This extract (Marlowe, 2003 , Act 1.Scene 1. ll. 72-112) begins as Faustus, disillusioned with his studies in law, medicine and theology, realises that however much knowledge he amasses, he will never transcend the limitations of the human condition.
The Good and Bad Angels, whose first appearance opens this extract, are personifications in the tradition of the medieval morality plays with which the audience will have been familiar (Pacheco, 2008, pp49-51). They represent the choice Faustus faces, and also personify his conflicting mind states, using language whose contrasting styles will provide a clue to his character. The Good Angel speaks firmly and didactically in the imperative (ll.72-75), using loaded words: ‘damnèd’, ‘tempt’, ‘wrath’, ‘blasphemy’, and the string of words in 1.1.74, ‘heap’, ‘heavy’, and ‘head’, reminiscent of heavy breathing, suggest to us ...view middle of the document...
42), constantly reinforces the image of greed, of the grasping for material wealth (‘gold’, ‘orient pearl’, ‘pleasant fruit and princely delicates’, as does his repetition of the phrase ‘I’ll have the …’ .
This phrase serves another purpose too. Repeated use of phrases in which Faustus imagines directing others to bring his dreams to fruition help to create an impression of intellectual laziness as well as arrogance – he wants results without having to make the effort himself. He even fantasises that ‘spirits’ will somehow manage to implant in him the knowledge and insights to enable him to ‘resolve all ambiguities’ –he will instantly be free of the doubts and uncertainties which the Angels’ appearance hint at. His confident assertions that others will do his bidding also chime with what we know about his tendency to pride and his wish for power, even omnipotence, which has been hinted at earlier in the scene, and in the Prologue, where the Chorus compares him to Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, melting the wax in his wings and leading to his downfall. Yet despite this wish, he avoids taking responsibility for his choice – Valdes and Cornelius have ‘won him’ (1.1.102), and magic has ‘ravished’ him (1.1.112).
Throughout his soliloquy, Faustus’s language echoes the terms in which the Evil Angel has spoken, and his admission at the end of this extract that he is determined to pursue the study of magic against the advice of the Good Angel, whom he has ignored completely. It is this subversion of the positive Renaissance quality of intellectual curiosity that marks him out as a man with a fatal flaw – one that will lead to his downfall, making him a tragic figure.
Marlowe, C. (2003 ), Doctor Faustus: The A-Text (ed. J O’Connor), London: Pearson Longman.
Pacheco, A. (2008), ‘2. Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus’, in Moohan, E. (ed.) Reputations. Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 29–54.