The Role of Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus
To adequately describe the role that Helen plays in Doctor Faustus, it is necessary not only to look at the scene in which she features, but also all the instances that Faustus takes some form of pleasure from physical and sensual things. We need to do this because this is what Helen is symbolic of; she represents the attractive nature of evil in addition to the depths of depravity that Faustus has fallen to.
It is fair to say that Faustus represents the quintessential renaissance man - it is his thirst for knowledge that drives him into his pact with Mephastophilis, indeed it is the Evil Angel that best summarises this:
Go forward, Faustus, in the famous art,
Wherein all nature's treasury is contained:
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.
Scene I, lines 74-77
It is the restless spirit of the renaissance that drives Faustus to seek knowledge. He has already attained what he can through more conventional means, his "bills (are) hung up as monuments", and his "common talk found aphorisms". Faustus compares himself to the most famous figures of the classical period; to Hippocrates, to Aristotle and to Galen. He sees himself as having come to the end of what he can learn through his human tools; he needs something that will allow him to move outside the realm of nature, something supernatural. This is the reason why he came into contact with Mephastophilis, as he sought to use the new power that would come to him to further his own knowledge. It has been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely - this is what has happened to Faustus. He ceases to become the seeker of knowledge, but becomes a seeker of pleasure. One of the first things he wants is a wife:
... but leaving
off this, let me have a wife, the fairest maid in Germany, for I
am wanton and lascivious, and cannot live without a wife.
Scene 5, lines 139-141
This marks the descent of Faustus from the intellectual seeking pleasures of the mind, to the hedonist seeking more sensual pleasures.
The appearance of Helen not only represents the fall from high minded intellectualism, but also the seduction of the classical, pagan, world. Faustus' desire to return to the ancient world is represented by not only Helen, the most beautiful woman that the ancient world produced, but also by the presence of the scholars. Classical Greece is supposed to be a time of great thinkers, plays and writers, so Faustus desires to go to this time. Helen's arrival is attended by the scholars, people of learning, who, by their dumb-foundedness, show the beauty of Helen:
Since we have seen the pride of Nature's works,
And only paragon of excellence,
Let us depart; and for this glorious deed
Happy and lest be Faustus evermore.
Scene 12, lines 21-24
It is the somewhat tame verse that these scholars supply that shows that...