Significance of the Last Scene in Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe (26 February 1564 – 30 May 1593) is a great expert in painting the extreme agony and anguish in his scenes. For this reason, his death scenes in all the plays are memorable for its deep pathos and poignancy. The last scene of Doctor Faustus shows us the extreme agony, anguish, pathos and poignancy of Faustus. It also shows the overwhelming destruction of a proud and inordinately ambitious soul that defied God and denounced Christianity, and surrendered himself to the Devil to gain divinity and to become “lord and commander to these elements”. Marlowe reaches the most magnificent flights of imagination in the last scene of Doctor FaustusSo it is very important to show the tragic fall and eternal damnation of Faustus.

Doctor Faustus is a Renaissance man fired with extra-ordinary zeal for unlimited knowledge, power and delight of the world. To know the unknown and to achieve the unachievable Faustus takes the risk of his own life by selling his soul to Lucifer. His Renaissance spirit brings him to a forbidden territory and does not hesitate to practice black magic. Faustus becomes the hero of the world only for twenty four years. But this hero suffers a tragic fall within a short time in the last scene.
In the play, we find the hero suffering from mental agony. He was divided within himself from the very beginning. At the time of practicing black art, Faustus is visited by two spirits-Good Angel and Evil Angel. A Good Angel is often overheard whispering in his ear; and if the Evil Angel finally prevails, it is in spite of continual remorse and hesitation on the Doctor's part. This excellent Faustus is damned by accident or by predestination; he is brow-beaten by the devil and forbidden to repent when he has really repented. What makes Marlowe's conclusion the more violent and the more unphilosophical is the fact that, to any one not dominated by convention, the Good Angel, in the dialogue, seems to have so much the worse of the argument. All he has to offer is sour admonition and external warnings:
O Faustus, lay that damned book aside,
And gaze not on it lest it tempt thy soul,
And heap God's heavy wrath upon thy head.
Read, read, the Scriptures; that is blasphemy....
Sweet Faustus, think of heaven, and heavenly things.
To which the Evil Angel replies:       
No, Faustus, think of honour and of wealth.
And in another place:
Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art,
Wherein all nature's treasure is contained.
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.
There can be no doubt that the devil here represents the natural ideal of Faustus, or of any child of the Renaissance; he appeals to the vague but healthy ambition of a young soul, that would make trial of the world. In other words, this devil represents the true good, and it is no wonder if the honest Faustus cannot resist his suggestions.

Nicholas Brooke says: "Faustus wants to satisfy the demands of his nature as God has made him. He wants to be the Deity. For this, he must deny Christianity as did Lucifer, but Faustus’ attachment to religion is too deep to be rooted out." Throughout the play we find Faustus pricked by his conscience, we find him in tussle between will and conscience in the form of Good and Bad Angel. 
Significance of the Last Scene in Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Faustus reads from the Bible that the reward of sin is death and then reads that if people think they are not sinners, they are deceived. For Faustus, this appears to doom humans from the beginning. Disgusted with the hopelessness of theological study, he turns to the practice of magic. But Faustus' reasoning is very ironic, for he has read both passages out of context. Although he is a learned man in divinity, he overlooks the obvious meaning of the passage. For instance, Faustus ignores the second part of the passage; he reads "the wages of sin is death" but does not finish it with "but the gift of God is eternal life."
Since Faustus thinks that he has achieved the end of all the various studies of the university, he is dissatisfied with the powers that he has gained from them. Although Faustus is a most learned man, he finds himself confined by mere human knowledge. In other words, he feels the limitations of human knowledge and decides to turn to magic to discover greater powers.
According to traditional Christian cosmology, the universe is viewed as a hierarchy which descends from God, through the angels, then humans, the animals, and finally to inanimate nature. Everything has been put in its proper place by God and each should be content to remain there. According to this view, it is dangerous for a person to attempt to rise above the station assigned to human beings and it is also forbidden to descend to the animal level. Ambition to go beyond one's natural place in the hierarchy is considered a sin of pride. Consequently, Faustus' desire to rise above his position as a man by resorting to supernatural powers places his soul in dire jeopardy.

Marlowe indicates this risk in the line "Here, Faustus, try thy brains to gain a deity." Consequently, the first scene sets up the conflict between the limitation of human knowledge and the desire to go beyond their position in the universe.
The biblical quotations Faustus mentions refer to the concept of sin and death. The entire drama deals with the problems of sin and death and immortality. One of the things Faustus is trying to escape is the limitation of death. On the one hand, he alleges that he does not believe in death, but at the same time he spends all his time finding ways to escape it, especially by resorting to necromancy. At the end of the scene, he makes the statement that "this night I'll conjure though I die therefore." What he does not realize is that by resorting to necromancy, he will die a spiritual death also.

