Study Guide

Doctor Faustus What's Up With the Ending?

By Christopher Marlowe

What's Up With the Ending?

Once the ending of the play is all tied up and Faustus has been carted off to hell, the Chorus appears yet again for one last hurrah. After observing that "the branch that might have grown full straight" (we're looking at you, Faustus) has been cut down, they launch into the moral of the story.

Faustus's fall, they say, is a lesson to the wise "only to wonder at unlawful things, / Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits / To practice more than heavenly power permits" (Epilogue, ll. 6-8). On the surface, this seems pretty straightforward. After all, we probably could have figured out on our own that the lesson to be learned from Faustus's story was something along these lines—you know, "curiosity killed the cat" and all that.

But wait a minute. What the Chorus is actually saying here is a little bit different. The "deep things" that we're only supposed to "wonder at," yet not attempt to have, are the things that might entice us to "practice more than heavenly power permits"—in other words, to sin.

Now, if you think about it, the thing that tempts someone to sin is different for every person. For Faustus it was knowledge, but for some people, it might be money, or power, and so on. So the lesson to be learned from Faustus's fall turns out to be bigger than just a warning to smart dudes against forbidden knowledge.

After all, scholars or not, we're all like Faustus. We all have a weakness, something that we're tempted to act unethically just to possess. So maybe the lesson is a broader one, one that applies to us non-VIPs, too.