Analysis of Closing Speech in Dr. Faustus
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Analysis of Dr. Faustus' Closing Speech
Doctor Faustus’ closing speech is unquestionably the most emotional scene in Dr. Faustus. His mind moves from idea to idea in desperation. It highlights the many times that Faustus could have repented, but did not. Yet he shows remorse, calling upon the Christian view that all who repent will be saved, however, this does not hold true for Faustus, indicating that Marlowe is not writing this scene from a Christian point of view.
Faustus’ mind is fraught with despair in his final, closing speech. It jumps frantically from thought to thought: one moment he is begging time to stop, or slow down, the next second, he is pleading to Christ for mercy and salvation. He asks to be hidden, the next instant he is asking for his punishment in hell to last ‘A hundred thousand [years], and at last be saved’ (1.13.95). These various attempts to escape his imminent doom ultimately lead to him to realise that the situation is entirely his fault, just before midnight, he finally realises to ‘curse [him] self’ (1.13.106). This extremely passionate remorse leads to a recurring theme in the play, namely, the reasons behind him not repenting at earlier stages.
Faustus’ arrogance, perhaps, is the chief reason behind the rejection of penitence. He deceives himself into believing either hell is not so bad, or that it does not exist at all. Perhaps he is afraid of Mephastophilis tearing his body apart. Even close to the end, in the penultimate scene, Faustus is seen, eager to ‘confirm/ [His] former vow’ (1.12.62-63). This suggests that Faustus’ delusion continues until his time is up, perhaps he has served the devil for so long he has lost any thought of breaking free of his pact.
In the speech, Faustus turns to Christ, asking that the Christian doctrine that repentance can be accepted at any time in one’s life be granted to save him. Significantly, he is not rescued. This shows that this play is not written from an entirely Christian perspective, as Faustus would have been saved. However, it could be argued that something within Faustus ‘pulls [him] down’ (1.13.71) from leaping ‘up to [his] God’ (1.13.71), and therefore keeping the Christian principle intact.
The pathetic actions that Faustus performs when he gets ultimate power seem to indicate that Faustus has wasted his soul.
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However, in his last soliloquy, he realises that it was all in vain. Only at this point does he attempt, seriously, to repent, however, his time, dramatized by the clock strikes, is up. Doctor Faustus finishes his speech with the saying, ‘I’ll burn my books’ (1.13.125), symbolising the Renaissance, as it was very typical of sorcerers, when relinquishing their art to do so.
Marlowe, Christopher. "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Eds. M.H. Abrams et. al. New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 1993.
Faustus’s final speech is the most emotionally powerful scene in the play, as his despairing mind rushes from idea to idea. One moment he is begging time to slow down, the next he is imploring Christ for mercy. One moment he is crying out in fear and trying to hide from the wrath of God, the next he is begging to have the eternity of hell lessened somehow. He curses his parents for giving birth to him but then owns up to his responsibility and curses himself. His mind’s various attempts to escape his doom, then, lead inexorably to an understanding of his own guilt.
The passion of the final speech points to the central question in Doctor Faustus of why Faustus does not repent. Early in the play, he deceives himself into believing either that hell is not so bad or that it does not exist. But, by the close, with the gates of hell literally opening before him, he still ignores the warnings of his own conscience and of the old man, a physical embodiment of the conscience that plagues him. Faustus’s loyalty to Lucifer could be explained by the fact that he is afraid of having his body torn apart by Mephastophilis. But he seems almost eager, even in the next-to-last scene, to reseal his vows in blood, and he even goes a step further when he demands that Mephastophilis punish the old man who urges him to repent. Marlowe suggests that Faustus’s self-delusion persists even at the end. Having served Lucifer for so long, he has reached a point at which he cannot imagine breaking free.
In his final speech, Faustus is clearly wracked with remorse, yet he no longer seems to be able to repent. Christian doctrine holds that one can repent for any sin, however grave, up until the moment of death and be saved. Yet this principle does not seem to hold for Marlowe’s protagonist. Doctor Faustus is a Christian tragedy, but the logic of the final scene is not Christian. Some critics have tried to deal with this problem by claiming that Faustus does not actually repent in the final speech but that he only speaks wistfully about the possibility of repentance. Such an argument, however, is difficult to reconcile with lines such as:
O, I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?
. . .
One drop of blood would save my soul, half a drop: ah my Christ—
Faustus appears to be calling on Christ, seeking the precious drop of blood that will save his soul. Yet some unseen force—whether inside or outside him—prevents him from giving himself to God.
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 dominates 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. As the Chorus says in its final speech: