Doctor Faustus Summary

It is undeniable that Marlowe was one of the greatest writers of the Elizabethan age; many of his speeches are deservedly famous and recited often. However, there is an argument that Marlowe’s speeches are so well favored not only because they have been written as spectacular poetry, but also because they are written to fit perfectly on the stage, the writing is designed perfectly for dramatic pauses, heavy stresses and simply all the ingredients needed to provide an audience with a spectacular production.

One such extract from ‘Doctor Faustus’ is the emotional passage towards the end of the play, when Faustus realizes he has “but one bare hour to live” before he is damned to perpetual hell. Marlowe’s writing effortlessly portrays Faustus’ helplessness and the turmoil of his emotions, however when read aloud the piece is aided by the heavy stresses at crucial moments, the and flow of the speech combined with the drama and the tension of the language make the speech simply breathtaking.

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The speech begins with a sighed, “Ah, Faustus” which is Faustus evidently attempting to detach himself from the reality of what is about to befall him this is followed by an entirely monosyllabic line, “Now hast thou one bare hour to live” Written in what could almost be iambic pentameter the line falls short of the typical rhythm, giving it a long, drawn out feel, with the stresses falling on “one bare hour” enabling any actor to truly emphasize the emotion behind this line that is simply overflowing with feeling.

The next line mirrors this idea of ‘drawn out stresses’ until the very last “perpetually”. This word, the first one so far in his soliloquy to have more then one syllable (excluding “Faustus”) is filled with venom and helps to emphasize the eternal nature of Faustus’ punishment; the word comes as a complete surprise and once again effortlessly allows the actor to pour emotion into the character. For a while after, Faustus’ speech begins moving faster, aided by the sibilance of the following line, “Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven”

It is almost impossible not to speed that line up due to the alliteration of “stand still” which gives the speech slightly ‘jolty’ essence, allowing the actor to convey Faustus’ frustration that his “one bare hour” is moving faster then he can control. His speech is gradually spiraling out of control as he attempts to bargain with God; he talks of how he wishes, “Fair natures’ eye, rise, rise again,” The double ‘rise’ imitating Faustus’s desperation to rise to heaven, or at least out of hell, he also talks about how he wises the hour to become, A year, a month, a week, a natural day” This idea of Faustus suggesting and then throwing away ideas is eerily reminiscent of his very first speech when deciding what to study; any actor can build on this to allow him to draw the idea of a year and then throw it away, speeding up the process to increase the sense of desperation. Faustus then lurches into Latin, which very few people in any audience would understand, even and Elizabethan audience.

This still gives Faustus the persona of a very learned individual, something which the audience may have forgotten whilst watching Faustus embarrass himself during the middle of the play and whenever he was given a chance to repent. “O lente, lente currite noctis equi! ” He cries, begging ‘night’s horses’ to slow down and not to bring the morning, the fact that Faustus has reverted to mythical creates now once again proves to any audience member who does speak Latin that Faustus is extraordinarily desperate.

Up until this moment Faustus has been almost attempting to create denial for his situation but as his fruitless wishes for time to stand still do not seem to be working, he begins to talk in a strange kind of acceptance, “The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike The devil will come and Faustus must be damn’d” The commas in the first line surprisingly slow down the pace of the speech, highlighting the thought process as Faustus attempts to come to term with his fate, a heavy stress falls on “the clock will strike”, “the devil will come” and “Faustus must be damn’d” again stressing Faustus’ sudden acceptance.

However, he suddenly reverts to the old Faustus, showing the audience how he is almost attempting to go through stages of acceptance yet continues to generate denial. “O, I’ll leap up to my God” The inflection gives an actor time to fill their speech with emotion as well as giving the writing on its own a smooth, rhythmic quality. Within the speech Faustus continually places deals before God hoping to save his soul, almost like the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, however this has a much more sinister overtone, One drop would save my soul, half a drop-Ah, my Christ! ” The immense sad tone implied by the “Ah, my Christ! ” once again coincides neatly with providing not only beautiful poetry, but also with emotional ammunition for any actor.

Throughout Faustus’s heart rending speech, he constantly switches between begging for forgiveness and attempting to come to terms with what will happen to him, half way through he has an entire line of the speech devoted to a simple, No, no:” After he asks the hills to fall on him and hide him from the “heavy wrath of God” the ‘no’s are packed with emotion, creating a break in the rhythm of the speech and creating pauses, slowing the pace of the soliloquy and allowing an actor to place a break in his voice. The way Marlowe writes makes it easy for any person to read the speech and be able to pour emotion into it, with barley any effort at all.

The langue itself is full of techniques such as personification, Faustus talks about how he wishes the cloud to “vomit forth into the air” creating vivid imagery and the harsh consonant sounds followed by soft vowels almost creates the image itself when spoken. In conclusion, it does seem obvious that Marlowe has written Doctor Faustus with the objective of creating as much impact on stage as possible. The sounds, stresses and imagery add to the ebb and flow of the language, truly making Marlowe one of the greatest playwrights of the Elizabethan age.