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Doctor Faustus | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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Doctor Faustus | Character Analysis


Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus, a brilliant theologian from the university in Wertenberg, Germany, has also mastered the subjects of logic and medicine. An ambitious, inquisitive man of the Renaissance, he is driven to seek beyond the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the medieval world. His restless intellect leads him to the acquisition of dark knowledge: knowledge of the secrets of the physical universe, as well as the forbidden art of magic and the unlimited power and knowledge it promises. Disregarding God's authority, he arrogantly imagines all the great and noble things he will accomplish with this dark power. However, Faustus's grand visions never materialize. He lacks the moral strength to use magic wisely or for good. The lowest, most petty impulses in his nature emerge, and his sweeping visions of greatness fade. He becomes wealthy and famous for performing mediocre tricks and is prone to use magic to abuse others. Despite his degree in theology, Faustus is a skeptic concerning realms of the spirit. He turns his back on God, labels hell "a fable," and refuses every chance to repent and save his soul.


Mephastophilis describes himself as one of the "unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer" when God threw that former angel out of heaven. As a result, he is "forever damned with Lucifer." Acting as an agent for the "prince of devils," Mephastophilis facilitates Faustus's damnation. He recruits Faustus, oversees his blood pact with Lucifer, and makes sure the doctor remains loyal to hell for the next 24 years. Contrary to a traditional figure of pure evil, Mephastophilis presents a surprising portrait of the damned that is both villainous and tormented. He deceives, manipulates, and threatens Faustus, especially when the doctor leans toward repentance. Yet Mephastophilis can be truthful and is capable of suffering. He candidly tells Faustus that he has come to collect his soul for Lucifer and then warns Faustus just as honestly about the nature of hell and what a doomed soul can expect. He callously admits that he inflicts fiendish pain on the damned, but he also reveals his own agony. He has seen the face of God and tasted eternal bliss and is therefore "tormented with ten thousand hells / In being deprived of everlasting bliss." Mephastophilis goes so far as to advise Faustus, prior to him making his pact with Lucifer, to "leave these frivolous demands, / Which strike a terror to my fainting soul!"


Lucifer is the cunning and cruel manifestation of eternal damnation. Mephastophilis introduces Lucifer to Faustus as his master, the "prince of devils." He then relates his history as an angel who grew in pride and insolence until God "threw him from the face of heaven." As an angel, Lucifer was not content to serve God but wished to take his place. His kingdom now is hell, and he works against God, corrupting humans, luring them into sin, and capturing their immortal souls to populate his realm for eternity. The soul of Faustus—an intellectual, a learned scholar, and a theologian—is a prestigious catch, and Lucifer is more than willing to make a pact to ensnare it. The doctor describes Lucifer's countenance as "terrible," or fearful to look upon. Lucifer is a clever and merciless manipulator who wields fear as a tool to get what he wants.

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