The comic scenes in Christopher Marlowe’s (1564-93) “Doctor Faustus” serve several purposes. Providing comic relief, contrasting with the serious and dark tone of the rest of the play, and highlighting the theme of morality. Here is a point-to-point discussion of their functions:
1. Comic relief:
The play deals with serious themes such as sin, damnation, and the human condition, which can be heavy and intense. The comic scenes, on the other hand, provide moments of levity and humor, giving the audience a break from the heavier themes and allowing them to relax and enjoy themselves. “Doctor Faustus” serves as a source of comic relief, providing moments of humor amidst the darker themes of the play. For example, in Act 1, Scene 4, Wagner, Faustus’s servant, engages in a comic dialogue with a clown, where they discuss Faustus’s magical powers:
Wagner: “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God, And tasted the eternal joys of heaven”
This exchange between Wagner and the clown creates a comedic effect as Wagner exaggerates his suffering. But the clown’s witty responses add levity to the scene.
More Notes: Doctor Faustus
The comic scenes also serve as a form of social commentary, satirizing various aspects of Elizabethan society such as the education system, the legal system, and the Church. For example, the scene with the horse courser pokes fun at the ignorance of people who think they know more than they do, while the scene with the Pope and his court satirizes the corruption and excesses of the Catholic Church.
The comic scenes often contain ironic juxtapositions of the serious and the absurd, highlighting the contrast between Faustus’s quest for knowledge and power and the mundane concerns of the people he encounters. For example, in the scene with the clown, Faustus is trying to summon the devil while the clown is more interested in getting a drink.
The comic scenes also foreshadow Faustus’s eventual damnation by highlighting his moral degeneration and increasing detachment from the world around him. For example, the scene with the peasants shows Faustus using his powers to play tricks on them, while the scene with the horse courser shows him using his powers to cheat.
The comic scenes also serve to develop the characters of Faustus and his companions. For example, the scenes with Wagner and the scholars show their intellectual curiosity and their eagerness to learn from Faustus, while the scenes with the clowns and the horse courser show Faustus’s growing arrogance and disdain for those he sees as beneath him.
The comic scenes in “Doctor Faustus” serve a variety of functions, from providing comic relief to offering social commentary and developing the characters and themes of the play.