Doctor Faustus

Christopher Marlowe

Born in Canterbury in 1564, the same year as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe was an actor, poet, and playwright during the reign of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I (ruled 1558–1603). Marlowe attended Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University and received degrees in 1584 and 1587. Traditionally, the education that he received would have prepared him to become a clergyman, but Marlowe chose not to join the ministry. For a time, Cambridge even wanted to withhold his degree, apparently suspecting him of having converted to Catholicism, a forbidden faith in late-sixteenth-century England, where Protestantism was the state-supported religion. Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council intervened on his behalf, saying that Marlowe had ―done her majesty good service‖ in ―matters touching the benefit of the country.‖ This odd sequence of events has led some to theorize that Marlowe worked as a spy for the crown, possibly by infiltrating Catholic communities in France. After leaving Cambridge, Marlowe moved to London, where he became a playwright and led a turbulent, scandal-plagued life. He produced seven plays, all of which were immensely popular. Among the most well-known of his plays are Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, and Doctor Faustus. In his writing, he pioneered the use of blank verse—no rhyming lines of iambic pentameter—which many of his contemporaries, including William Shakespeare, later adopted. In 1593, however, Marlowe’s career was cut short. After being accused of heresy (maintaining beliefs contrary to those of an approved religion), he was arrested and put on a sort of probation. On May 30, 1593, shortly after being released, Marlowe became involved in a tavern brawl and was killed when one of the combatants stabbed him in the head. After his death, rumors were spread accusing him of treason, atheism, and homosexuality, and some people speculated that the tavern brawl might have been the work of government agents. Little evidence to support these allegations has come to light, however.

Doctor Faustus was probably written in 1592, although the exact date of its

composition is uncertain, since it was not published until a decade later. The idea of

an individual selling his or her soul to the devil for knowledge is an old motif in Christian folklore, one that had become attached to the historical persona of Johannes Faustus, a disreputable astrologer who lived in Germany sometime in the early 1500s. The immediate source of Marlowe’s play seems to be the anonymous German work Historia von D. Iohan Fausten of 1587, which was translated into English in 1592, and from which Marlowe lifted the bulk of the plot for his drama. Although there had been literary representations of Faust prior to Marlowe’s play, Doctor Faustus is the first famous version of the story. Later versions include the long and famous poem Faust by the nineteenth-century Romantic writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as well as operas by Charles Gounod and Arrigo Boito and a symphony by Hector Berlioz. Meanwhile, the phrase ―Faustian bargain‖ has entered the English lexicon, referring to any deal made for a short-term gain with great costs in the long run.

Plot Overview
Doctor Faustus, a well-respected German scholar, grows dissatisfied with the limits of traditional forms of knowledge—logic, medicine, law, and religion—and decides that he wants to learn to practice magic. His friends Valdes and Cornelius instruct him in the black arts, and he begins his new career as a magician by summoning up Mephastophilis, a devil. Despite Mephastophilis’s warnings about the horrors of hell, Faustus tells the devil to return to his master, Lucifer, with an offer of Faustus’s soul in exchange for twenty-four years of service from Mephastophilis. Meanwhile, Wagner, Faustus’s servant, has picked up some magical ability and uses it to press a clown named Robin into his service.

Mephastophilis returns to Faustus with word that Lucifer has accepted Faustus’s offer. Faustus experiences some misgivings and wonders if he should repent and save his soul; in the end, though, he agrees to the deal, signing it with his blood. As soon as he does so, the words ―Homo fuge,‖ Latin for ―O man, fly,‖ appear branded on his arm. Faustus again has second thoughts, but Mephastophilis bestows rich gifts on him and gives him a book of spells to learn. Later, Mephastophilis answers all of his questions about the nature of the world, refusing to answer only when Faustus asks him who made the universe. This refusal prompts yet another bout of misgivings in Faustus, but Mephastophilis and Lucifer bring in personifications of

the Seven Deadly Sins to prance about in front of Faustus, and he is impressed enough to quiet his doubts. Armed with his new powers and attended by Mephastophilis, Faustus begins to travel. He goes to the pope’s court in Rome, makes himself invisible, and plays a series of tricks. He disrupts the pope’s banquet by stealing food and boxing the pope’s ears. Following this incident, he travels through the courts of Europe, with his fame spreading as he goes. Eventually, he is invited to the court of the German emperor, Charles V (the enemy of the pope), who asks Faustus to allow him to see Alexander the Great, the famed fourth-century b.c. Macedonian king and conqueror. Faustus conjures up an image of Alexander, and Charles is suitably impressed. A knight scoffs at Faustus’s powers, and Faustus chastises him by making antlers sprout from his head. Furious, the knight vows revenge. Meanwhile, Robin, Wagner’s clown, has picked up some magic on his own, and with his fellow stablehand, Rafe, he undergoes a number of comic misadventures. At one point, he manages to summon Mephastophilis, who threatens to turn Robin and Rafe into animals (or perhaps even does transform them; the text isn’t clear) to punish them for their foolishness. Faustus then goes on with his travels, playing a trick on a horse-courser along the way. Faustus sells him a horse that turns into a heap of straw when ridden into a river. Eventually, Faustus is invited to the court of the Duke of Vanholt, where he performs various feats. The horse-courser shows up there, along with Robin, a man named Dick (Rafe in the A text), and various others who have fallen victim to Faustus’s trickery. But Faustus casts spells on them and sends them on their way, to the amusement of the duke and duchess. As the twenty-four years of his deal with Lucifer come to a close, Faustus begins to dread his impending death. He has Mephastophilis call up Helen of Troy, the famous beauty from the ancient world, and uses her presence to impress a group of scholars. An old man urges Faustus to repent, but Faustus drives him away. Faustus summons Helen again and exclaims rapturously about her beauty. But time is growing short. Faustus tells the scholars about his pact, and they are horrorstricken and resolve to pray for him. On the final night before the expiration of the twenty-four years, Faustus is overcome by fear and remorse. He begs for mercy, but it is too late. At midnight, a host of devils appears and carries his soul off to hell. In the morning, the scholars find Faustus’s limbs and decide to hold a funeral

try to influence Faustus’s behavior.The protagonist. Mephastophilis is ultimately as tragic a figure as Faustus. He seems to replace the good and evil angels.A character who stands outside the story. Wagner uses his master’s books to learn how to summon devils and work magic. in the first scene. and Mephastophilis’s master. Along with the old man and the bad angel. Wagner . and worldly might makes him willing to pay the ultimate price—his soul—to Lucifer in exchange for supernatural powers.A devil whom Faustus summons with his initial magical experiments. Lucifer . providing narration and commentary. Germany. Faustus’s initial tragic grandeur is diminished by the fact that he never seems completely sure of the decision to forfeit his soul and constantly wavers about whether or not to repent. His ambition is admirable and initially awesome. who. The old man urges Faustus to repent and to ask God for mercy. in many ways. Good Angel . regretful accounts of what the devils have lost in their eternal separation from God and his repeated reflections on the pain that comes with damnation. Faustus is a brilliant sixteenth-century scholar from Wittenberg. yet he ultimately lacks a certain inner strength. Chorus . his oftexpressed goal is to catch Faustus’s soul and carry it off to hell. with his moving. Faustus’s conscience and divided will between good and evil. Old Man . whose ambition for knowledge. The evil angel represents the evil half of Faustus’s conscience.A spirit that serves as the counterpart to the good angel and provides Faustus with reasons not to repent for sins against God. The Chorus was customary in Greek tragedy. the ruler of hell. He is unable to embrace his dark path wholeheartedly but is also unwilling to admit his mistake.Character List Faustus .Faustus’s servant. the good angel represents. Mephastophilis’s motivations are ambiguous: on the one hand. Evil Angel . . he actively attempts to dissuade Faustus from making a deal with Lucifer by warning him about the horrors of hell. wealth. Mephastophilis .The prince of devils.An enigmatic figure who appears in the final scene.A spirit that urges Faustus to repent for his pact with Lucifer and return to God. on the other hand.

