Variation and contrast are vital aspects of Christopher Marlowe's play The Tragical History of Doctor
Faustus used to sustain the attention of his audience. Marlowe employs these methods to a great extent in
his play producing a variety of effects. Not only do these techniques increase and maintain interest in the
audience, they are also used to increase suspense, highlight key themes, prominent issues and didacticism,
develop characters and the plot.
The frequent variations in mood throughout the play increase and sustain the audience's interest. Though
the drama is labeled "a tragical history" Marlowe utilizes comic relief. In doing so, he lightens the mood of
the play and his audience with particular scenes. Constant misery is trying on an audience's attention as
human nature demands comic relief throughout a tragedy. The play begins with a mood of splendor and
ambition, initially capturing the audience as Faustus describes how he will use is his newfound power. The
protagonist discusses his aims:
"I'll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,
And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,
And reign the sole king of all our provinces..."
Though sympathy becomes a dominant feature of the mood as Faustus prepares to sell his soul, the mood
darkens with despair and horror by the end of the play. Comedy arises with the foolishness as Faustus
plays practical jokes and with the ridiculous antics and expressions of his servants Wagner, Robin and
Ralph. The humour is shown by the ridiculousness of Faustus' practical joke played on the horse-courser:
Horse-courser: "So-ho, ho! so-ho, ho! [Holla's in his ear.] No, will you not wake? I'll make you wake ere I
go. [Pulls Faustus by the leg, and pulls it away.]..."
Faustus: "...O, my leg, my leg!"
However, the principle mood of the play is tragedy and even within this comical scene protrudes lines of
great tragedy and Faustus' inner conflict.
"What dost think I am a horse-doctor?...
What art thou, Faustus, but a man condemn'd to die?"
The tragedy continues throughout the play as Faustus struggles with his inner conflict as to repent or
continue practicing dark arts, and with the foreshadowing providing knowledge that the protagonist will
eventually be sent to hell and be deprived of the eternal bliss promised by heaven. The variations in mood
from tragedy to lighter moods of ambition, comedy and splendor allows for increased appeal and sustained
interest in the audience.
In addition to lightening the mood, the variation from tragic to comical scenes effectively slows the pace of
the drama, thus increasing and sustaining interest in many ways. The scenes of comic relief are often used
to provide suspense, prohibiting the audience from immediately knowing what will come next in the tragic
hero's moral conflict. This significantly slows the pace of a very fast drama. For example, Scene IV is quite
humoristic in describing Wagner's dealings with the clown but can be seen as delaying the inevitable
damnation of the protagonist by giving his soul to the devil. As twenty-four years pass within a three-hour
play, emphasis on frequent comical moments provides the suspense and comic relief needed to maintain the
interest of the audience whilst still highlighting the comparative shortness of his time on earth to all
The variation of tragic scenes to comic interludes also serves to add information and highlight the key
themes of the drama, increasing the didactic quality of the play. The main task of the comic interludes is to
show the ridiculousness of Faustus selling his soul to the devil. He begins the play with great ambitions for
his power but as the play progresses he resorts to petty acts of sorcery and practical jokes. For example the
mockery made of the Pope in Scene VII, with an invisible Faustus stealing the Popes meals and hitting him.
The Pope says:
"How now! who's that which snatched the meat from me? will no man look? - My lord, this dish was sent
to me from the Cardinal of Florence."
The foolishness of these scenes also portrays Marlowe's intended affect of didacticism, teaching the
audience how to act in a morally challenging situation. All the comic scenes show Faustus' decline,
emphasizing the themes of the problems of human ambition, the price of power and the Christian themes of
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