Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, Scenes 6-13: Discussion Ideas and Possible Paper Topics
1) Marlowe mixes comic and tragic scenes in a fairly predictable fashion until roughly midway through the play. Why does he move between these two modes of affective response to the world? Consider the effect on each mode of the audience's growing awareness that the other is coming soon. Some of the audience's response to events as either comic or tragic depends on whether they perceive the events as "folly" or "crime," ordinary foolishness that comes with being human and fallible, or dangerous violations of important cultural norms which cannot be transgressed without terrible costs. Try switching the values you impute to the scenes, considering "tragic" scenes as foolish and "comic" scenes as criminal. What non-obvious things might really be at stake there?
2) Rafe and Robin, as characters who "spin-off" from the Wagner-Clown scene, illustrate the spread of "magic" through the less educated population of the city. How might this be an illustration of the flight of any fad or fashion or mode of thought from the court-center to the countryside at large? Are Rafe and Robin merely early examples of the modern "Consumer" who pursues whatever is attractively new and promising advantages over what tradition dictates? How might their "shopping," or "shoplifting" of the tavern-keeper's goblet, be understood in terms of Marlowe's satire on English culture? Could theater, itself, be implicated in the spread of the Early Modern Consumer as a personality type?
3) The "Pope" and the "Emperor" pose some problems for the "comic/tragic" judgment (see #1 above and this schematic of the scenes' oscillation between the two modes). Their roles are culturally significant, but the play treats them as less than serious people for at least part, or all of the scene. Once again, surface appearances become the focus of Faustus' "magic," but the surfaces he manipulates include the most powerful people in Europe. What does this say about the true nature of the real Pope's and Emperor's power? Both the Pope and Emperor, as well as the Emperor's Knight, might be treated as inscribed audiences for Faustus' magic. What do they teach us to do as witnesses of the illusions we see on stage? How does that affect our independence from or collaboration with Faustus' magic?
4) One of Wagner's last speeches reveals that Faustus has made him his heir and has given him all his books. These would include those volumes given Faustus by Mephisophilis, supposedly the source of the conjuring formulae which Faustus uses to make his magic. What problem does this pose for Wagner, and for the audience? Keep in mind the "spread of magic" problem in #2 above. If we define magic as the play shows it to us, as new ideas, belief in magical thinking, willingness to seek power through prohibited new fashions, etc., the play's audience will leave the theater with a head full of "magic." What is Marlowe suggesting we do with it?
5) One of Faustus' last lines exclaims, "I'll burn my books!" He does not have time to do so, of course (see #4 above), but would that make any difference to the situation in which Faustus finds himself? Is it a problem caused by possession of certain texts and recitation of certain incantations (remember what Mephistophilis tells him in Scene 3), or is the source of the problem somewhere else?