Rafe appears as Dick (Robin’s friend and a clown) in B-text editions of Doctor Faustus. or innkeeper. to marvel at his achievements. Benvolio seeks revenge on Faustus and plans to murder him. Rafe . and Faustus makes antlers sprout from his head to teach him a lesson.A horse-trader who buys a horse from Faustus. though. The Scholars . The pope serves as both a source of amusement for the play’s Protestant audience and a symbol of the religious faith that Faustus has rejected. whose court Faustus visits. and his absurd behavior initially contrasts with Faustus’s grandeur. supported by the emperor.A clown who becomes Wagner’s servant. Bruno is captured by the pope and freed by Faustus. who teach him the art of black magic. like the clown. Horse-courser . Loyal to Faustus. The pope . and then to hear his agonized confession of his pact with Lucifer. Martino and Frederick . he is a ridiculous character. Robin and his friend Rafe learn some basic conjuring. provides a comic contrast to Faustus.A candidate for the papacy. Robin .Faustus’s colleagues at the University of Wittenberg. The knight is further developed and known as Benvolio in B-text versions of Doctor Faustus.The most powerful monarch in Europe. both magicians.The head of the Roman Catholic Church and a powerful political figure in the Europe of Faustus’s day. Bruno . As the play goes on.A German nobleman whom Faustus visits.A German nobleman at the emperor’s court. Marlowe includes Robin and Rafe to illustrate Faustus’s degradation as he submits to simple trickery such as theirs. Knight .Friends of Benvolio who reluctantly join his attempt to kill Faustus. Bruno appears only in B-text versions of Doctor Faustus. and a friend of Robin. the scholars appear at the beginning and end of the play to express dismay at the turn Faustus’s studies have taken. demonstrating that even the least scholarly can possess skill in magic. leading him to seek revenge. Faustus’s behavior comes to resemble that of the clown. . which vanishes after the horse-courser rides it into the water.An ostler.Two friends of Faustus. Duke of Vanholt .An ostler. The knight is skeptical of Faustus’s power.Clown . Martino and Frederick appear only in B-text versions of Doctor Faustus. who. Emperor Charles V . The clown’s antics provide comic relief. Valdes and Cornelius .

after setting his protagonist up as a grandly tragic figure of sweeping visions and immense ambitions. there is nonetheless a grandeur to Faustus as he contemplates all the marvels that his magical powers will produce. setting a pattern for the play in which he repeatedly approaches repentance only to pull back at the last moment. at other times. despite his lack of concern about the prospect of eternal damnation. because Marlowe. he does not know what to do with them. Why he fails to repent is unclear: -sometimes it seems a matter of pride and continuing ambition. selfaggrandizing man. He is an arrogant. Sometimes he tells himself that hell is not so bad and that one needs only ―fortitude‖.Analysis of Major Characters Faustus Faustus is the protagonist and tragic hero of Marlowe’s play. Other times. from the fact . reshaping the map of Europe (both politically and physically). and gaining access to every scrap of knowledge about the universe. He represents the spirit of the Renaissance. and while we already anticipate that things will turn out badly (the Chorus’s introduction. and we even feel sympathetic toward him. Meanwhile. with its rejection of the medieval. When we first meet Faustus. in part. petty nature. God-centered universe. yet prone to a strange. spends the middle scenes revealing Faustus’s true. But Faustus also possesses an obtuseness that becomes apparent during his bargaining sessions with Mephastophilis. Having decided that a pact with the devil is the only way to fulfill his ambitions. Marlowe suggests that this uncertainty stems. Faustus. even while conversing with Mephastophilis. Bullying Faustus is less difficult than it might seem. Faustus then blinds himself happily to what such a pact actually means. prepares us). capable of tremendous eloquence and possessing awesome ambition. but his ambitions are so grand that we cannot help being impressed. it seems that Mephastophilis simply bullies him away from repenting. if nothing else. at least early on in his acquisition of magic. He imagines piling up wealth from the four corners of the globe. sometimes a conviction that God will not hear his plea. is the personification of possibility. and its embrace of human possibility. he remarks to the disbelieving demon that he does not actually believe hell exists. he is just preparing to embark on his career as a magician. -Faustus is also beset with doubts from the beginning. He is a contradictory character. Once Faustus gains his long-desired powers. almost willful blindness and a willingness to waste powers that he has gained at great cost.

however. Faustus is restored to his earlier grandeur in his closing speech. Yet there is an odd ambivalence in Mephastophilis. although too late. / Abjure the Scriptures and his savior Christ. Now. playing tricks on yokels and performing conjuring acts to impress various heads of state. In a famous passage. but he himself is damned and speaks freely of the horrors of hell. Still. Mephastophilis insists. when Faustus remarks that the devil seems to be free of hell at a particular moment. Instead. with its hurried rush from idea to idea and its despairing. Indeed. and it is he who. he traipses around Europe. / We fly in hope to get his glorious soul‖ (3. a great man undone because his ambitions have butted up against the law of God. It is Mephastophilis who witnesses Faustus’s pact with Lucifer. until the Faustus of the first few scenes is entirely swallowed up in mediocrity. telling Faustus that ―when we hear one rack the name of God. Mephastophilis The character of Mephastophilis (spelled Mephistophilis or Mephistopheles by other authors) is one of the first in a long tradition of sympathetic literary devils. whom Faustus has renounced. more generally. throughout the play. during which Faustus’s desire for repentance finally wins out. as the knowledge of his impending doom restores his earlier gift of powerful rhetoric. and he regains his sweeping sense of vision. steps in whenever Faustus considers repentance to cajole or threaten him into staying loyal to hell. absolute power corrupts Faustus: once he can do everything. On the one hand. which includes figures like John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost and Johann von Goethe’s Mephistophilis in the nineteenth-century poem ―Faust. as he visits ever more minor nobles and performs ever more unimportant magic tricks. he openly admits it. Renaissance-renouncing last line. . The fields of possibility narrow gradually. ―I’ll burn my books!‖ He becomes once again a tragic hero.that desire for knowledge leads inexorably toward God. he no longer wants to do anything. Only in the final scene is Faustus rescued from mediocrity. Marlowe uses much of his finest poetry to describe Faustus’s final hours. He uses his incredible gifts for what is essentially trifling entertainment.47–49). the vision that he sees is of hell looming up to swallow him.‖ Marlowe’s Mephastophilis is particularly interesting because he has mixed motives. He seeks to damn Faustus. But. from his first appearance he clearly intends to act as an agent of Faustus’s damnation.

76–80) Again. In a Christian framework. Mephastophilis actually warns Faustus against making the deal with Lucifer. real and terrible. First. of course. for they are two overly proud Themes. nor am I out of it. but he consciously and even eagerly renounces obedience to him. Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. choosing instead to swear allegiance to the devil. however. who saw the face of God. which makes him and Mephastophilis kindred spirits. is ask God for forgiveness. theoretically. according to Christian belief. Sin. given that he is speaking to a demon— declares that he does not believe in hell. The play offers countless moments in which Faustus considers doing just that. urged on by the good angel on his shoulder . Think’st thou that I. the possibility of redemption is always open to him. Before the pact is sealed. Am not tormented with ten thousand hells In being deprived of everlasting bliss? (3. Thus. Redemption. as Faustus comes to know soon enough. one can almost sense that part of Mephastophilis does not want Faustus to make the same mistakes that he made. it deals with the themes at the heart of Christianity’s understanding of the world. however terrible Faustus’s pact with Lucifer may be. which Christianity defines as acts contrary to the will of God. even the worst deed can be forgiven through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. Faustus does so anyway. when Faustus blithely—and absurdly. indeed. died on the cross for humankind’s sins. and Damnation Insofar as Doctor Faustus is a Christian play. And tasted the eternal joys of heaven. Faustus commits what is in a sense the ultimate sin: not only does he disobey God. In an odd way. All that he needs to do. there is the idea of sin. But. who. It is appropriate that these two figures dominate Marlowe’s play.[w]hy this is hell. God’s son. In making a pact with Lucifer. Mephastophilis groans and insists that hell is.

