“The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe is a play that explores the story of a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power. One of the noteworthy features of the play is the use of comic scenes that contrast with the tragic events unfolding on stage. These scenes serve several functions within the play, including providing comic relief, highlighting the folly of Faustus’s actions, and offering commentary on the social and political context of the time.
The comic scenes in “Doctor Faustus” primarily serve to provide relief from the intense and dark tone of the rest of the play. These moments of levity allow the audience to take a breath from the tension and drama that surrounds Faustus’s descent into damnation. For example, the scene in which Faustus conjures up a series of comedic illusions for the Pope and his followers provides a welcome moment of comic relief. The scene is farcical, with the Pope and his entourage comically confused and bewildered by the illusions that Faustus conjures up. The scene’s humor is heightened by the fact that Faustus’s illusions are merely a reflection of the Catholic Church’s own corrupt practices.
Moreover, the comic scenes also serve to highlight the folly of Faustus’s actions. Faustus’s arrogance and hubris are central to the play’s narrative, and the comic scenes often serve as a commentary on these traits. For instance, in the scene where Faustus conjures up a pair of horns for a group of peasants, he revels in his newfound power, but it also shows his arrogance and desire to display his powers to ordinary people. The humor in this scene is the fact that Faustus believes that he is frightening the peasants with his powers, while in reality, they are merely amused by his antics.
The comic scenes also offer social and political commentary on the time in which the play was written. “Doctor Faustus” was written in the late 16th century, a time of great social and political upheaval in England. The play offers a critique of the Catholic Church and the corruption within its ranks. The scene where Faustus conjures up illusions for the Pope and his entourage is a direct commentary on the Church’s corruption and hypocrisy. Additionally, the scene where Faustus plays tricks on the German Emperor, Charles V, reflects the political climate of the time, with England being threatened by the powerful and expansionist Habsburg Empire.
In conclusion, the comic scenes in “Doctor Faustus” serve several functions within the play. They provide relief from the intense and dark tone of the rest of the play, highlight the folly of Faustus’s actions, and offer social and political commentary on the time in which the play was written. By using humor and satire, Marlowe is able to create a complex and multifaceted work that engages with a range of themes and ideas.