The appearance of the Good Angel and the Evil Angel is a holdover from the earlier morality plays. The medieval plays often use abstractions as main characters. The appearance of these allegorical abstractions functions to externalize the internal conflict that Faustus is undergoing; they symbolize the two forces struggling for the soul of Faustus. Throughout the play, these angels appear at the moments when Faustus critically examines the decision that he has made.
After the departure of the Good Angel and the Evil Angel, Faustus has a vision of what he will accomplish with his new magical powers. Some of his dreams demonstrate his desire for greater insight into the workings of the universe, and others suggest the noble ends for which he will use his power. Those desires should later be contrasted with what Faustus actually does accomplish. After receiving his powers from Mephistophilis, Faustus never does anything but trivial and insignificant acts; he resorts to petty tricks and never accomplishes any of the more powerful or noble deeds.

As the twenty-four years of his deal with Lucifer come to a close, Faustus begins to dread his impending death. In the last scene, we see him as a pathetic character who tries to escape his coming death and damnation.  He has Mephastophilis call up Helen of Troy, the famous beauty from the ancient world, and uses her presence to impress a group of scholars. An old man urges Faustus to repent, but Faustus drives him away. Faustus summons Helen again and exclaims rapturously about her beauty. But time is growing short. Faustus tells the scholars about his pact, and they are horror-stricken and resolve to pray for him. On the final night before the expiration of the twenty-four years, Faustus is overcome by fear and remorse. He begs for mercy, but it is too late. He understands that whatever he enjoyed will be lost now.  He also understands that he will go to hell forever, and there is no pardon for his sin. In repentance Faustus says...
But Faustus, offence can ne'er be pardoned.
In this scene, he tries to pray to God whom he one day discarded and defamed. But he cannot pray to God. He has done so big sin that it has become impossible to pray to god or get the forgiveness from god. He also tries to pray to Jesus Christ but he understands that his heart cannot do it very well. He thinks of Pythagorian philosophy in which it is stated that after the death of a person the soul enters into the life of a beast. He hopes that this philosophy was true and this way he would not suffer but his soul would go to the body of a beast. He thought that the beasts have no pain and no suffering. They have no sorrow. This way he wanted to save himself at any cost. In his early life Faustus wanted to be immortal, but in this time he wants to be transformed into a beast or into a little water drop:
O soul, be changed into little water drops,
And fall into the ocean, ne’er be found.
Faustus also asks Helen (also known as Helen of Troy) in the last scene of the play to make him 'immortal' by kissing him. Faustus address to Helen is....
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss:
Her lips sucks forth my soul, see where it flies!
Come Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena!
The second half of the last scene is very painful for Faustus because he is now alone. None comes forward to save him. In soliloquy he describes his state of mind which is remarkable for psychological self-revelation. He curses his parents for giving birth to him, and also curses himself. The last hour soliloquy of Faustus is lyrically and dramatically intense passage that remains unsurpassed in the English dramatic literature. It is quite obvious that Marlowe draws the clash between Faustus’ Renaissance dreams and desires of limitless knowledge and power, and the medieval belief of the retribution which awaits the person who adopts means to get such ends. So we find that Faustus is caught between the medieval and the modern world and ultimately doomed and destroyed in clash between the different sets of values in the final scene. We notice that such human clashes are the heart of tragedy. The Christian sets of values ultimately prevail over the Renaissance dreams and desires, and the play ends with the solemn appeal from the Chorus urging us to learn lesson from the rise and tragic fall of Doctor Faustus. The final speech of chorus in the last scene is....
Faustus is gone; regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits.
The chorus makes the final and closing comment on the fall of Faustus. They comment that he had tried to go beyond the limitations of humanity and had thus fallen into eternal damnation. The chorus admonishes the audience to take note of Faustus' example and not go beyond the boundary of lawful things. The chorus expresses the medieval view that Faustus' fall resulted from his pride and ambition. After Doctor Faustus dies, the chorus gives us the moral lesson of the play. Moral lesson is that we should not be too much obsessed with illegal things and we should try to follow religion. Here, by religion, the chorus has meant Christianity not any other religion. Anyway, Christopher Marlowe has perhaps accepted Christianity but at the same time he showed the renaissance spirit when Doctor Faustus talked about the philosophy of Pythagoras. We know that one of the renaissance elements was Greek classical philosophy and literature. Doctor Faustus knows he will die and when he is dying he praises to god and Jesus Christ but at the same time he remembers Greek philosophy.