the Byzantine emperor Justinian on law. Faustus. despite being a magician rather than a scientist (a blurred distinction in the sixteenth century).‖ While slightly simplistic. and theology. In creating this moment in which Faustus is still alive but incapable of being redeemed. were key. explicitly rejects the medieval model. In the Renaissance. in the final scene. theology was the queen of the sciences. In the Christian framework. personifications of Faustus’s conscience. in full Renaissance spirit. he goes through every field of scholarship. law. The Conflict Between Medieval and Renaissance Values Scholar R. and. not individual inquiry.or by the old man in scene 12—both of whom can be seen either as emissaries of God. and power. carrying with it a new emphasis on the individual. though. traditions. where redemption is no longer possible and where certain sins cannot be forgiven. to accept no limits. He resolves. The medieval world placed God at the center of existence and shunted aside man and the natural world. In the medieval model. The Renaissance was a movement that began in Italy in the fifteenth century and soon spread throughout Europe.M. this quotation does get at the heart of one of the play’s central themes: the clash between the medieval world and the world of the emerging Renaissance. Faustus decides to remain loyal to hell rather than seek heaven. tradition and authority. . Marlowe steps outside the Christian worldview in order to maximize the dramatic power of the final scene. or both. beginning with logic and proceeding through medicine. Each time. Faustus spends his final moments in a slightly different universe. Only at the end of his life does Faustus desire to repent. Faustus considers and rejects this medieval way of thinking. this turning away from God condemns him to spend an eternity in hell. Dawkins famously remarked that Doctor Faustus tells ―the story of a Renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price for being one. and on scientific inquiry into the nature of the world. But it is too late for him to repent. In the medieval academy. wealth. and the Bible on religion. he cries out to Christ to redeem him. quoting an ancient authority for each: Aristotle on logic. Galen on medicine. secular matters took center stage. In his opening speech in scene 1. But in this soliloquy. on classical learning. or authorities in his quest for knowledge. Having inhabited a Christian world for the entire play.

but he does not know what to do with it. and. might suggest a contrasting interpretation. Faustus is full of ideas for how to use the power that he seeks. modern spirit. though ambitious and glittering. a world free of God. he keeps his tragic hero squarely in the medieval world. By cutting himself off from the creator of the universe. this reading suggests. It is not that power has corrupted Faustus by making him evil: indeed. He imagines piling up great wealth. Though they may not be entirely admirable. before he agrees to the pact with Lucifer. He has gained the whole world. Instead of the grand designs that he contemplates early on. but his ambition is somehow sapped. and it is tempting to see in Faustus—as many readers have—a hero of the new modern world. one can argue that true greatness can be achieved only with God’s blessing. Marlowe may be suggesting that the new. In the Christian framework of the play. but his successors will go further than he and suffer less. as he descends from grand ambitions to petty conjuring tricks. Marlowe seems hostile toward the ambitions of Faustus. On the other hand. Everything is possible to him. Faustus’s behavior after he sells his soul hardly rises to the level of true wickedness. Power as a Corrupting Influence Early in the play. religion. he contents himself with performing conjuring tricks for kings and noblemen and takes a strange delight in using his magic to play practical jokes on simple folks. They lend a grandeur to Faustus’s schemes and make his quest for personal power seem almost heroic. his horizons seem to narrow.The play’s attitude toward the clash between medieval and Renaissance values is ambiguous. these plans are ambitious and inspire awe. Once Faustus actually gains the practically limitless power that he so desires. Faustus may pay a medieval price. gaining absolute power corrupts Faustus by making him mediocre and by transforming his boundless ambition into a meaningless delight in petty celebrity. Rather. where eternal damnation is the price of human pride. however. the disappointment and mediocrity that follow Faustus’s pact with the devil. Yet Marlowe himself was no pious traditionalist. but he also aspires to plumb the mysteries of the universe and to remake the map of Europe. as we have in modern times. if not sympathy. . as Dawkins notes. and the limits that these imposed on humanity. will lead only to a Faustian dead end. Faustus is condemned to mediocrity. a sense that is reinforced by the eloquence of his early soliloquies.

His internal struggle goes on throughout the play. which Marlowe intended not as a fantastical battle but rather as a realistic portrait of a human being with a will divided between good and evil. the real drama of the play. he delights in playing tricks on people: he makes horns sprout from the knight’s head and sells the horse-courser an enchanted horse. and even fools like the two ostlers. can learn enough magic to summon demons. as part of him of wants to do good and serve God. appearing everywhere in the story. conjures up grapes. mediocre . The good angel and the evil angel. or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. While these angels may be intended as an actual pair of supernatural beings. Angels and devils flit about. In this sense. contrasts. despite all the supernatural frills and pyrotechnics. and explores the cosmos on a dragon. which compels Faustus to commit to Mephastophilis but also to question this commitment continually. Magic and the Supernatural The supernatural pervades Doctor Faustus. they clearly represent Faustus’s divided will. the magic is almost incidental to the real story of Faustus’s struggle with himself. Faustus does not use them to do great deeds. Still. prideful scholar into a bored. but part of him (the dominant part. it is worth noting that nothing terribly significant is accomplished through magic. both of whom appear at Faustus’s shoulder in order to urge him in different directions. Robin and Rafe. Faustus plays tricks on people. magic spells are cast. symbolize this struggle. takes place within Faustus’s vacillating mind and soul. Such magical practical jokes seem to be Faustus’s chief amusement. as he first sells his soul to Lucifer and then considers repenting. and Marlowe uses them to illustrate Faustus’s decline from a great. but he does not fundamentally reshape the world. Practical Jokes Once he gains his awesome powers. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. it seems) lusts after the power that Mephastophilis promises. dragons pull chariots (albeit offstage). Instead. The magic power that Mephastophilis grants him is more like a toy than an awesome. Furthermore. earth-shaking ability.The Divided Nature of Man Faustus is constantly undecided about whether he should repent and return to God or continue to follow his pact with Lucifer.

symbolizes the sacrifice that Jesus. Faustus goes through a list of the major fields of human knowledge— logic. and theology—and cites for each an ancient authority (Aristotle. in his proud folly. symbolizing the permanent and supernatural nature of this pact. made on the cross. in which experimentation and innovation trump the assertions of Greek philosophers and the Bible. Meanwhile. Faustus. in favor of a more modern spirit of free inquiry. Blood Blood plays multiple symbolic roles in the play. He then rejects all of these figures in favor of magic. Faustus’s Rejection of the Ancient Authorities In scene 1. according to Christian belief. and Jerome’s Bible. of course. Prologue . characters.magician with no higher ambition than to have a laugh at the expense of a collection of simpletons. When Faustus signs away his soul. which prized authority above all else. fails to take this path to salvation. this sacrifice opened the way for humankind to repent its sins and be saved. Galen. This rejection symbolizes Faustus’s break with the medieval world. law. Justinian. he signs in blood. the evil angel urging him to follow his lust for power and serve Lucifer. medicine. symbolizing. Symbols Symbols are objects. however. respectively). figures. The Good Angel and the Evil Angel The angels appear at Faustus’s shoulder early on in the play—the good angel urging him to repent and serve God. Christ’s blood. perhaps. or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. which Faustus says he sees running across the sky during his terrible last night. his own body’s revolt against what he intends to do. part of which wants to do good and part of which is sunk in sin. The two symbolize his divided will. His blood congeals on the page.

21).8). the Chorus . Analysis: Prologue The Chorus’s introduction to the play links Doctor Faustus to the tradition of Greek tragedy. in which a chorus traditionally comments on the action. is significant. But this play. since it reflects a commitment to Renaissance values. the Chorus not only gives us background information about Faustus’s life and education but also explicitly tells us that his swelling pride will lead to his downfall. In the medieval era that preceded the Renaissance. It will involve neither love nor war. culminating in the birth of modern science in the work of men like Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. a boy whose father. the focus turned toward the study of humankind and the natural world. The way that the Chorus introduces Faustus. In the same way. Faustus became famous for his ability to discuss theological matters. but instead will trace the ―form of Faustus’ fortunes‖ (Prologue. a single actor. the Chorus tells us. The Prologue locates its drama squarely in the Renaissance world. Icarus did not heed his father’s warning and flew too close the sun. and how he was educated at Wittenberg. how he came to the town of Wittenberg to live with his kinsmen. The Prologue concludes by stating that Faustus is seated in his study. The Chorus chronicles how Faustus was born to lowly parents in the small town of Rhode. or black magic (Prologue. The Chorus adds that Faustus is ―swollen with cunning‖ and has begun to practice necromancy. Here. a famous German university. Although we tend to think of a chorus as a group of people or singers. After earning the title of doctor of divinity. he tells us. it can also be composed of only one character. enters and introduces the plot of the play. The European Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries witnessed a rebirth of interest in classical learning and inaugurated a new emphasis on the individual in painting and literature.20). the play’s protagonist. The story that we are about to see is compared to the Greek myth of Icarus. where humanistic values hold sway. the focus of scholarship was on God and theology. Classical and medieval literature typically focuses on the lives of the great and famous—saints or kings or ancient heroes. gave him wings made out of feathers and beeswax. Faustus will ―mount above his reach‖ and suffer the consequences (Prologue. causing his wings to melt and sending him plunging to his death. in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.Summary: Prologue The Chorus. Daedalus.

