Explain this quotation from Dr. Faustus. Mephastophilis: "Marriage is but a ceremonial toy." What did Mephastophilis mean?


This quotation is part of an early discussion between Faustus and Mephistopheles regarding what Faustus will be able to receive in exchange for his soul. Faustus has achieved everything one could expect academically, and he even has some fame for curing towns of the plague. When he sells his soul, he and the audience would expect that even greater joys or honors would be his. One of the more poignant elements in this play is in selling his soul; Faustus is really seeking something something that "[s]tretcheth as far as doth the mind of man" (2.1). His ambitions, however, become increasingly base.

Here, this young scholar who has likely spent far too much time with his books thinks that his happiness will be secured if he finds a pretty wife. Mephistopheles, however, cannot give him a woman who will love him, but instead conjures a devil dressed like a woman (and of course the irony is increased in Elizabethan staging since a boy actor dressed like a woman would be used to suggest a devil dressed like a wife). Perhaps Faustus is intimidated even by this, for he says she is too like a prostitute for him, suggesting his innocence and even nerdy scholarly hesitation. The scene is made more ironic by the subplot in which Robin and Rafe seek to conjure their own devils so they can see the pretty maidens dance naked.

To suggest that marriage is a ceremonial toy is to place these debased forms of eros in contrast to a sacramental act. In marriage, Faustus would find love and companionship and, perhaps, a greater source of happiness than he achieves through the loss of his soul. Since Mephistopheles cannot compel another human to love Faustus, he degrades the idea of marriage and makes Faustus think it has little value.

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