Ultimately, the ending of Doctor Faustus represents a clash between Christianity, which holds that repentance and salvation are always possible, and the dictates of tragedy, in which some character flaw cannot be corrected, even by appealing to God. The idea of Christian tragedy, then, is paradoxical, as Christianity is ultimately uplifting. People may suffer—as Christ himself did—but for those who repent, salvation eventually awaits. To make Doctor Faustus a true tragedy, then, Marlowe had to set down a moment beyond which Faustus could no longer repent, so that in the final scene, while still alive, he can be damned and conscious of his damnation.

The unhappy Faustus’s last line returns us to the clash between Renaissance values and medieval values that dominate the early scenes and then recedes as Faustus pursues his mediocre amusements in later scenes. His cry, as he pleads for salvation, that he will burn his books suggests, for the first time since early scenes, that his pact with Lucifer is primarily about a thirst for limitless knowledge—a thirst that is presented as incompatible with Christianity. Scholarship can be Christian, the play suggests, but only within limits.

According to Richard B. Sewali, the end of Marlowe’s play shows, of course, that Faustus could not live out his idea. But, between the disillusioned scholar of the first scene and the agonizing, ecstatic figure of the final scene there is a difference. He enters not alone this time, but with the scholars’ and for the first time in the play he has normal, compassionate discourse with his fellows. His role of demigod over, he is human once more, a friend and befriended. ‘Ah gentlemen, hear me with patience’, says he who has but recently lorded it over all creation. His friends now seem sweeter than any princely delegate. Although the thrill of his exploits still lingers----‘And what wonders I have done all Germany can witness, yea the entire world’---he is humble and repentant. He longs to be able to weep and pray but imagines in his despair that devils draw in his tears and hold his hands as he would lift them up. He confesses to the scholars the miserable source of his cunning. Knowing his doom is near, he refuses their intercession and bids them, ‘talk not of me but save yourselves and depart.

If to the orthodox it is more a sinner’s fate than a hero’s; there is something of the classic apotheosis in Faustus’ final moments. He transcends the man he was. He goes out no craven sinner but violently, speaking the rage and despair of all mankind who would undo the past and stop the clock against the inevitable reckoning.

Certain aspects of the drama can be used to support an interpretation of Faustus as a Renaissance hero and other aspects suggest he is a medieval hero. According to the medieval view of the universe, Man was placed in his position by God and should remain content with his station in life. Any attempt or ambition to go beyond his assigned place was considered a great sin of pride. For the medieval person, pride was one of the greatest sins that one could commit. This concept was based upon the fact that Lucifer's fall was the result of his pride when he tried to revolt against God. Thus, for the medieval person, aspiring pride became one of the cardinal sins.

According to the medieval view, Faustus has a desire for forbidden knowledge. In order to gain more knowledge than he is entitled to, Faustus makes a contract with Lucifer, which brings about his damnation. Faustus then learns at the end of the play that supernatural powers are reserved for the gods and that the person who attempts to handle or deal in magical powers must face eternal damnation. When we examine the drama from this standpoint, Faustus deserves his punishment; then the play is not so much a tragedy as it is a morality play. The ending is an act of justice, when the man who has transgressed against the natural laws of the universe is justifiably punished. The chorus at the end of the drama re-emphasizes this position when it admonishes the audience to learn from Faustus' damnation and not attempt to go beyond the restrictions placed on humanity.

The character of Faustus can also be interpreted from the Renaissance point of view. At the time of this play, there was a conflict in many people's minds, including Marlowe's, as to whether or not to accept the medieval or the Renaissance view. The Renaissance had been disappointed in the effectiveness of medieval knowledge because many scholastic disputations were merely verbal nonsense. For example, arguments such as how many angels could stand on the head of a pin dominated many medieval theses. The Renaissance scholars, however, revived an interest in the classical knowledge of Greece and the humanism of the past. They became absorbed in the great potential and possibility of humanity.
According to the Renaissance view, Faustus rebels against the limitations of medieval knowledge and the restriction put upon humankind decreeing that he must accept his place in the universe without challenging it. Because of his universal desire for enlightenment, Faustus makes a contract for knowledge and power. His desire, according to the Renaissance, is to transcend the limitations of humanity and rise to greater achievements and heights. In the purest sense, Faustus wants to prove that he can become greater than he presently is. Because of his desire to go beyond human limitations, Faustus is willing to chance damnation in order to achieve his goals. The tragedy results when a person is condemned to damnation for noble attempts to go beyond the petty limitations of humanity.