a good angel and an evil angel visit Faustus. The message is clear: in the new world of the Renaissance. since he exults at the great powers that the magical arts will bring him.insists. Divinity. a common-born scholar. is the most fruitful pursuit—yet he notes that he has achieved great renown as a doctor already and that this fame has not brought him satisfaction. He then dismisses religion and fixes his mind on magic. quoting the Greek physician Galen. Faustus’s servant. the study of religion and theology. Jerome’s Bible that all men sin and finds the Bible’s assertion that ―[t]he reward of sin is death‖ an unacceptable doctrine. He first considers logic. quoting the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The good angel urges him to set aside his book of magic and read the Scriptures instead.62). with its possibility of achieving miraculous cures. but dismisses law as too petty. After they vanish. or on the ―courts of kings‖ or the ―pomp of proud audacious deeds‖ (Prologue. Faustus . and decides that medicine. when properly pursued. Wagner. seems to offer wider vistas. will focus not on ancient battles between Rome and Carthage. born to humble parents.4–5). And necromantic books are heavenly! In a long soliloquy. and. which. the evil angel encourages him to go forward in his pursuit of the black arts. He considers law. but notes that disputing well seems to be the only goal of logic. dealing with trivial matters rather than larger ones. Faustus asks Wagner to bring Valdes and Cornelius. Instead. Faustus reflects on the most rewarding type of scholarship. he believes will make him ―a mighty god‖ (1. an ordinary man like Faustus. Faustus’s friends. He considers medicine. enters as his master finishes speaking. Scene 1 Summary: Scene 1 These metaphysics of magicians. logic is not scholarly enough for him. While they are on their way. but he quotes from St. since Faustus’s debating skills are already good. it is clear that Faustus is going to heed the evil spirit. to help him learn the art of magic. quoting the Greek philosopher Aristotle. is as important as any king or warrior. we are to witness the life of an ordinary man. and his story is just as worthy of being told.

and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness‖ (1 John 1:9).40–43). and the two friends promise to help him become better at magic than even they are. He wants higher things. declaring that he has set aside all other forms of learning in favor of magic. Valdes and Cornelius appear. but Faustus neglects to read the very next line. he quotes selectively from the New Testament. then. having them teach him secret knowledge. [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. There. and they exit. as he sets aside each of the old authorities and resolves to strike out on his own in his quest to become powerful through magic.48). however. Meanwhile. They agree to teach Faustus the principles of the dark arts and describe the wondrous powers that will be his if he remains committed during his quest to learn magic. Marlowe uses Faustus’s own words to expose Faustus’s blind spots. He does not want merely to protect men’s bodies through medicine. Valdes lists a number of texts that Faustus should read. The second of these lines comes from the first book of John. Thus.136–137). and so he easily rejects religion with a fatalistic ―What will be. In his initial speech. In proceeding through the various intellectual disciplines and citing authorities for each. for example. he uses religious language—as he does . and using magic to make himself king of all Germany.‖ and that ―[i]f we say we that we have no sin. As is true throughout the play. Cornelius tells him that ―[t]he miracles that magic will perform / Will make thee vow to study nothing else‖ (1. which states. He reads that ―[t]he reward of sin is death. adieu!‖ (1. Faustus makes it seem as though religion promises only death and not forgiveness. he is following the dictates of medieval scholarship. which held that learning was based on the authority of the wise rather than on experimentation and new ideas.imagines sending spirits to the end of the world to fetch him jewels and delicacies. / We deceive ourselves. and Faustus’s opening speech about the various fields of scholarship reflects the academic setting of the scene. Faustus establishes a hierarchy of disciplines by showing which are nobler than others. This soliloquy. Faustus invites them to dine with him. shall be! Divinity. through selective quoting. marks Faustus’s rejection of this medieval model. nor does he want to protect their property through law. and so he proceeds on to religion. Analysis: Scene 1 The scene now shifts to Faustus’s study. picking out only those passages that make Christianity appear in a negative light. and there is no truth in us‖ (1. ―If we confess our sins. and Faustus greets them.

that he believes he will achieve once he has mastered the dark arts. Scenes 2–4 Summary: Scene 2 Two scholars come to see Faustus. Marlowe imbues him with tragic grandeur in these early scenes. He offers a long list of impressive goals. Faustus’s dreams inspire wonder. While the reader or playgoer is not expected to approve of his quest. a protagonist whose character flaws lead to his downfall.49–50). he is a tragic hero. he declares without a trace of irony. the scholars leave with heavy hearts. In Faustus’s long speech after the two angels have whispered in his ears. For now. but there is something impressive in the breadth of his ambition. however. Later. Aware that Valdes and Cornelius are infamous for their involvement in the black arts. and political power. the actual uses to which he puts his magical powers are disappointing and tawdry. The logic he uses to reject religion may be flawed. Summary: Scene 3 Think’st thou that I. Wagner makes jokes at their expense and then tells them that Faustus is meeting with Valdes and Cornelius. his rhetoric outlines the modern quest for control over nature (albeit through magic rather than through science) in glowing. who saw the face of God. including the acquisition of knowledge. even if he pursues it through diabolical means. Having gone upward from medicine and law to theology. wealth. his ambitions are impressive.throughout the play—to describe the dark world of necromancy that he enters. Faustus is not a villain. ―These metaphysics of magicians / And necromantic books are heavenly‖ (1. even though by most standards it would be the least noble. fearing that Faustus may also be falling into ―that damned art‖ as well (2. Am not tormented with ten thousand hells In being deprived of everlasting bliss? . inspiring language.29). he envisions magic and necromancy as the crowning discipline. And tasted the eternal joys of heaven. though. to say the least.

Summary: Scene 4 Wagner converses with a clown and tries to persuade him to become his servant for seven years. the clown becomes terrified and agrees to Wagner’s demands. even when they are on earth. After first agreeing to be Wagner’s servant. Mephastophilis vanishes. but Mephastophilis says that he is Lucifer’s servant and can obey only Lucifer. however. the clown answers that it would have to be well-seasoned mutton. since ―[t]hat holy shape becomes a devil best‖ (3. After Wagner dismisses the devils. Faustus demands his obedience. Four devils and Lucifer.‖ he would offer them all to hell in return for the kind of power that Mephastophilis offers him (3. The clown is poor. the clown abruptly changes his mind. who he says will carry the clown away to hell unless he becomes Wagner’s servant. and he chants in Latin. because being deprived of the presence of God. the clown asks his new master if he can learn to conjure as well. Wagner threatens to cast a spell on him. He adds that he came because he heard Faustus deny obedience to God and hoped to capture his soul. Faustus renounces heaven and God. and demands that Mephastophilis rise to serve him. Faustus quizzes Mephastophilis about Lucifer and hell and learns that Lucifer and all his devils were once angels who rebelled against God and have been damned to hell forever. Left alone. which they once enjoyed. He eagerly awaits Mephastophilis’s return. the ruler of hell. and asks Faustus what he desires. Faustus points out that Mephastophilis is not in hell now but on earth. The devil Mephastophilis then appears before Faustus. Faustus stands in a magical circle marked with various signs and words. Mephastophilis agrees to take this offer to his master and departs. is hell enough. that he and his fellow demons are always in hell.102). dressed as a monk. who commands him to depart and return dressed as a Franciscan friar. and Wagner promises to teach . Mephastophilis then reappears. Faustus dismisses this sentiment as a lack of fortitude on Mephastophilis’s part and then declares that he will offer his soul to Lucifer in return for twenty-four years of Mephastophilis’s service.That night. Seeing the devils. watch him from the shadows. however. Mephastophilis insists. Faustus remarks that if he had ―as many souls as there be stars. and he then conjures up two devils. swears allegiance to hell. and Faustus remarks on his obedience.26). and Wagner jokes that he would probably sell his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton.

