Doctor Faustus Study: Summary and Analysis
Doctor Faustus, also known as “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus,” is a play by Christopher Marlowe, one of the most prominent playwrights of the Elizabethan era. Marlowe wrote this play around 1589 or 1592, but it was first published in 1604, more than a decade after Marlowe died in 1593. The play is based on German stories about the character Faust, a legendary figure famous for his deal with the Devil.
This play tells the story of the very smart but overly proud Doctor Faustus who decides to make a risky deal with the Devil. In exchange for his soul, Faustus gets 24 years filled with the power to know and do anything he wants through magic. The story then takes us through Faustus’s journey, highlighting the dangers of his great ambition and his internal battle over whether to feel sorry for his actions and seek forgiveness or continue down his path to ruin.
- Doctor Faustus: The protagonist, a brilliant but ambitious scholar who becomes dissatisfied with the limits of traditional forms of knowledge. He turns to magic, making a pact with the devil to gain unlimited knowledge and power at the cost of his soul.
- Mephistophilis: A demon who appears in response to Faustus’s summoning and becomes his servant after Faustus makes his pact with Lucifer. Mephistophilis is both a guide and a tormentor to Faustus, providing him with magical powers but also a constant reminder of the damning bargain he has made.
- Lucifer: The prince of devils, with whom Faustus makes his pact. Lucifer ensures Faustus’s adherence to their agreement, tempting and manipulating him to secure his damnation.
- Wagner: Faustus’s servant, who aspires to learn magic from his master and attempts to emulate Faustus’s practices.
- Valdes and Cornelius: Friends of Faustus who encourage his interest in magic and help him summon Mephistophilis.
- Good Angel and Evil Angel: Personifications of Faustus’s internal conflict, with the Good Angel urging him to repent for his sins and return to God, and the Evil Angel tempting him to continue on his path of damnation.
- The Seven Deadly Sins: Personified in a pageant for Faustus’s entertainment, these characters represent the sins that Faustus indulges in during his pact with Lucifer.
- Old Man: Represents the voice of reason and redemption, urging Faustus to repent and save his soul from eternal damnation.
- Scholars: Friends and colleagues of Faustus at the university who respect his early academic achievements but are horrified by his turn to necromancy.
- Robin and Rafe (or Dick): Comic characters who attempt to use Faustus’s magical books for their gain, providing comic relief in the play.
Plot Summary of Doctor Faustus
Act 1 Summary
In the first Act, we meet Faustus, a brilliant man who knows a lot about different subjects like medicine, law, and religion. But Faustus is not happy because he wants more knowledge and power. He decides that magic is the way to get what he wants. Faustus calls two friends to teach him magic, and they agree. Then, Faustus uses magic to call a demon named Mephistophilis.
Faustus talks to Mephistophilis about making a deal with Lucifer, the king of demons. He wants to give his soul to Lucifer in exchange for 24 years of magic power and having Mephistophilis serve him. Mephistophilis warns Faustus about the dangers of this deal, but Faustus does not listen. He is excited about the power he will get. Act 1 ends with Faustus waiting to make the final deal with Lucifer.
Act 2 Summary
In Act 2 of “Doctor Faustus,” Faustus thinks more about his decision to use magic and work with demons. Mephistophilis comes back to him with a message from Lucifer. Lucifer agrees to give Faustus magical powers and Mephistophilis’s service for 24 years, but in return, Faustus must give his soul to Lucifer after the 24 years are over. Faustus agrees to this deal. He signs a contract with his own blood to make it official.
Then, Faustus starts to ask Mephistophilis many questions about heaven, hell, and the universe. Mephistophilis answers his questions, but Faustus is not always happy with the answers. Faustus starts to think maybe he made a mistake, but then he decides to focus on the power he now has.
Faustus uses his new powers to play tricks on people and to call spirits to entertain him. Even though he has these powers, Faustus begins to wonder if he made the right choice by trading his soul for magic. However, he continues to use his powers for his own enjoyment, ignoring the doubts he has about his deal with Lucifer.
