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Doctor Faustus


Scenes 5–6

Summary Scenes 5–6

Amid all these signs, Faustus repeatedly considers repenting but each time decides against it. Sometimes it is the lure of knowledge and riches that prevents him from turning to God, but other times it seems to be his conviction—encouraged by the bad angel and Mephastophilis—that it is already too late for him, a conviction that persists throughout the play. He believes that God does not love him and that if he were to fly away to God, as the inscription on his arm seems to advise him to do, God would cast him down to hell. When Faustus appeals to Christ to save his soul, Lucifer declares that “Christ cannot save thy soul, for he is just,” and orders Faustus to cease thinking about God and think only of the devil (5.260). Faustus’s sense that he is already damned can be traced back to his earlier misreading of the New Testament to say that anyone who sins will be damned eternally—ignoring the verses that offer the hope of repentance.

At the same time, though, Faustus’s earlier blindness persists. We can see it in his delighted reaction to the appalling personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins, which he treats as sources of entertainment rather than of moral warning. Meanwhile, his willingness to dismiss the pains of hell continues, as he tells Mephastophilis that “I think hell’s a fable / . . . / Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales” (5.126135). These are the words of rationalism or even atheism—both odd ideologies for Faustus to espouse, given that he is summoning devils. But Faustus’s real mistake is to misinterpret what Mephastophilis tells him about hell. Faustus takes Mephastophilis’s statement that hell is everywhere for him because he is separated eternally from God to mean that hell will be merely a continuation of his earthly existence. He thinks that he is already separated from God permanently and reasons that hell cannot be any worse.

Once Faustus has signed away his soul, his cosmos seems to become inverted, with Lucifer taking the place of God and blasphemy replacing piety. After Faustus has signed his deed, he swears by Lucifer rather than God: “Ay, take it; and the devil give thee good on’t” (5.112). His rejection of God is also evident when he says, “Consummatum est,” meaning “it is finished,” which were Christ’s dying words on the cross (5.74). Even Faustus’s arm stabbing alludes to the stigmata, or wounds, of the crucified Christ.

Meanwhile, the limits of the demonic gifts that Faustus has been given begin to emerge. He is given the gift of knowledge, and Mephastophilis willingly tells him the secrets of astronomy, but when Faustus asks who created the world, Mephastophilis refuses to answer. The symbolism is clear: all the worldly knowledge that Faustus has so strongly desired points inexorably upward, toward God. The central irony, of course, is that the pact he has made completely detaches him from God. With access to higher things thus closed off, Faustus has nowhere to go but down.