He willingly tells Faustus that his master.81). / … from the face of heaven‖ (3. His honesty in mentioning the ―ten thousand hells‖ that torment him shines a negative light on the action of committing one’s soul to Lucifer. Lucifer. as Faustus makes the magical marks and chants the magical words that summon Mephastophilis. Indeed. Mephastophilis echoes this idea when he insists that he came to Faustus of his own accord when he heard Faustus curse God and forswear heaven. .67–68). But while the demons may be active agents eagerly seeking to seize Faustus’s soul. Furthermore. hoping that Faustus’s soul was available for the taking. who saw the face of God.him how to turn himself into any kind of animal—but he insists on being called ―Master Wagner. having been thrown ―by aspiring pride and insolence. Faustus himself makes the first move. Mephastophilis offers a powerful portrait of hell that seems to warn against any pact with Lucifer. Indeed. if anything. Mephastophilis famously says: Why this is hell. Am not tormented with ten thousand hells In being deprived of everlasting bliss? (3. Think’st thou that I. Mephastophilis even tells Faustus to abandon his ―frivolous demands‖ (3. nor am I out of it. One of the central questions in the play is whether Faustus damns himself entirely on his own or whether the princes of hell somehow entrap him.76–80) Mephastophilis exposes the horrors of his own experience as if offering sage guidance to Faustus. And tasted the eternal joys of heaven. he is watched by Lucifer and four lesser devils.‖ Analysis: Scenes 2–4 Having learned the necessary arts from Cornelius and Valdes. Mephastophilis seems far less eager to make the bargain than Faustus himself. is less powerful than God. Faustus now takes the first step toward selling his soul when he conjures up a devil. When Faustus asks him how it is that he is allowed to leave hell in order to come to earth. In scene 3. Neither Mephastophilis nor Lucifer forces him to do anything against his will. suggesting that hell is waiting for him to make the first move before pouncing on him.

The good angel tells him to abandon his plan and ―think of heaven.20). who is presumably hideous. Again. seeking mutton and the ability to turn into a mouse or a rat rather than world power or fantastic wealth. Faustus blithely dismisses what Mephastophilis has said. and Wagner uses his newly gained conjuring skill to frighten the clown into serving him. and he sinks down toward the level of the clowns. but rather than flee in terror he tells Mephastophilis to change his appearance. he exhibits the blindness that serves as one of his defining characteristics throughout the play. this episode is a dig at Catholicism. Faustus begins to waver in his conviction to sell his soul. The clown jokes that he would sell his soul to the devil for a well-seasoned shoulder of mutton. But where Faustus is grand and ambitious and tragic. these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales. when Mephastophilis has finished telling him of the horrors of hell and urging him not to sell his soul. but it also shows to what lengths Faustus will go in order to mitigate the horrors of hell. they are low and common and absurd. Faustus sees the world as he wants to see it rather than as it is. Like Faustus. There is a desperate naïveté to Faustus’s approach to the demonic: he cannot seem to accept that hell is really as bad as it seems.85).But Faustus refuses to leave his desires. these clownish characters (whose scenes are so different from the rest of the play that some writers have suggested that they were written by a collaborator rather than by Marlowe himself) use magic to summon demons. and heavenly things. which propels him forward into darkness. which makes looking upon him easier. though. suggesting that degradation precedes damnation. As the play progresses. This shunning of reality is symbolized by his insistence that Mephastophilis. He sees the devil’s true shape. saying that God does not love him (5. The antics of Wagner and the clown provide a comic counterpoint to the FaustusMephastophilis scenes. accusing him of lacking ―manly fortitude‖ (3. pitched at Marlowe’s fiercely Protestant English audience. The good and evil . In part. Scenes 5–6 Summary: Scene 5 Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine That after this life there is any pain? Tush. Instead. Faustus’s grandeur diminishes.‖ but he dismisses the good angel’s words. reappear as a Franciscan friar.

Faustus decides to make the bargain. He continues explaining.‖ Latin for ―O man. Faustus asks Mephastophilis why Lucifer wants his soul. and. . Mephastophilis answers all his queries willingly. After he turns in the deed. Mephastophilis refuses to reply because the answer is ―against our kingdom‖. However. as he wonders if his own blood is attempting to warn him not to sell his soul. The good and evil angels appear again.angels make another appearance. While Faustus wonders where he should fly Mephastophilis presents a group of devils. Faustus puts aside his doubts. and Mephastophilis tells him that Lucifer seeks to enlarge his kingdom and make humans suffer even as he suffers. Faustus asks his new servant where hell is located. but Faustus refuses. and he stabs his arm in order to write the deed in blood. until Faustus asks who made the world. Mephastophilis departs angrily (5. Mephastophilis then gives him a book of magic spells and tells him to read it carefully. who cover Faustus with crowns and rich garments. and Faustus realizes that ―[m]y heart’s so hardened I cannot repent!‖ (5. and again he wonders if it is too late for him to repent. Faustus signs the deed and then discovers an inscription on his arm that reads ―Homo fuge. Faustus then calls back Mephastophilis. Faustus once again wavers and leans toward repentance as he contemplates the wonders of heaven from which he has cut himself off. Faustus endures another bout of indecision. Faustus then turns his mind to God. which promises his body and soul to Lucifer in exchange for twenty-four years of constant service from Mephastophilis. and Mephastophilis says that it has no exact location but exists everywhere. and the good angel says it is never too late for Faustus to repent. He then begins to ask Mephastophilis questions about the planets and the heavens. Mephastophilis goes to fetch fire in order to loosen the blood.196). but the evil angel convinces him that the wealth he can gain through his deal with the devil is worth the cost. who tells him that Lucifer has accepted his offer of his soul in exchange for twentyfour years of service. Faustus remarks that he thinks hell is a myth.247). The good and evil angels enter once more. At Faustus’s request for a wife. Faustus begins to appeal to Christ for mercy. saying that hell is everywhere that the damned are cut off from God eternally. Mephastophilis offers Faustus a she-devil. making writing impossible. while he is gone. with the good one again urging Faustus to think of heaven. When Mephastophilis returns. He hands over the deed.77). when he tries to write the deed his blood congeals. when Faustus presses him. fly‖ (5.

Faustus is unable to commit to good. which are bluntly symbolized in the verbal duels between the good and evil angels. His body seems to rebel against the choices that he has made—his blood congeals. however. and Mephastophilis enter. When Faustus appeals to Christ to save his soul. and a written warning telling him to fly away appears on his arm. and the two go to a bar together. He calls in an innkeeper named Rafe. they are come to fetch thy soul!‖ (5. a conviction that persists throughout the play. Each sin—Pride. preventing him from signing the compact. God would cast him down to hell. Robin. Despite this awareness. Belzebub. has found one of Faustus’s conjuring books.‖ and orders Faustus to cease thinking about God and think only of the devil (5. Belzebub (another devil). Sloth. where Robin promises to conjure up any kind of wine that Rafe desires. The sight of the sins delights Faustus’s soul. a stablehand. Lucifer promises to take him there that night. Covetousness. and Mephastophilis appear to him. for example.264). Analysis: Scenes 5–6 Even as he seals the bargain that promises his soul to hell. Gluttony. Lucifer declares that ―Christ cannot save thy soul. and he is trying to learn the spells. Summary: Scene 6 Meanwhile. Faustus’s sense that he is already damned can be traced back to his earlier misreading of . and finally Lechery— appears before Faustus and makes a brief speech. Wrath. Amid all these signs. He believes that God does not love him and that if he were to fly away to God. They tell Faustus to stop thinking of God and then present a show of the Seven Deadly Sins. Sometimes it is the lure of knowledge and riches that prevents him from turning to God.260). Sometimes Faustus seems to understand the gravity of what he is doing: when Lucifer. but other times it seems to be his conviction—encouraged by the bad angel and Mephastophilis—that it is already too late for him. he becomes suddenly afraid and exclaims. For the meantime he gives Faustus a book that teaches him how to change his shape. as the inscription on his arm seems to advise him to do. ―O Faustus. Envy.but then Lucifer. and he asks to see hell. for he is just. Faustus is repeatedly filled with misgivings. for example. Faustus repeatedly considers repenting but each time decides against it.

