Doctor Faustus (Christopher Marlow)

Doctor Faustus, written by Christopher Marlow, is an Elizabethan tragedy. In the play, Faustus seeks to gain supernatural powers by summoning the devil Mephistophilis to do his biddings.

Faustus conjures up Mephistophilis in scene three of the play by reciting Latin incantations. Although the play doesn’t specify the exact location of when this event takes place, the reader assumes that the setting is at Faustus’ house since Faustus’ house servant, Wagner, is present. In a final attempt to dissuade the naïve doctor from finalizing his request for supernatural powers, Mephistophilis describes consequence—in return for his temporary supernatural powers, Faustus will be condemned to the torture of hell.

Mephistophilis asks Faustus, “Why, this [Earth] is hell nor am I out of it.” The devil explicitly compares hell to Earth. Implicitly, once having been an angel himself, Mephistophilis relates the unmatchable splendour of heaven, and how any place without the presence of God is just as intolerable as hell.

Mephistophilis follows up his chilling description of the tortures of hell by blatantly warning Faustus to abandon his immoral intentions: “O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands.” In a way, Mephistophilis is sympathetic to Faustus, because the devil understands the toture of eternal damnation. In comparison, Faustus still has a chance to repent—a chance that Mephistophilis deeply craves. However, Faustus is blinded by his ego to see the gravity of the consequence attached to his decision and he finalizes the pact.

In terms of imagery and symbolism, Doctor Faustus is the perfect example of an allegorical tale meant to discuss issues of morality and decadence. Perhaps the best character example to illustrate the repercussions to those who transgress morals, besides Faustus, is the character of Mephistophilis. Mephistophilis once held a more canonized position than Faustus as an angel in heaven. However, aiding Lucifer’s immoral actions earned Mephistophilis banishment from heaven. This shows that the fine line between morality and decadence can be crossed by even the most eminent figures.

It is interesting to note that in scene three of the play, Faustus urges Mephistophilis to be more “manly” with his resolution. Towards the end of the play however, we see a position shift where Mephistophilis will be the one who urges Faustus to be more resolute with his decisions.

In general, Doctor Faustus is an allegorical tale cautioning one to not be recklessly ambitious. For Faustus, he surrenders his soul to the devil for power. In the end however, Faustus meets his punishment for his acts.