“Dr Faustus” is considered by many to be a tragic play, in fact, Marlowe himself called it, ‘The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus’. However, there are several scenes in the middle of the play scenes 6 to 11 which can be considered to be comical scenes, which do not fit into the stereotype of tragedies of the time. They can be considered to be interesting scenes in their own right, but their overall purpose and their closely linked end dramatic quality, is examinable.
The central scenes are in place chiefly to interject humour into what would otherwise be a grave and serious play. They also work to parody the main plot and at the same time aid foreshadow Faustus’ downfall later on in the play. Both of these effects add to and improve the dramatic quality of “Dr Faustus”. They add another dimension to the play and prevent it from being purely a grim and flat tragedy; without these central scenes, the play may not be as interesting and may be lacking in dramatic quality. The central scenes add another level to Faustus’ character, showing the audience how his behaviour and attitude to life have changed giving us a break from the overall tragedy of the play.Order now
They also contribute to plot development in that they help further the play’s themes. For example, the scenes with Robin and Rafe scenes 6 and 8 parallel the main plot. Although the pace here is faster, one must remember that the central scenes are relatively short, so the meaning and purpose of including these scenes must be more obvious. The comedy in these scenes adds to the tragedy of Faustus, showing comedy against Faustus as he is given great powers but uses them to perform petty tricks, therefore ridiculing his character and making the themes more complex.
Several new characters are introduced in the central scenes. Their purpose is primarily to develop the plot and to shape the audience’s opinion of Faustus by showing how he interacts with those characters and by drawing parallels to him. The two most normal characters in the comic scenes could be said to be Robin and Rafe, featured in scenes 6 and 8. They can be seen to be used by Marlowe in scene 6 to show how easily the common man can become distracted by magic and could be a subtle warning to the audience of Faustus’ demise.
Their actions in scene 8 can be seen to parody the main plot, especially when Robin assumes that magic can be used easily to his advantage by tricking the Vintner. He also wants to impress Rafe, which reflects Faustus’ character because he was looking for power and recognition in the beginning of the play. Although Robin is not doing this at all to the same extent, he can be seen to serve as a parallel to Faustus in this way. Robin’s magic backfires comically, when he tries to get rid of the Vintner. This is another parody to the main plot to show how in reality, Faustus’ deal is doomed from the start and emptier than he had first thought.
The view of Robin and Rafe being parallel characters to Faustus could further the view that Faustus’ future actions concerning sex and women were inevitable and not necessarily his own fault. The inclusion of Robin and Rafe makes the play more interesting because the parallel that Marlowe draws to Faustus with them gives the audience something else to think about.
The more insignificant minor characters in the comic scenes are mainly included by Marlowe to show how Faustus treats or reacts to them. For example in scene 7 Marlowe uses the Pope as the ultimate object of Faustus’ jokes. The Pope’s position in the religious world is extremely significant and shows the contrast of the good and evil influences on Faustus, the Christian influence that would be seen as good having at this point in the play absolutely no influence on Faustus. The religious characters are not further featured but emphasise Faustus’ degeneration and add to the audience’s interest in the play and Faustus’ character. This in itself adds to the dramatic quality of the play.
Other characters that are used to show Faustus’ degeneration are only featured in one scene and are not given a chance to develop. The Emperor and the Knight in scene 9 and the Duke and Duchess in scene 11 are used to emphasise Faustus’ own tragedy, in that now he is only concerned with impressing people and showing off rather than achieving the total earthly power that he had previously longed for. For instance, in scene 9, Faustus illustrates how his one-time thirst for the secrets of the universe have become overshadowed by simple lustful fantasies when he conjures up Helen of Troy. Faustus’ tragedy is underlined again in scene 10 when the audience are shown Faustus’ behaviour towards the horse-courser. Marlowe includes pure slapstick comedy Faustus’ leg falls off and it is questionable whether or not this incident adds to the dramatic quality of the play because the contemporary audience would probably not find it as funny as an Elizabethan audience would have.
Mephastophilis is present throughout these scenes, being Faustus’ aid and attending to his every need. He becomes more servile towards Faustus but it is interesting to question why Marlowe chose to do this. In my opinion it is to highlight the emptiness of Faustus’ bargain as it shows how little of his own power Faustus has. This in turn again adds to the irony and increases the play”s dramatic quality.
