Doctor Faustus Scene 12 Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus Scene 12 Summary & Analysis

Faustus and Mephastophilis are with several scholars. One of them asks Faustus to conjure up Helen, the mythical Greek woman who was supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world. Faustus summons her. Helen walks across the stage, to the awe and delight of the scholars, who leave after Helen disappears.
While the scholars like to distinguish themselves from lower characters like Rafe and Robin, all they ask Faustus for is not anything noble or particularly learned, but simply a beautiful woman. Evidently, they are not so superior to the uneducated clowns.
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An old man enters and tries to attempt Faustus to repent. Faustus is enraged and shouts that he is damned and ought to die. Mephastophilis gives Faustus a dagger. The old man says he sees an angel over Faustus' head, offering him mercy. Faustus tells the man to leave him so he can think about his sins.
The old man plays a similar role to that of the Good Angel, urging Faustus to repent and telling him that redemption is still possible. For his part, Faustus seems at once despairing (much as Mephastophilis describes himself as being in despair) and yet preferring to wallow in that despair than to repent or recognize the beauty and love of God—a state of being described by the deadly sin of Sloth.
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Faustus says he wants to repent. In response, Mephastophilis calls him a traitor and threaten to “in piecemeal tear thy flesh,” (12, 59). Faustus apologizes and says he will re-confirm his vow to Lucifer. Faustus tells Mephastophilis to torment the old man for making him doubt his bargain, and then asks him to make Helen his lover, so that her “sweet embracings may extinguish clean” his anxieties about his deal with Lucifer.
Faustus again comes close to seeking God's mercy and redemption. At the mention of repentance, Mephastophilis threatens him, holding tight to the agreed-upon bargain. In the face of the fear of torture (which one might characterize as the fine print of his bargain with Lucifer), Faustus gives in. His faith in God is not great enough to overcome his fear of pain. His asking for Helen shows the extent to which the formerly great scholar now simply distracts himself with simple pleasures. And even he knows it—as he explicitly describes Helen as something he wants to help ease his anxieties about his bargain.
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Helen appears and Faustus begs for her kiss, asking her to “give me my soul again,” (12, 85). The old man re-enters. Faustus is obsessed with Helen's beauty, and the pair leave. The old man laments Faustus' miserable fate. A group of devils appear to torment the old man, who says that his faith in God will triumph over the devils.
Faustus seeks a “soul” through physical pleasure with Helen, rather than simply repenting his sins, showing the extent of his fall from grace. The old man, by contrast, puts his trust in God even as devils come to harm him.
Temptation, Sin, and Redemption Theme Icon
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