Tragedy is impossible in a morality play because it ends in redemption irrespective of the sin indulged in by the protagonist. But Doctor Faustus is possible only when the story of man's redemption is interpolated with tragic elements. So, Marlowe is playing with the age-old structure of morality play and subverting it in the process. It also leads to the greatest deviance Marlowe has undertaken – the ending when Faustus is dismembered by the devils. This may also lead us to wonder – why is Faustus damned? Is it because his "heart so harden'd (he) cannot repent" ( II.ii.18)? But he does repent when he says "One drop (of Christ's blood) would save my soul . . ." (V.ii.149). Faustus is damned because of his irresolution. He says, "I do repent, and yet I do despair" (V.i.70). It is because of the cardinal sin of despair that Faustus is damned eternally.

The question, "How does Faustus spend his 24 years?" will help us understand how is Faustus' story the story of the unmaking of a Renaissance man. In these 24 years does he learn something or does he waste time in trivialities. Surely, he does get some rare experiences of traveling to impossible realms. He steps out of his library, engages with the world at large and celebrates the spirit of Renaissance Humanism. Through this Marlowe suggests that the experience of the world at large is very important. But definitely we get to see the other side of the picture also.

Robert N. Watson remarks, " Doctor Faustus is a parable about spiritual loss in the modern world, a warning, not only about damnation in the conventional sense, but about the fatal corruption awaiting all Renaissance aspirations." We see this clearly in the course of the play. The early vision of Faustus is to glorify the human race with a benevolent empire, but it quickly fades away and he tries to please Emperors with out-of-season grapes and dumb charades. He uses his magic, not to turn men into gods but instead to turn his hecklers into beasts. This becomes a larger comment on how magic doesn't become a tool to ascend the chain of beings but to descend.

Humanism was a scholarly activity and knowledge can become power – not only scholarly but political as well. Faustus is curious about the nature of universe, about the rules of the cosmos, experiences of Hell and Heaven. These were the shared curiosities of the Renaissance scholars and Marlowe being a 'University Wit' himself shared Faustus' curiosity and excitement. Here it is possible that Marlowe is speaking in Faustus' voice. But what goes wrong with Faustus' ambition is that his desire for knowledge becomes a desire for power and he, drunk with power, indulges in voluptuousness for 24 years.

Even Mephostophilis uses Humanistic ideas to tempt Faustus. He says that Earth is made for man so man is better than Earth. Pico della Mirandola is also of the same opinion. Pico believes that man is a combination of the beast and the divine, so he is free and flexible. Man can mould himself in whatever fashion, but then why does a character like Faustus feel so bounded? This question is at the heart of the play and the philosophy of Humanism. Despite all the bragging, there was a sense of limit even in the arrogant times of Humanism. Even for Pico the freedom of will is not limitless. He feels even though man is indeterminate, he should follow the divine side of himself.

According to Calvin, man's nature is essentially sinful because of Adam's original sin. Since man thinks he is sinful, he sits back and does not pursue a path of righteousness. Is this the sin of Faustus also? Probably yes, because from the beginning he feels that God doesn't love him. Calvin thinks that alienation from God is inbuilt in man's condition. But Faustus feels it as a personal crisis, as an individual predicament. The final question still remains to be answered – Does Faustus choose Necromancy because he is damned? Or is he damned because he chose Necromancy? This question makes us realize that at a larger level Doctor Faustus as a text is also a battleground between two philosophies – Pico's theory of indeterminate man where the man can ascend up the chain of beings and Calvin's Fatalism where man has no agency at all. I feel that the only logical conclusion that we can draw is that Faustus is Pico's "Indeterminate Man" caught in Calvin's Fatalistic world. This also makes the fall of Faustus inevitable.

Last of all we can say that, Doctor Faustus as a great man who does many great things, but because of his own conscious willfulness tragedy and torment crushing down upon his head. He finally becomes the pitiful and fearful victim of his own ambitions and desires.

1. Santayana, George- Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1910.
2. M. Frye, Roland- Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: The Repudiation of Humanity, South Atlantic Quarterly, July, 1956.
3. B. Sewall, Richard- The Vision of Tragedy, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.
4. Farnham, Willard- Twentieth Century Interpretations of Doctor Faustus, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,1969.
5. N. Watson, Robert-  A Theory Of Renaissance Tragedy: Dr Faustus.
6. Dollimore, Jonathan- Dr. Faustus: Subversion Through Transgression.
7. Mukherjee, Dr. Suroopa- The Worldview Critical Edition.


  1. thanks you help me a lot 💗
    I am wondering Doctor Faustus is a Christian tragedy but the logic of the final scene is not? Why


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