Doctor Faustus

by: Christopher Marlowe

Chorus 2–Scene 8

Faustus’s interactions with the pope and his courtiers offer another send-up of the Catholic Church. The pope’s grasping ambition and desire for worldly power would have played into late-sixteenth-century English stereotypes. By having the invisible Faustus box the papal ears and disrupt the papal banquet, Marlowe makes a laughingstock out of the head of the Catholic Church. Yet the absurdity of the scene coexists with a suggestion that, ridiculous as they are, the pope and his attendants do possess some kind of divinely sanctioned power, which makes them symbols of Christianity and sets their piety in opposition to Faustus’s devil-inspired magic. When the pope and his monks begin to rain curses on their invisible tormentors, Faustus and Mephastophilis seem to fear the power that their words invoke. Mephastophilis says, “[W]e shall be cursed with bell, / book, and candle” (7.8182). The fear-imposing power these religious symbols have over Mephastophilis suggests that God remains stronger than the devil and that perhaps Faustus could still be saved, if he repented in spite of everything. Faustus’s reply—“Bell, book and candle; candle, book, and bell / Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell”—is fraught with foreshadowing (7.8384). Hell, of course, is exactly where Faustus is “curse[d]” to go, but through his own folly and not the curses of monks or the pope.

The absurd behavior of Robin and Rafe, meanwhile, once again contrasts with Faustus’s relationship to the diabolical. Robin and Rafe conjure up Mephastophilis in order to scare off a vintner, and even when he threatens to turn them into animals (or actually does so temporarily—the text is unclear on this matter), they treat it as a great joke. Yet the contrast between Faustus on the one hand and the ostlers and the clown on the other, the high and the low, is not so great as it is originally, since Faustus too has begun using magic in pursuit of practical jokes, like boxing the pope’s ear. Such foolishness is quite a step down for a man who earlier speaks of using his magic to become ruler of Germany. Although Faustus does step into the political realm when he frees Bruno and sends him back to Germany, this action seems to be carried out as part of the cruel practical joke on the pope, not as part of any real political pursuit. The degradation of Faustus’s initially heroic aims continues as the play proceeds, with Faustus coming to resemble a clown more and more.