge of spatial infinity, the world dwindles. In a similar manner, it
would seem that as Marlowe's Faustus draws ever nearer to hell, to being damned
perpetually (A: 1452), time shrivels up around him. His desperate desire to turn the sun
back in its course, to make his final hour stretch into Perpetuall day, or even to so short
a period as a naturall day, / That Faustus may repent, and save his soule, might thus be
interpreted as a wish to have his whole time again, to begin once more with a new settling
of his studies. Even to his last breath he retains a futile hope that the powers which are
about to destroy himor rather, which are going to subject him to eternal destruction
might perhaps accept the propitiatory gesture of a new beginning: Ile burne my bookes,
ah Mephastophilis (A: 1508).
Faustus's frantic invocation of Faire Natures eie (A: 1455), his frail hope that
the inexorable westward motion of the heavens might be arrested, can be compared to the
imagery of John Donne's promise that as in the round frame of the World, the farthest
West is East, where the West ends, the East begins, So in thee, (who art a world too) thy
West and thy East shall joyne, and when thy Sun, thy soule comes to set in thy death-bed,
the Son of Grace shall suck it up into glory. 23 However, the smaller sunsets of Faustus's
21 This nursery rhyme was collected and published by J. O. Halliwell in 1842: Solomon Grundy, / Born
on Monday, / Christened on Tuesday, / Married on Wednesday, / Took ill on Thursday, / Grew worse on
Friday, / Died on Saturday, / Buried on Sunday. / That was the end / Of Solomon Grundy. See I. Opie
and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951; 2nd ed., New York: Oxford University
Press, 1997), pp. 394-95.
22 The Historie of the damnable life, ch. 21 (Palmer and More, pp. 173-74).
23 E. M. Simpson and G. R. Potter, eds., The Sermons of John Donne (10 vols.; Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1953-62), vol. 10, p. 52.

repeated cycles of despair and incomplete repentance have ended each time, not with an
access of grace, but with a subjective conviction of his hopeless alienation from a
loveless Godor else with a more frightening objective revelation of his position:
Ah Christ my Saviour,
seeke to save distressed Faustus soule.
Enter Lucifer, Belsabub, and Mephastophilus. (A: 711-13)
Accursed Faustus, where is mercie now?
I do repent, and yet I do dispaire:
Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast,
What shall I do to shun the snares of death?
Me[phastophilis]. Thou traitor Faustus, I arrest thy soule....
(A: 1329-33)
... ah my God, I would weepe, but the divel drawes in my teares,
gush foorth blood, insteade of teares, yea life and soule, Oh he stayes
my tong, I would lift up my hands, but see, they hold them, they hold
them. (A: 1416-20)
Helen's kiss has already, in Faustus's amorous conceit, sucked forth his soul, and

he is certain that his last moment on earth will be an encounter, not with the Son of Grace,
but with Lucifer prince of the East, and his minister Mephastophilis, to whom he has
given himself both body and soule (A: 551-52). He cannot go forward in hope and let
his own Sun, his soul, set peacefully; he can only pull against the inexorable drift of time
with words that themselves consume time, or strain in agony towards the visionary
afterglow of Christ's blood streaming in the firmament. The inaccessibility of that vision,
and of the salvation it signifies, is confirmed by his fatal inability to refrain from
substituting another name for the one he wants to speak:
Ah rend not my heart for naming of my Christ,
Yet wil I call on him, oh spare me Lucifer!
Where is it now? tis gone.... (A: 1465-67)

In his De rerum praenotione, Gianfrancesco Pico told a story about a magician
who, some fifty years previously, had promised to an unwise and curious prince that he
would show him the siege of Troy, with Achilles and Hector included, as though on a
stage. The promise was not kept: the unfortunate magician was carried off alive by a
devil.24 But like his descendant Faustus, who presented the forms of Alexander the Great
and Helen of Troy to Emperor and to the scholars of Wittenberg, this magician was
engaging in an embryonic form of specifically theatrical magic.
In Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the magical display that Faustus puts on is simple
enough: Robert Greene suggests that his Friar Bacon could far more. 25 But while the
24 De rerum praenotione, IV. 9, in Vasoli, ed., Giovanni Pico, Gian Francesco Pico: Opera Omnia, vol. 2,
sig. TTT: ... A daemone quinquaginta ferme ab hinc annis vivum asportatum nusquam comparuisse:
dum curioso cuidam & male sano principi, Troiae oppugnationem repraesentare quasi in scoena
pollicitus esset, Achillemque & Hectorem introducere praeliantes, & multis tamen id quaerentibus
irritum negocium evenit. This story was taken up by Johann Weyer, who was probably the direct
source through whom it became part of the legend of Faustus. See Weyer's Cinq livres de l'imposture et
tromperie des diables, tr. J. Grvin (Paris, 1569; microfiche rpt. Paris: Hachette: Bibliothque Nationale,
1975), II. 4, fol. 71r-v.
25 Greene's Bacon seems deliberately to go beyond Faustus's notion of walling Germany with brass: he
claims that The work that Ninus rear'd at Babylon, / The brazen walls fram'd by Semiramis, / Carved

rudimentary display occupies our eyes, Marlowe, the real theatrical magician, is working
on another level.
The idea of a close relationship between magic and poetry (most memorably
developed, perhaps in the dance of the Graces, Venus Damzels, in The Faerie Queene,
VI. X. x-xxviii) was one of the fruitful commonplaces of the period. And the notion of
dramatic rhetoric as a form of invocation, of transitive psychological magic, was equally
widespread. In the prologue to Antonio's Revenge, John Marston seems to be playing with
the conceit of an equivalence between the 'wooden O' of the theatre and the magician's
If any spirit breathes within this round
Uncapable of weighty passion
(As from his birth being hugged in the arms
And nuzzled 'twixt the breasts of happiness)
Who winks and shuts his apprehension up
From common sense of what men were, and are,
Who would not know what men must belet such
Hurry amain from our black-visaged shows....26
And in The Merry Devill of Edmonton, the speaker of the prologue cries, We ring this
round with our invoking spelles27though for no greater purpose than to hush the
audience into silence.
Marlowe's use of this kind of magic is more subtle: he does not tell us we are
being conjured. His rhetoric may also be more powerful, directed as it is out of a complex
structure of magic circles, macrocosmic as well as microcosmic, which helps to make the
out like to the portal of the sun, / Shall not be such as rings the English strond / From Dover to the
market place of Rye (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, ed. Daniel Seltzer [Regents Renaissance Drama
Series, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963], scene ii, 62-66). Bacon subsequently humiliates a
German magician, Vandermast, who has been brought to England by the German emperor, and declares
to the English King Henry III and to the Emperor that I come not, monarchs, for to hold dispute / With
such a novice as is Vandermast. / I come to have your royalties to dine... (scene ix, 150-52). Not merely
does he outdo all competitors in theatrical magic; he gives hospitality to royalty rather than (like
Faustus) receiving it from them.
26 Antonio's Revenge, ed. W. R. Gair (The Revels Plays, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1978),
pp. 54-55.
27 C. F. Tucker Brooke, ed., The Shakespeare Apocrypha (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908), p. 265.

theatre resonate with meaning.