The Concept of Time in Dr. Faustus

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  • Topic: Faust, Clock, Time
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  • Published : May 10, 2013
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Twenty Four: A study of time in Doctor Faustus

The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is a play by Christopher Marlowe written in the late 16th century, based on the Faust story, in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. The idea of an individual selling his or her soul to the devil for knowledge is an old motif in Christian folklore, one that had become attached to the historical persona of Johannes Faustus, a disreputable astrologer who lived in Germany sometime in the early 1500s.

The play is written in blank verse and as in many Elizabethan plays, there is a chorus that does not interact with the other characters but rather provides an introduction and conclusion to the play and gives an introduction to the events that have unfolded at the beginning of some acts.

In the story Doctor Faustus, the famously brilliant German scholar, becomes disenchanted with traditional knowledge: that of logic, law, medicine and religion, as he believes they have nothing more to give to him. He then turns to necromancy and, aided by Valdes and Cornelius, he manages to summon Mephistophilis, a devil. Despite Mephistophilis’s warnings about hell, Faustus tells the devil to return to Lucifer, his master, with an offer of Faustus’ soul in exchange for twenty-four years of service from Mephistophilis.

It is this particular analogy that I will speak of today. The time period of twenty-four years, serves to represent the recurring period of twenty-four hours in a day. Strengthening this theory, Mephistophilis meets Faustus in his study at midnight to buy his soul and in the last scene the devils arrive to take away Faustus's soul as soon as the clock strikes twelve, it is an evident pattern that Marlowe highlights.

According to the critic Joseph Candido, this analogy is brought to light most perceptibly in the final scene of the play. When the final night of Faustus’ life comes,...
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