The symbolism is clear: all the worldly knowledge that Faustus has so strongly desired points inexorably upward. These are the words of rationalism or even atheism— both odd ideologies for Faustus to espouse.the New Testament to say that anyone who sins will be damned eternally—ignoring the verses that offer the hope of repentance. Faustus takes Mephastophilis’s statement that hell is everywhere for him because he is separated eternally from God to mean that hell will be merely a continuation of his earthly existence. the limits of the demonic gifts that Faustus has been given begin to emerge. of the crucified Christ. He thinks that he is already separated from God permanently and reasons that hell cannot be any worse. Meanwhile.126–135).112). he swears by Lucifer rather than God: ―Ay. which he treats as sources of entertainment rather than of moral warning.‖ which were Christ’s dying words on the cross (5.‖ meaning ―it is finished. At the same time. ―Consummatum est. toward God. and Mephastophilis willingly tells him the secrets of astronomy. Meanwhile. of course. We can see it in his delighted reaction to the appalling personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins. His rejection of God is also evident when he says. his cosmos seems to become inverted. Wagner . But Faustus’s real mistake is to misinterpret what Mephastophilis tells him about hell. With access to higher things thus closed off.74). but when Faustus asks who created the world. is that the pact he has made completely detaches him from God. with Lucifer taking the place of God and blasphemy replacing piety. as he tells Mephastophilis that ―I think hell’s a fable / . Summary: Chorus 2 Wagner takes the stage and describes how Faustus traveled through the heavens on a chariot pulled by dragons in order to learn the secrets of astronomy. take it. these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales‖ (5. The central irony. Faustus has nowhere to go but down. given that he is summoning devils. Even Faustus’s arm stabbing alludes to the stigmata. Faustus’s earlier blindness persists. though. Mephastophilis refuses to answer. . He is given the gift of knowledge. or wounds. . Once Faustus has signed away his soul. / Tush. and the devil give thee good on’t‖ (5. After Faustus has signed his deed. his willingness to dismiss the pains of hell continues.

to celebrate the pope’s victories. Bruno. As Faustus and Mephastophilis watch. During the meal. He asks Mephastophilis if they have arrived in Rome. the pope sends them to the dungeon. The A text omits the events described in the next two paragraphs but resumes with the events described immediately after them. in Act III. Mephastophilis and Faustus beat the friars. the pope confronts the two cardinals whom Faustus and Mephastophilis have impersonated. and Faustus and Mephastophilis agree to use their powers to play tricks on the pope.tells us that Faustus is now traveling to measure the coasts and kingdoms of the world and that his travels will take him to Rome. who had attempted to become pope with the backing of the German emperor. and the pope begins to cross himself. they give him a fast horse and send him back to Germany. The pope and his attendants then sit down to dinner. recounting to Mephastophilis his travels throughout Europe—first from Germany to France and then on to Italy. telling them to carry him off to prison. A group of friars enters. instead. watch the proceedings and chuckle. When the cardinals say that they never were given custody of Bruno. Faustus and Mephastophilis. much to the dismay of Faustus and Mephastophilis. and they sing a dirge damning the unknown spirit that has disrupted the meal. Note: The events described in the next two paragraphs occur only in the B text of Doctor Faustus. the pope comes in with his attendants and a prisoner. Later. The pope gives Bruno to them. and the pope and all his attendants run away. While the pope declares that he will depose the emperor and forces Bruno to swear allegiance to him. Summary: Scene 7 Faustus appears. Faustus and Mephastophilis disguise themselves as cardinals and come before the pope. The churchmen suspect that there is some ghost in the room. . Faustus boxes the pope’s ear. and flee. fling fireworks among them. It is a day of feasting in Rome. Faustus and Mephastophilis make themselves invisible and curse noisily and then snatch dishes and food as they are passed around the table. scene i. whose monuments he greatly desires to see. both invisible. and Mephastophilis replies that they are in the pope’s privy chamber.

or stablehand. By having the invisible Faustus box the papal ears and disrupt the papal banquet. The pope’s grasping ambition and desire for worldly power would have played into late-sixteenth-century English stereotypes. and candle‖ (7. to cosmography. ―[W]e shall be cursed with bell. saying that he will go to join Faustus in Turkey.By the end of the play. who demands that they return the cup. and he threatens to turn the two into an ape and a dog. which makes them symbols of Christianity and sets their piety in opposition to Faustus’s devil-inspired magic. his interests also diminish in importance from astronomy. Marlowe makes a laughingstock out of the head of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile. When the pope and his monks begin to rain curses on their invisible tormentors. Faustus’s reply— . Analysis: Chorus 2–Scene 8 The scenes in Rome are preceded by Wagner’s account. ridiculous as they are. and then Robin conjures up Mephastophilis. if he repented in spite of everything.Summary: Scene 8 Robin the ostler. since his magical abilities seem more and more like cheap conjured tricks as the play progresses. The fear-imposing power these religious symbols have over Mephastophilis suggests that God remains stronger than the devil and that perhaps Faustus could still be saved. Yet the absurdity of the scene coexists with a suggestion that. They are pursued by a vintner (or wine-maker). the study of the heavens. Mephastophilis is not pleased to have been summoned for a prank. the pope and his attendants do possess some kind of divinely sanctioned power. the study of the earth. Faustus’s interactions with the pope and his courtiers offer another send-up of the Catholic Church. They claim not to have it.81–82). and his friend Rafe have stolen a cup from a tavern. which makes the vintner flee. his chief interests are playing practical jokes and producing impressive illusions for nobles—a far cry from the ambitious pursuits that he outlines in scene 1. / book. and Mephastophilis leaves in a fury. Mephastophilis says. in the second chorus. of how Faustus traveled through the heavens studying astronomy. Faustus and Mephastophilis seem to fear the power that their words invoke. The two friends treat what they have done as a joke. This feat is easily the most impressive that Faustus performs in the entire play. He even begins to meddle in political matters in the assistance he gives Bruno (in the B text only).

scenes i–ii. Chorus 3–Scene 9 Summary: Chorus 3 The Chorus enters to inform us that Faustus has returned home to Germany and developed his fame by explaining what he learned during the course of his journey. the high and the low. in Act IV.―Bell. not as part of any real political pursuit. like boxing the pope’s ear.83–84). has heard of Faustus and invited him to his palace. The absurd behavior of Robin and Rafe. but through his own folly and not the curses of monks or the pope. they treat it as a great joke. to curse Faustus to hell‖—is fraught with foreshadowing (7. book and candle. The degradation of Faustus’s initially heroic aims continues as the play proceeds. Robin and Rafe conjure up Mephastophilis in order to scare off a vintner. with Faustus coming to resemble a clown more and more. this action seems to be carried out as part of the cruel practical joke on the pope. once again contrasts with Faustus’s relationship to the diabolical. and bell / Forward and backward. Such foolishness is quite a step down for a man who earlier speaks of using his magic to become ruler of Germany. where we next encounter him. and even when he threatens to turn them into animals (or actually does so temporarily—the text is unclear on this matter). Yet the contrast between Faustus on the one hand and the ostlers and the clown on the other. meanwhile. since Faustus too has begun using magic in pursuit of practical jokes. book. candle. The German emperor. is exactly where Faustus is ―curse[d]‖ to go. is not so great as it is originally. Although Faustus does step into the political realm when he frees Bruno and sends him back to Germany. Charles V. of course. . The A text omits the events described in the first two paragraphs but resumes with the events described immediately after them. Hell. Summary: Scene 9 Note: The events described in the first two paragraphs of this summary occur only in the B text of Doctor Faustus.

but he is so furious at the damage done to his reputation that he will not listen to reason. warning Benvolio to have more respect for scholars in the future. and asserts that it is as untrue that Faustus can perform this feat as that the goddess Diana has transformed the knight into a stag. Faustus conjures a pair of antlers onto the head of the knight (again. Faustus complies. The summary below corresponds to Act IV. Martino and Frederick. Benvolio stabs him and cuts off his head. also appears. He and his friends rejoice. and the emperor entreats Faustus to remove the horns. discuss the imminent arrival of Bruno and Faustus. in the B text. The knight pleads for mercy. but Benvolio declares that he would rather watch the action from his window. watching from above.At the court of the emperor. Faustus comes before the emperor. Faustus creates a vision of Alexander embracing his lover (in the B text. Faustus tells him that he cannot produce their actual bodies but can create spirits resembling them. Alexander defeats Darius and then. and tell him to come down and see the new arrivals. When Faustus enters. Faustus acknowledges the gratitude and then says that he stands ready to fulfill any wish that the emperor might have. the famous conqueror. A knight present in the court (Benvolio in the B text) is skeptical. Frederick goes out with the soldiers to scout and returns with word that Faustus is coming toward them and that he is alone. With his friends Martino and Frederick and a group of soldiers. But then Faustus rises with his head restored. Faustus tells them that they . because he has a hangover. The emperor tells Faustus that he would like to see Alexander the Great and his lover. two gentlemen. Benvolio plots an attack against Faustus. Alexander’s great rival. Note: The following scenes do not appear in the A text of Doctor Faustus. Benvolio. The two of them wake another gentleman. His friends try to dissuade him. Before the eyes of the court. and they plan the further indignities that they will visit on Faustus’s corpse. Benvolio in the B text). scenes iii–iv. Benvolio. They resolve to ambush Faustus as he leaves the court of the emperor and to take the treasures that the emperor has given Faustus. the Persian king Darius. salutes the emperor). who thanks him for having freed Bruno from the clutches of the pope. Martino remarks that Faustus has promised to conjure up Alexander the Great. along with his lover. remarks to himself that Faustus looks nothing like what he would expect a conjurer to look like.