Act 3 Summary
In Act 3, Faustus uses his magic powers to travel and play tricks on people. He goes to the Pope’s palace in Rome with Mephistophilis and becomes invisible using his magic. While invisible, he plays pranks on the Pope and other people there, like stealing food and causing trouble during a feast.
Then, Faustus decides to visit the German emperor, Charles V. On his way, he meets a horse dealer and uses magic to trick him too. The emperor is amazed by Faustus’s magic and asks him to show more of his powers. Faustus agrees and uses his magic to bring back the spirits of famous people from the past, which impresses everyone.
During these adventures, Faustus feels powerful and enjoys showing off his magic. But, there are moments when he remembers the deal he made with Lucifer and feels worried about his soul. Despite this, Faustus continues to focus on having fun and using his magic to impress others and himself.
Act 4 Summary
Faustus continues to use his magic to impress people and play tricks. He visits different places, showing off his powers. For example, he plays a trick on a knight by making antlers grow on his head, which makes everyone laugh.
Faustus then hears about a beautiful woman named Helen of Troy. He wants to see her because she is known as the most beautiful woman in the world. Mephistophilis helps Faustus by making a spirit look like Helen. Faustus is very happy to see her and feels proud of his magic.
But not everything is fun for Faustus. He starts to feel sad about the deal he made with Lucifer. He thinks about God and wonders if he can still be saved. Some old friends visit him, and they talk about God and heaven. Faustus feels confused and scared about his future.
Even with these worries, Faustus keeps using his magic for silly things. He doesn’t make a strong decision to change his ways. Act 4 shows Faustus enjoying his magical powers but also starting to worry more about his soul and the deal he made.
Act 5 Summary
The story comes to its sad end. Faustus realizes his time is almost up. He has only one day left before he must give his soul to Lucifer, according to their deal. Faustus starts to feel very scared and regrets not using his time better.
He talks with some scholars, who are his friends, and they notice he seems upset. Faustus tries to hide his fear, but he is really worried about what will happen to him after he dies.
As his last day goes by, Faustus becomes more and more afraid. He wishes he could ask God for forgiveness and save his soul, but he thinks it’s too late for him. He feels very alone and knows that soon the demons will come to take him.
At the end of the play, Faustus is in his room, waiting for midnight, when the demons will come. He talks about how much he regrets his choices. When the clock strikes midnight, the demons appear and take Faustus away to hell.
Super Natural Elements
Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe is rich in supernatural elements that play crucial roles in the narrative and thematic development of the play. Here are some of the key supernatural elements:
- Necromancy and Magic: The play opens with Faustus’s decision to turn to necromancy, a form of magic involving communication with the dead, to gain knowledge and power beyond human limits. His use of magical rituals to summon demons is a central supernatural element.
- Mephistophilis and Demons: Mephistophilis, a demon who serves Lucifer, is summoned by Faustus and becomes his servant as part of the pact with Lucifer. The presence and actions of Mephistophilis and other demons throughout the play underscore the play’s exploration of the supernatural.
- The Pact with Lucifer: The agreement Faustus makes with Lucifer, the prince of devils, to exchange his soul for 24 years of service from Mephistophilis and magical powers, is a pivotal supernatural element. This pact drives the plot and Faustus’s eventual downfall.
- Visions and Apparitions: Throughout the play, Faustus employs his magical powers to conjure visions and apparitions, including the image of Helen of Troy. These supernatural occurrences serve to illustrate both the extent of Faustus’s powers and his increasing moral degradation.
- The Seven Deadly Sins: Faustus witnesses a parade of the Seven Deadly Sins, personified as characters. This supernatural presentation serves to tempt and further corrupt Faustus, highlighting his internal struggle and the consequences of his choices.
- Heaven and Hell: References to heaven and hell permeate the play, with characters often discussing these realms. The play ends with Faustus’s soul being taken to hell, a supernatural realm of punishment.
- Angelic and Diabolic Influences: Throughout the play, Faustus is influenced by both good and evil supernatural forces. The Good Angel and Evil Angel represent these moral choices, trying to sway Faustus towards repentance or further into his pact with Lucifer.