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CHARACTERISATION OF FAUSTUS

ACT I

In Act 1 at the beginning of the play, Faustus is very arrogant, claiming to have mastered the art of
logic and calling himself “conjuror laureate”. The soliloquy form that Faustus often uses, as he does
here, reinforces his ego-centricity. In some respects, Marlowe gave Faustus the enquiring mind and
aspiring spirit of a Renaissance man. Faustus seeks wealth, “Heap up gold”, as well as fame in
posterity and honour in his lifetime, “be eternised for some wondrous cure”. He also aspires to
omnipotence, like a deity, “Of power, of honour, of omnipotence”, and he specifics what kinds of
power he seeks. The supernatural is a key aspect to the Gothic and Faustus desires to have the
powers to “raise the wind or rend the clouds”, powers which excel past “the mind of man”. The
cadence on this line emphasises the gamble Faustus is prepared to make with the human mind to
push past its potential. Faustus’s over ambitious desire means he is unable to see the limit to the
potential of science leading to his inevitable transgression, a central theme to the Gothic.

ACT II SCENE I

With arrogance and self importance starting to wane, Faustus is here characterised as despairing.
Psychiatrist Davies cites Faustus as a model for functional psychosis of manic-depressive type,
swinging between deep despair and manic recklessness. In this soliloquy at the beginning of Act 2
Faustus despairingly says, “Now, Faustus, must thou needs be damned,/And canst thou not be
saved”, then, believing himself to beyond pardon, his mood swings, and he offers to sacrifice new
born babies to Beelzebub, “And offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes”. Structurally this scene is
important by setting up the four part narrative sequence which takes the audience through a cycle
of doubt, persuasion, resolve and gains and is then repeated four times across the play. Here,
Faustus firstly contemplates the apparent inevitability of damnation and the possibility of
repentance, “And canst thou not be saved”. The Good and Evil Angel then use stichomythia to
attempt to persuade Faustus, “”Sweet Faustus, leave that execrable art...Rather illusions, fruits of
lunacy”. Faustus subsequently finds resolve through calling on Mephistopheles “Cast no more
doubts. Come, Mephistopheles” and thus acquires gains through signing the contract and feeling
satisfied regarding curiosity about the soul, “Ay Mephistopheles, I give it to thee”. This structure
creates a sense of tension and a climate of fear in the audience and helps to characterise Faustus as
foolish for his inability to understand the true nature of repentance.

ACT V

Act five marks a change in Faustus’ character and we see fear regarding his own actions for the first
time. Act V Scene I reuses the doubt-persuasion-resolve-gains pattern of events which structures Act
II Scene I, but with a significant difference. Faustus resolution here, has a different quality as he has
now come to believe in hell, which he calls “our hell” contrary to Act II where he assets that “I think
hell’s a fable”. We are thereby forced to see Faustus as courageous in his dedication to hell. He
boldly uses paradox with versatility when he takes the word “sweet” for “thy saviour sweet” applies
it to “Sweet Mephistopheles” and goes on to ask Lucifer for pardon.

The Old Man is a morality play figure, taking on the function of the wise adviser, previously
performed by the Good Angel. His vocabulary is religious, trying to guide Faustus “steps unto the
way of life” towards repentance. One source describes the old man “as a neighbour unto Doctor
Faustus” which is in keeping with medieval stories of repentance. The Old Man has been said to be
the polarised double of Faustus, doubling being a central theme in the Gothic. Faustus follows evil,
the Old Man good; Faust is self centred and spiteful, the Old Man has concern for others.
Structurally, Marlowe parallels their deaths by placing each at the end of consecutive ones. The Old
Man is unafraid and confident; Faustus dies fearful and cursing himself.