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Act I, Scene 1
Faustus is seen in his study, where he is examining various branches of learning in order to choose a particular category of knowledge in which to specialize. He is drawn first to logic but discovers that he has already attained great proficiency in it. The same applies to medicine: his reputation as a physician is known all over the world. However, he cannot revive the dead. He finds the study of law equally dull and limited, suitable only to a man who is keen on making money. So Faustus rejects the study of law, too. Finally, he examines divinity, the most noble of all branches of knowledge. Opening the Bible, he reads about sin and death and is disillusioned. He reasons that sin is inevitable and, therefore, that eternal death must be inevitable. So he bids adieu to divinity, because it teaches a doctrine of fatalism.
The study of magic appears to be the best choice. Magic opens to Faustus “a world of profit and delight/ of power, of honor, of omnipotence.”
Having opted for the pursuit of magic, Faustus sends word through Wagner, his servant, to Valdes and Cornelius, two German experts in magic. A discussion with them will be of great help to Faustus. It is at this stage that Faustus is visited by the Good Angel and the Bad Angel. The Good Angel admonishes Faustus to discard the book on magic and to read the Bible instead. The Bad Angel advises him to proceed with the study of magic and to become the Lord of the universe. Faustus speculates on the things he will do with the power his forbidden knowledge will bring him.
When Valdes and Cornelius arrive, they discuss Faustus’ decision to study magic. They advise Faustus to be persistent in his study, and all the wealth and power he desires will be his. Faustus decides to begin his practice that very night.
Faustus is anxious to commit himself to a pursuit which is worthy of his wholehearted devotion and attention. Faustus’ review of his previous pursuits is a dramatic way of telescoping his past so that the audience can form an impression of his character. There is something immature about Faustus’ enthusiasm, impatience and dissatisfaction. He stands on the frontier of human knowledge. He feels the limitations of human knowledge and goes in quest of something more meaningful in the form of applied knowledge. In other words, the knowledge that Faustus wants to pursue is knowledge that can be put to use. It is knowledge that will bestow upon him the power to effect mighty transformations in the universe around him. It is small wonder, therefore, that Faustus rejects law and medicine as subjects meant “for petty wits” (for simple minds). He rejects divinity as the “basest of the three.”
Faustus rejects philosophy and divinity for magic. He chooses magic because it promises to open before him new vistas and new horizons. He finds “a demi-god” in the “sound magician.” Faustus wants to be deified in one manner or another.
Faustus ignores the Good Angel’s admonition to “lay that damned book aside.” The Bad Angel offers him an enticement, which is difficult for Faustus to resist or to reject. He holds out the hope that he will be “on earth as Jove is in the sky.” Faustus begins to envisage a hierarchy of spirits, answering his queries and serving his whims. They will “fly to India for gold,” “ransack the ocean for orient pearl” and “search all corners of the new found world/ for pleasant fruits and princely delicacies.” He will get all this and much more through the deeds of his “servile spirits.”
Faustus finds in Valdes and Cornelius two experienced practitioners of black magic. It is through their persuasion that he embraces magic. They assure Faustus that as a result of their knowledge and expertise, all nations will canonize them and that “the spirits of every element” will serve them. These words of assurance cheer Faustus’ soul. Faustus is initiated into the rudiments of the black arts. He is now enjoined to “conjure in some lusty grove,/ And have these joys in full possession.” Faustus, by the end of the scene, has made a decisive choice to practice necromancy. The seeds of his tragic damnation are sown.