Even though the atmosphere and mood throughout the central scenes is comical and light, the fact that these scenes have a serious meaning underneath adds to the dramatic quality and the audience’s interest. The light mood may make us more aware that Faustus’ aims have changed and that he himself is changing. The mood and atmosphere is not too varied over these scenes, remaining light throughout. However, in comparison to the rest of the play these central scenes are unique. The play remains a tragedy but the central scenes help to reinforce the tragical nature of Faustus’ bargain with the devil by their juxtaposition with a more serious beginning and end to add to the dramatic quality and reinforce the tragedy in the audience’s minds.
In scene 7, much of the language used is descriptive to show where Faustus has traveled and to set the scene. I feel that this is necessary for the audience to get an idea of the length of time that has passed because it is meant to take place over Faustus’ life. Blank verse is used by the chorus and Wagner to detach itself from Faustus and what is happening in these scenes, which is emphasised by Faustus’ language changing from how he has been earlier on in the play. His language is much less elevated and less formal; before, for example in scene 1, he refers to himself by his name which could possibly be seen to be unnecessary and pretentious and he speaks in verse. Faustus’ language now is much more spontaneous and it echoes his new-found carefree attitude and childish behaviour. The language used by Faustus in the central scenes is useful in adding to the dramatic quality by showing the audience how his attitude and wishes in life how now drastically changed.
There are many devices used by Marlowe in the central scenes that would provide visual comedy for the audience. However, visual spectacle at this point mainly stems from or manifests itself in Faustus’ childish tricks. It depends on the audience’s view of the comedy in these scenes being genuinely funny or not if they think the type of spectacle featured would add to the dramatic quality of the play.
Having appropriate scenery and props would add to the dramatic quality of the play. For example in scene 9, the scenery for the Emperor’s palace could be very rich â€“ looking and the horns on the Knight’s head could be made obvious to the audience so that it is clear what is happening. In scene 7 there is much spectacle, the Pope’s dinner could be made sumptuous to emphasise the enormity of Faustus’ snatching it away from God’s earthly representative. Faustus turning invisible would be interesting too, especially if this could be done by televised special effects. Nevertheless, if it were performed on stage the black comedy would still be present, but there may not be as mush visual spectacle for the audience because it would be possible to see Faustus.
Scene 6 does not contain much spectacle because Marlowe wants the audience to concentrate on Robin and Rafe’s growing interest in magic. It could be made more interesting to look at with Robin and Rafe’s costumes or the set being a busy workshop â€“ there are many possible interpretations. Scene 8 does not have the same problem of a lack of spectacle, Mephastophilis enters and performs magic, which is especially interesting to watch because it is unearthly.
Mephastophilis could also be made into a spectacle by having a detailed costume that sets him apart from all the other characters. Scene 11 is probably the scene with the least potential for visual spectacle. It could be made more comical by getting a very large actress to play the Duchess, because Faustus cheekily mentions her weight, “I have heard that great â€“ bellied women do long for some dainties or other.” This joke about the Duchess would show that the play had been more thought-out and therefore add to the dramatic quality of the play.
Perhaps the scene with the most potential for visual interest is scene 10. In this scene, Faustus tricks the horse-courser, selling him a magical horse. When the horse-courser returns wet and crying with no horse, the audience would find this visually interesting primarily due to the black comedy involved but also because it is a contrast to other events in the play. It is uncertain whether or not the audience would perceive the part of the scene where Faustus’ leg falls off as humourous or not, it depends on their view of slapstick comedy in relation to and included in this play. As a part of the contemporary audience, I feel that it is unnecessary and lowers the dramatic quality at this point, however I would think that an Elizabethan audience would disagree. They would be going to the theatre to be entertained, and may have expected some comedy even in a play as tragic as “Dr Faustus”.
In spite of this, I feel that the overall dramatic quality of the central scenes is positive and effectively worked to further Marlowe’s themes. One should bear in mind that even though the type of humour that operates in these scenes is not directed at a contemporary audience and therefore they may not find it as humourous as an audience of the time, modern advantages of better props, settings and stage techniques would improve the dramatic quality of the play.