Dr Faustus

Discuss Marlowe’s use of language in this passage (Act 5, Scene 2, ll. 66-98) and how it contributes to the characterisation of Faustus.

From the outset, the diction, such as Faustus’s initial address to himself in the second person, and the assonance of ‘now’ and thou’ establish the central character as proud and egotistical. The Ovid quotation reinforces the impression of a scholarly but arrogant show-off since the reference is not just ironic - the lover wanting to prevent the sun rising is very different to one on the brink of damnation – but knowingly so. The repetition of individual words (‘see’, ‘rise’) plus the repetition of concepts (‘ever’/‘never’ and ‘perpetual’/’perpetually’) hammer home the urgency of his plight and the inevitability of eternal damnation. The chiming of the clock is reflected in both active verbs (‘run’, ‘vomit’) and the emphasized futility of the alliterative command ‘stand still… spheres’. So, the diction and internal rhyme could support the severely moralising chorus’s Christian interpretation of a flawed man fully deserving his fate.

The magnificently flexible metre encourages a more nuanced view, however. Thus the staccato (largely spondaic) opening lines make terror audible. Overall, any comfort from the regularity of iambic pentameters is totally lost, with both longer lines (line 80’s alexandrine ending ‘Ah, my Christ’) and short ones (‘No, no!’) encapsulating agony as well as desperation. Broken lines abound - remarkably, there are two caesuras in line 76 alone. This contrasts with frequent enjambment (‘but/A year’) so the rhythm is alternately slowing down (Faustus wants time to stop) and speeding up (the - unjust? - moral universe will not halt the rush to damnation). The metre’s bravura therefore enshrines the problem of understanding the extent of Faustus’s culpability. For example, the striking opposition of line 78’s two halves encapsulates the debates around predestination and God’s justice. Explaining ‘who pulls...