Now. we are still left with the sense that Faustus’s life is being accelerated at a speed that strains belief. His involvement in the political realm extends only to freeing Bruno. the play makes us feel what Faustus himself must feel—namely. but both he and we come to realize that it passes rapidly. Frederick. Then. But Marlowe uses this acceleration to his advantage. though. so that the world will see what happens to people who attack Faustus. and Martino reappear. They greet one another unhappily. he essentially performs conjuring tricks to entertain the monarch. reconsidering. twenty-four years seems long when Faustus makes the pact. Charles’s candidate to be pope. and Spain). express horror at the fate that has befallen them. Before he makes the pact with Lucifer. Yet. these decades sweep by remarkably quickly. and all three of them now have horns sprouting from their heads. his sights are set considerably lower. He summons Mephastophilis. While the Chorus assures us that Faustus visits many other places and learns many other things that we are not shown. the soldiers come in. and agree to conceal themselves in a castle rather than face the scorn of the world. who arrives with a group of lesser devils. since his life belongs to Mephastophilis and cannot be taken by anyone else. for us. Faustus speaks of rearranging the geography of Europe or even making himself emperor of Germany. and orders the devils to carry his attackers off to hell.are fools. and then to the Duke of Vanholt in scene 11. to the emperor’s court. Even this . As the men and devils leave. including Germany. he and Mephastophilis box the pope’s ears and disrupt a dinner party. By making the years pass so swiftly. Meanwhile. and Faustus summons up another clutch of demons to drive them off. the use to which Faustus puts his powers is unimpressive. Benvolio. At the court of Emperor Charles V (who ruled a vast stretch of territory in the sixteenth century. In the world of the play. he orders them instead to punish Benvolio and his friends by dragging them through thorns and hurling them off of cliffs. In Rome. Analysis: Chorus 3–Scene 9 Twenty-four years pass between Faustus’s pact with Lucifer and the end of the play. Austria. that his too-short lifetime is slipping away from him and his ultimate. They are bruised and bloody from having been chased and harried by the devils. hellish fate is drawing ever closer. We see only three main events from the twenty-four years: Faustus’s visits to Rome.

though. more concerned with his public image than with the dreams of greatness that earlier animate him. in this scene or anywhere in the play. doing tricks for royals. without any larger political goals behind it. The horse-courser reappears. He then pulls on Faustus’s leg when Faustus will not wake.action (which occurs only in the B text) seems largely a lark. except that Faustus tells the emperor that ―it is not in my ability to present / before your eyes the true substantial bodies of those two deceased / princes‖ (9. produce only impressive illusions. This command shows a hint of Faustus’s old pride. meanwhile. Instead. so that everyone will see what happens to those who threaten him. only to come back to life and send a collection of devils to hound them. and the man who earlier boasts that he will divert the River Rhine and reshape the map of Europe now occupies himself with revenging a petty insult by placing horns on the head of the foolish knight. Scenes 10–11 Summary: Scene 10 Faustus. Still. Nothing of substance emerges from Faustus’s magic. Faustus is entirely concerned with his reputation as a fearsome wizard and not with any higher goals. In other words. He decides to get his money back and tries to wake Faustus by hollering in his ear. The B-text scene outside the emperor’s court. The horse-courser takes the leg and runs off. and Faustus wakes up. is utterly devoid of suspense. in which Benvolio and his friends try to kill Faustus. now. he takes pleasure in sending Mephastophilis out to hunt down a collection of fools who pose no threat to him and insists that the devils disgrace the men publicly. Faustus gives the horse-courser a good price but warns him not to ride the horse into the water. Traipsing from court to court. Faustus occupies his energies summoning up Alexander the Great. the heroic Macedonian conqueror. making the noblemen think that they have cut off his head. which is so impressive early in the play.39–41). . Faustus’s way of dealing with the threat is telling: he plays a kind of practical joke. The leg breaks off. all of Mephastophilis’s power can. meets a horse-courser and sells him his horse. in Faustus’s hands. With all the power of hell behind him. since we know that Faustus is too powerful to be murdered by a gang of incompetent noblemen. screaming bloody murder. Faustus begins to reflect on the pending expiration of his contract with Lucifer and falls asleep. This trick would be extremely impressive. Faustus has become a kind of sixteenth-century celebrity. complaining that when he rode his horse into a stream it turned into a heap of straw. sopping wet.

Analysis: Scenes 10–11 Faustus’s downward spiral. Faustus’s leg is immediately restored. and they are amazed. and the horse-courser begins making jokes about what he assumes is Faustus’s wooden leg. scene vi. but only after he has a few more drinks. The summary below corresponds to Act IV. The carter explains that Faustus stopped him on the road and asked to buy some hay to eat.Meanwhile. Robin and Rafe have stopped for a drink in a tavern. Dick. They listen as a carter. just as Faustus’s feats of magic grow ever . She tells him she would like a dish of ripe grapes. and they depart together. Each then launches into a complaint about Faustus’s treatment of him. to visit the duke and duchess. and they promise to reward Faustus greatly.) The duke and duchess are much pleased with Faustus’s display. Robin. Faustus then shows them his leg. The power and importance of his hosts decreases from scene to scene. adding that he took Faustus’s leg as revenge and that he is keeping it at his home. arriving this time at Vanholt. continues in these scenes. Note: The following scene does not appear in the A text of Doctor Faustus. Over the course of the play we see Faustus go from the seat of the pope to the court of the emperor to the court of a minor nobleman. Wagner then enters and tells Faustus that the Duke of Vanholt has summoned him. The horse-courser tells his own story. He continues his journey from court to court. and Faustus has Mephastophilis bring her some grapes. and he laughs at the joke that he has played. or wagon-driver. and the hostess from the tavern burst in at this moment. Summary: Scene 11 At the court of the Duke of Vanholt. which is whole and healthy. and Faustus proceeded to eat the entire wagonload of hay. Faustus agrees to go. Robin declares that he intends to seek out Faustus. Faustus comments that the duchess has not seemed to enjoy the show and asks her what she would like. Faustus’s skill at conjuring up beautiful illusions wins the duke’s favor. a minor German duchy. and they depart. but Faustus uses magical charms to make them silent. and the horse-courser discuss Faustus. in the B text. (In the B text of Doctor Faustus. the carter. from tragic greatness to self-indulgent mediocrity. the horse-courser. The carter agreed to sell him all he could eat for three farthings. They confront Faustus.

however. and the worst of it is that Faustus seems to have become one of them. has lost his hold on that doomed grandeur and has become pathetic. There is no sign that Faustus himself is aware of the gulf between his earlier ambitions and his current state. ―What art thou. but a man condemned to die?‖ (10. he faces the curses of the pope and his monks. At Vanholt. Faustus. now. which pushed God to one side and sought mastery over nature and society. however. Faustus soars through the heavens on a chariot pulled by dragons to learn the secrets of astronomy. Earlier in the play. Faustus is opposed by a collection of noblemen who are brave. at this moment at least. by extension. He seems to take joy in his petty amusements. he faces down an absurd collection of comical rogues.24). when Faustus queries Mephastophilis about the nature of the world. laughing uproariously when he confounds the horse-courser and leaping at the chance to visit the Duke of Vanholt. The meaning of his decline is ambiguous: perhaps part of the nature of a pact with Lucifer is that one cannot gain all that one hopes to gain from it. Just after he seals his pact with Mephastophilis. he is reduced to playing pointless tricks on the horsecourser and fetching out-of-season grapes to impress a bored noblewoman. Marlowe suggests. he remarks. then a man like Faustus. Selling one’s soul for power and glory may be foolish or wicked. if unintelligent. Even his antagonists have grown increasingly ridiculous. who tries to live without God. he seems convinced that he will repent at the last minute and be saved—a significant change from his earlier attitude. into mediocrity.more unimpressive. Or perhaps Marlowe is criticizing worldly ambition and. Faustus sees his desire for knowledge reach a dead end at God. to nothing. his impending doom begins to weigh upon him. As he sits down to fall asleep. But if the pursuit of knowledge leads inexorably to God. the entire modern project of the Renaissance. In Rome. taking pleasure in using his unlimited power to perform practical jokes and cast simple charms.‖ he comforts . but at least there is grandeur to the idea of it. Knowledge of God is against Lucifer’s kingdom. Along the lines of this interpretation. a clown among clowns. which are strong enough to give even Mephastophilis pause. when he either denies the existence of hell or assumes that damnation is inescapable. can ultimately go nowhere but down. at the emperor’s court. according to Mephastophilis. whose power he denies in favor of Lucifer. it seems that in Marlowe’s worldview the desire for complete knowledge about the world and power over it can ultimately be reduced to fetching grapes for the Duchess of Vanholt—in other words. Marlowe’s Faustus. ―Christ did call the thief upon the cross. Still. though. Yet.

