In this selection of lines, Dr. Faustus both casts aside traditional learning in favor of the dark arts and contemplates how he will use his powers, once acquired. In this scene, both Faustus and Valdes speak in iambic pentameter. While this may be due to iambic pentameter being “the norm” of plays and writing at the time, it is noteworthy as Marlowe’s use of it is not consistent throughout the play. For example, the seven deadly sins speak in prose and Faustus’ iambic pentameter breaks down when he encounters them (2.3.125,132,139). In this scene, Faustus’ iambic pentameter serves both to mask and betray his specious logic. His rhetoric proves his scholarship, and as he delivers his speech, the eloquence makes his argument sound convincing while simultaneously inviting further examination. Upon examination, it becomes clear that his logic is self-serving.
In terms of style, Faustus’ argument and its progression is logical, yet incorrect. Before Valdes and Cornelius enter, Faustus fantasizes about how he will use his newfound powers. Once they arrive, he outlines why scholarly learning is purposeless, however, Valdes’ speech reveals the true desire underlying dark magic, power
This passage brings up several themes that continue throughout Marlowe’s play and, moreover, characterize Faustus. The first is scholarship: Faustus asserts that “philosophy is odious and obscure… law and physic are for petty wits… Divinity is the basest of the three” (1.1.107-9), seemingly having arrived at an answer to the question posed in his opening monologue: essentially, what is the goal of scholarship. Faustus is allergic to boundaries, evidenced in his desire to learn magic and his reasons for shunning scholarship. He views traditional learning as limited and tears down its purpose through poor logic, tying into the next theme, free will vs. predestination.
The question of free will vs. predestination is one that lingers throughout Marlowe’s play and is never clearly answered. It is introduced in this passage through Faustus’ logic, or, rather, lack of it. Faustus’ language, as he gives his reasons for being drawn to magic and abandoning traditional learning, demonstrates his incorrect logic and poses the question of free will vs. predestination. One could read Faustus’ logic as proof of free will, as a conscious choice to mislead oneself, or as proof of predestination, as proof of Faustus as a tragic hero, his inherent fatal flaw being his inability to examine his own arguments: in essence, that Faustus was fated to make the choice he made.
Finally is the theme of power: its fetishization vs. its reality. Both Faustus and Valdes fetishize power in this scene, although their fantasies of power differ slightly. Faustus’ fantasies are strange and scattered while Valdes’ are more distilled. Faustus first imagines ordering spirits to “ransack the ocean for orient pearl”(1.1.84), then “read me strange philosophy” (1.1.87),then “fill the public schools with silk” (1.1.91). It is difficult to discern a uniting theme in his vision, other than power itself and an obsession with exoticism. Valdes’ language, on the other hand, is less ambiguous; it is language of subjugation: “make”, “obey”, “subjects”, “serviceable” (1.1.120-4).
In reality, Faustus uses his power, once acquired, for very little. In this passage, he lays out his vision of “orient pearl” and “all corners of the new found world” (1.1.85) yet only travels to Italy. He envisions using magic to “wall all Germany with brass” (1.1.89) yet, ultimately, only uses it for tricks and stunts. The contrast between Faustus’ fantasies of power and the reality as it plays out serves to highlight the hypocrisy of his logic. He criticizes traditional scholarship for being limiting and extols magic for being limitless, yet none of his actions live up to the extravagant scenarios he envisions in this passage.
Finally, this passage situates itself in time through both Faustus’ and Valdes’ use of “the new world” as the paradigm of life without limits. Marlowe wrote the play in 1592, only 100 years after Columbus’ voyage to America, and his characters’ language in this passage both exoticizes and mystifies the world beyond Europe. Europe is the land of scholarship and, by extension (according to Faustus’ logic), boundaries. Faustus literally suggest walling off Germany while Valdes hypothesizes America as the location of the mythical golden fleece. The new world is, by contrast to Europe, limitless.