Wednesday, 7 March 2018

How would you justify the comic scenes in the play Doctor Faustus ?

Marlowe's 'Dr. Faustus' has often been the butt of criticism as being a play that has a beginning and ending but no middle. To a certain extent, a casual reading of the play seems to justify this criticism. The middle sections of the play seem to be completely out of context of the play as a whole in terms of tone, mood and subject matter. It has been suggested that the middle sections are irrelevant interpolations and composed not by Marlowe but included as later substitutions by Thomas Nash or by Samuel Rowley.

comic scene in dr faustus

However, the middle scenes do serve several functions. The first one is that of the structure. Marlowe's play covers a massive time span of twenty-four years between the time Faustus signs the bond with the devil and his final state of damnation. The dramatist had to fill in this gap with some action between the two major episodes of the play. Further, these middle scenes also serve a thematic function. These scenes show Faustus using his powers- using them trivially so as to morally justify the ending.

Before going into further detail of the comic synthesis in ‘Doctor Faustus' it would be worthwhile to look into the play as a whole.The first comic scene (Act I, Scene II) takes place between Wagner and two Scholars. Wagner here parodies the process of reasoning adopted by Scholars whose discussions he has often heard at his master's house. While the Scholars have asked an innocent question as to the whereabouts of Faustus, Wagner tries to puzzle them by his answers. There is little doubt regarding Wagner's prepared with that has beyond question been sharpened by his having been within the service of a good scholar at whose house he should are over hearing learned discussions of assorted subjects

The next comic scene (Act I, Scene IV) pertains to Wagner and the clown. Wagner wishes to engage the clown as his servant and, referring to the poverty and the need of the clown, says that the clown is so hungry that “he would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, though it were blood-raw". The clown is not utterly stupid and so he refuses to accept such a proposition. If he must give his soul to the devil for the sake of food, he will insist on the mutton being “well roasted” and being served “with good sauce”. Funny though this scene is, the clown displays more intelligence than Faustus in rejecting the proposal for selling his soul to the devil.

There is much humour in the clown's fear at the appearance of the two devils, and his uttering a curse on them after they are gone. It is amusing also to hear him wishing to be changed into a flea so that he may be able to tickle the pretty women. Then there is the parade of the Seven Deadly Sins the individual comments made by these Sins and the witty responses of Faustus certainly evoke laughter from the audience.

However, the comic scenes that follow are most unsatisfactory. There the comedy degenerates into farce. The humour there is crude and almost vulgar. We revolt against these scenes and can only console ourselves by the thought that Marlowe himself did not write them. Faustus's harassment of the Pope (in Act III, Scene I), when, having been rendered invisible by Mephistophilisthe; the scenes concerning Robin and Ralph, the two ostlers- all these are far removed - from the type of writing that we normally associate with a dramatist of Marlowe's calibre.

In Act IV, Scene III, we have a touch of comedy when Faustus makes a pair of horns growing on the head of a Knight who has been insolent towards him. Faustus removes the horns at the request of the Emperor but warns the Knight to be more respectful to scholars in future.

Lastly, there is the scene (Act IV, Scene IV) of Faustus's dealings with a Horse-courser. The humour here arises from the manner in which a horse is sold to the Horse-courser for forty dollars and the Subsequent happenings where the horse simply vanishes, where Faustus’ leg is apparently pulled off by the Horse-courser who finally settles the issue by paying a heavy compensation at Faustus’ loss of a leg, All these are sheer foolery, buffoonery, and horse-play. The fun here is the crudest, and we revolt against this sort of thing.

The comic scenes of 'Doctor Faustus, from another point of view, serve to portray the gradual degradation of Faustus’ downfall. The comic underplot further reduces the main plot of Marlowe's drama to absurdity. But then in ‘Dr. Faustus, Marlowe's chief interest was in portraying his hero as one who dreamt of commanding the powers of heaven and earth and yet found that he can check the movement of the starts when death approached. In Faustus’ vain rebellion there is comedy in his fall from grace to irreconcilable tragedy - a synthesis that Marlowe visualized in the play one that is unprecedented in English drama.

It would be therefore injustice on our part to declare that the comic scenes in ‘Dr. Faustus are irrelevant interpolations. It is a fact that structurally, the middle part suffers from certain deficiencies and seems out of harmony with the rest of the play, but these scenes certainly help us understand the disenchanted vision of the aspiring