The scholars leave. ―I see an angel hovers o’er thy head / And with a vial full of precious grace / Offers to pour the same into thy soul!‖ (12. saying. Helen herself crosses the stage. Faustus agrees to produce her. who they have decided was ―the admirablest lady / that ever lived‖ (12. And all is dross that is not Helena! Faustus enters with some of the scholars. Chorus 4–Epilogue Summary: Chorus 4 Wagner announces that Faustus must be about to die because he has given Wagner all of his wealth.himself. Summary: Scene 12 Sweet Helen. That he compares himself to this figure shows that Faustus assumes that he can wait until the last moment and still escape hell. and an old man enters and tries to persuade Faustus to repent. and gives the order to Mephastophilis: immediately. since Faustus is not acting like a dying man—rather. Faustus then asks Mephastophilis to . One of them asks Faustus if he can produce Helen of Greece (also known as Helen of Troy).44–46). to the delight of the scholars.28). and was promised a place in paradise (10. make me immortal with a kiss: Her lips sucks forth my soul. sealing his vow by once again stabbing his arm and inscribing it in blood. see where it flies! Come Helen. However. for heaven be in these lips. We can easily anticipate that his willingness to delay will prove fatal. he wants to renounce Mephastophilis. give me my soul again. Mephastophilis says that he cannot touch the old man’s soul but that he will scourge his body. Once the old man leaves. and Mephastophilis hands him a dagger. the old man persuades him to appeal to God for mercy. but not just yet. Mephastophilis threatens to shred Faustus to pieces if he does not reconfirm his vow to Lucifer. repented for his sins. He asks Mephastophilis to punish the old man for trying to dissuade him from continuing in Lucifer’s service. referring to the New Testament story of the thief who was crucified alongside Jesus Christ. Faustus becomes distraught. Here will I dwell. But he remains unsure. In other words.3–4). come. Faustus complies. he is out carousing with scholars.

Summary: Epilogue The Chorus enters and warns the wise ―[o]nly to wonder at unlawful things‖ and not to trade their souls for forbidden knowledge (Epilogue. especially Faustus’s speech to Helen and his final soliloquy. Lucifer! / I’ll burn my books—ah.‖ referring to the Trojan War. Analysis: Chorus 4–Epilogue The final scenes contain some of the most noteworthy speeches in the play. and the clock strikes midnight. In its flowery language and emotional power. which was fought over Helen. Summary: Scene 13 Now hast thou but one bare hour to live. He curses his parents and himself. and he ends with a lengthy praise of her beauty. Helen enters.6).112–113). And then thou must be damned perpetually. He then begs God to reduce his time in hell to a thousand years or a hundred thousand years. who went to war for her hand. ―Ugly hell gape not! Come not. They are horrified and ask what they can do to save him. Reluctantly. and Faustus makes a great speech about her beauty and kisses her. so long as he is eventually saved. Mephastophilis!‖ (13. the speech marks a return to the eloquence that marks Faustus’s words in earlier . and he tells the scholars of the deal he has made with Lucifer. so that he might live a little longer and have a chance to repent. and goes on to list all the great things that Faustus would do to win her love (12. Lucifer! I’ll burn my books—ah.let him see Helen again. His address to Helen begins with the famous line ―Was this the face that launched a thousand ships. He wishes that he were a beast and would simply cease to exist when he dies instead of face damnation. but he tells them that there is nothing to be done. A vision of hell opens before Faustus’s horrified eyes as the clock strikes eleven. and Faustus exhorts the clocks to slow and time to stop. The last hour passes by quickly. He compares himself to the heroes of Greek mythology. Devils enter and carry Faustus away as he screams.81). they leave to pray for Faustus. Ugly hell gape not! Come not. Mephastophilis! The final night of Faustus’s life has come.

as he asks Helen to make him ―immortal‖ by kissing him (12. he still ignores the warnings of his own conscience and of the old man. then Faustus is wasting his last hours dallying with a fantasy image. Earlier. Still. before his language and behavior become mediocre and petty. Doctor Faustus is a Christian tragedy. Yet this principle does not seem to hold for Marlowe’s protagonist. One moment he is begging time to slow down. One moment he is crying out in fear and trying to hide from the wrath of God. the next he is imploring Christ for mercy. If Helen too is just an illusion. lead inexorably to an understanding of his own guilt. He curses his parents for giving birth to him but then owns up to his responsibility and curses himself. even in the next-to-last scene. But. he seeks it through sex and female beauty. as his doom approaches. Faustus’s final speech is the most emotionally powerful scene in the play. as his despairing mind rushes from idea to idea. The passion of the final speech points to the central question in Doctor Faustus of why Faustus does not repent.scenes. Faustus’s loyalty to Lucifer could be explained by the fact that he is afraid of having his body torn apart by Mephastophilis.83). Moreover. since Faustus’s earlier conjuring of historical figures evokes only illusions and not physical beings. Having served Lucifer for so long. to reseal his vows in blood. Early in the play. Having squandered his powers in pranks and childish entertainments. and he even goes a step further when he demands that Mephastophilis punish the old man who urges him to repent. however grave. Faustus regains his eloquence and tragic grandeur in the final scene. by the close. an apt symbol for his entire life. he deceives himself into believing either that hell is not so bad or that it does not exist. But he seems almost eager. up until the moment of death and be saved. Christian doctrine holds that one can repent for any sin. His mind’s various attempts to escape his doom. Marlowe suggests that Faustus’s self-delusion persists even at the end. then. he seeks transcendence through magic instead of religion. asimpressive as this speech is. but the logic of the final scene is not Christian. it is not even clear that Helen is real. with the gates of hell literally opening before him. the next he is begging to have the eternity of hell lessened somehow. he has reached a point at which he cannot imagine breaking free. Now. yet he no longer seems to be able to repent. Faustus is clearly wracked with remorse. In his final speech. Some critics have tried to . Faustus maintains the same blind spots that lead him down his dark road in the first place. a physical embodiment of the conscience that plagues him.

as he pleads for salvation. as Christianity is ultimately uplifting. however. half a drop: ah my Christ— (13. seeking the precious drop of blood that will save his soul. he can be damned and conscious of his damnation. but only within limits. One drop of blood would save my with this problem by claiming that Faustus does not actually repent in the final speech but that he only speaks wistfully about the possibility of repentance.69–71) Faustus appears to be calling on Christ. for the first time since early scenes. Such an argument.4–8) . is paradoxical.. which holds that repentance and salvation are always possible. the ending of Doctor Faustus represents a clash between Christianity. and the dictates of tragedy. His cry. in which some character flaw cannot be corrected. salvation eventually awaits. even by appealing to God. To make Doctor Faustus a true tragedy. People may suffer—as Christ himself did—but for those who repent. I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down? . while still alive. (Epilogue. then. Ultimately. then. that he will burn his books suggests. As the Chorus says in its final speech: Faustus is gone! Regard his hellish fall.. is difficult to reconcile with lines such as: O. Marlowe had to set down a moment beyond which Faustus could no longer repent. the play suggests. that his pact with Lucifer is primarily about a thirst for limitless knowledge—a thirst that is presented as incompatible with Christianity. Scholarship can be Christian. The unhappy Faustus’s last line returns us to the clash between Renaissance values and medieval values that dominates the early scenes and then recedes as Faustus pursues his mediocre amusements in later scenes. The idea of Christian tragedy. Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise Only to wonder at unlawful things: Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits To practice more than heavenly power permits. Yet some unseen force—whether inside or outside him—prevents him from giving himself to God. so that in the final scene.

Yet Marlowe. and he made his Faustus sympathetic. Marlowe’s play seems to come down squarely on the side of Christianity. Faustus is damned. . himself notoriously accused of atheism and various other sins. if not necessarily admirable. may have had other ideas.In the duel between Christendom and the rising modern spirit. but the gates that he opens remain standing wide. While his play shows how the untrammeled pursuit of knowledge and power can be corrupting. waiting for others to follow. it also shows the grandeur of such a quest.

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