Essay Plans

1) ‘Is not thy soul thine own?’ (Scene 5, line 68). How do you think the play resolves this?

Look at the conflict between Puritanism and the conformity to authority. Does Doctor Faustus advocate independent thought above external structures? Does the play place free will under stress? Consider the consequences of Faustus’s belief that he is above God’s law. Marlowe presents Protestantism in a positive light but also puts its dictates under stress. Consider the influence of the Morality Play form and how the character of Doctor Faustus is a dark subversion of the Everyman figure.

2) Explore Marlowe’s treatment of time in Doctor Faustus.

Time moves at different rates in Doctor Faustus, and gradually accelerates as the play progresses. The Prologue presents a short biography of Faustus, summarizing his life in less than a paragraph, and then we meet him in the continuous present: "And this the man that in his study sits" (Prologue, line 28). At this point the play’s time and natural time are synonymous. However, then time speeds up towards the end of scene 1 - he begins his meal here, but by the first moments of scene 2 he has finished and has learned all these is about magic, ready to embark on his conjuring at midnight by the start of scene 4.

The opening and closing monologues are crucial in considering the theme of time in the play. Faustus reaches the last evening of his life in scene 13. As the clock strikes eleven he begins to consider the passage of time and its significance for humankind:

"Ah Faustus,

Now hast thou but one bare hour to live…

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,

The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned…" (lines 59 - 70)

The first half of his monologue is thirty lines, and measures out thirty minutes. The second half hour passes at a faster rate, taking only seventeen lines. He is desperate to hold time back, but it passes more quickly as he grows more obsessed. Compare his final speech with his first - how he rushes and pauses repeatedly, inevitability hanging over his review of the learning he rejects in favour of the doomed course of magic.

Look at how time takes several forms in the play. Marlowe depicts the span of a human lifetime, the endless series of repetitions by which he fails to learn from his mistakes and abandon his conjuring, eternity, and the duration of the play. Faustus attempts to control the difference between human time and eternity, failing to notice that his contract with the devil has meant that he has absolved even the little control humans have over linear time. His lease of twenty-four years is a submission to time. Tragically, Faustus is unable to see that the devils do not have ultimate power. Mephastophilis hints that beyond the contract he is impotent when he fetches the Duchess her grapes by travelling to the other side of the world. Time is godly; Faustus’ failure to understand this points to his greater failure to understand the might - and glory - of God.

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