Doctor Faustus

The full title is The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. It was written by Christopher Marlowe and is considered both a tragedy and a morality play. It is based off of the old German legend, Faust, in which the main character desires more from his life than human success and so makes a pact with the Prince of Darkness. Marlowe’s play focuses on its title character and his pursuit of power. He sells his soul to the devil and is granted the ability to summon demons and use magic. Mephistopheles, another devil, is appointed as Doctor Faustus’ servant. They roam the world with supernatural abilities, have altercations with townsfolk and even showboat to royal figures. Throughout the story, Faustus has internal monologues represented by a good and a bad angel that come to talk to him. He often considers repenting but ultimately fails to do so in time. At the end he is ripped apart by devils and taken to Hell. Judith O'Neill calls Faustus the "Renaissance superman" (80).


Mephistopheles.jpg (Mephistopheles)
  • Doctor John Faustus
  • Mephistopheles
  • Valdes
  • Cornelius
  • Good/Bad Angels
  • Pope Adrian
  • Pope Bruno
  • Benvolio
  • Wagner
  • Dick
  • Robin
  • Scholars
  • Old Man
  • Chorus
  • Cardinal of Lorrain
  • Emperor o Germany
  • Duke and Duchess of Vanholt
  • Friars
  • Horse-Courser
  • Attendants
  • Lucifer
  • Beelzebub
  • The Seven Deadly Sins
  • Spirits of Alexander the Great, his Paramour and Helen of Troy


Act 1

  • Act 1 Scene 1: A chorus begins by telling us that this will not be a tale of wars, love, or kings but instead of Faustus who is a man good at everything. When we see him first he is trying to figure out what to do with his life. He is given books of sorcery by two magicians and has an internal struggle symbolized by two angels.

  • Act 1 Scene 2: A couple of scholars wonder about where Faustus is and ask Wagner. He tells them that he is with Valdes and Cornelius.

  • Act 1 Scene 3: Faustus summons the demon Mephistopheles and ends up trading his soul to Lucifer in exchange for Mephistopheles' servitude.

  • Act 1 Scene 4: Meanwhile, Wagner summons spirits of his own to convince Robin to serve him.

Act 2

  • Act 2 Scene 1: Faustus completes his deal with Lucifer for 24 years.

  • Act 2 Scene 2: Robin reveals to his friend Dick that he can conjure and uses his power to steal booze.

  • Act 2 Scene 3: Faustus is visited by Lucifer and shown a spectacle of the Seven Deadly Sins when he considers repenting.

Act 3
  • Act 3 Scene 1: Faustus and Mephistopheles end up in Rome and save Pope Bruno from Pope Adrian.

  • Act 3 Scene 2: Faustus and Mephistopheles attend a holy banquet while invisible and cause enough trouble that forces the friars to try to exorcise them and the two flee.

  • Act 3 Scene 3: Dick and Robin have more shenanigans until Mephistopheles turns them into animals after they call him.

Act 4

  • Act 4 Scene 1: Faustus meets with the German Emperor and humiliates his knight Benvolio.

  • Act 4 Scene 2: Benvolio attempts to enact revenge but he and his friends are thwarted by Faustus' magic.

  • Act 4 Scene 3: Benvolio and friends give up on their plans for revenge but are cursed with horns atop their heads.

  • Act 4 Scene 4: Faustus tricks a horse-courser before Wagner tells him that the Duke of Vanholt would like to see him.

  • Act 4 Scene 5: A group of townsfolk wronged by Faustus come to a tavern to plan how to confront the doctor.

  • Act 4 Scene 6: Faustus impresses the Duke and his Duchess with impossible tricks. The townspeople come to confront but he uses magic to mute them.

Act 5

  • Act 5 Scene 1: Wagner explains that his master might die soon. An Old Man tries to get Faustus to repent but fails.

  • Act 5 Scene 2: Faustus is told that there is no chance of his salvation and he attempts to repent as loudly as he can but it is too late. Devils come and tear him to pieces and bring him to Hell as he laments.

  • Act 5 Scene 3: Scholars hold a funeral for Faustus. The Chorus comes and tells the audience to heed this tale and not make the same mistake as the doctor did.

Critiques and Influences

Ideas from Doctor Faustus and the legend it spawned from have been integrated into pop culture such as the Good versus Bad Angels. Many cartoons use this idea frequently as it is an easily inserted analogy into just about any story. Watch as Donald Duck's Angels fight over the direction his life should head in in the clip below.

Also take a look at this guy:

Another part of Doctor Faustus that is alluded to frequently is the idea of selling one's soul. In the show Supernatural, Sam and Dean Winchester are brothers who fight monsters. In this particular clip, Sam is dead. Dean summons a demon to revive him in exchange for his soul. Obviously, the show makes this seem much more glamorous than the play did.

Comics and Japanese Manga have also included references to the great Faustus. Series like Spiderman, Spawn, Ghost Rider, V for Vendetta, Death Note and Full Metal Alchemist all allude to this story. There is even a graphic novel series called Faust.

Faust novel.jpg

Shakespeare and Marlowe

People such as Robert Logan believe that Marlowe was highly influential on Shakespeare. In fact, he believes that Doctor Faustus was imperative to write before Shakespeare ever could have created a tale like Macbeth. Both star characters that progress from good to evil and are punished for their hubris at the end and at the end of each the title characters are portrayed with internal workings undergoing angst shortly before their demise (201).

The course of Doctor Faustus is interrupted many times by internal conflicts and depths of the subconscious barely touched on in Elizabethan times aside from the bard; "It is this anguish of uncertainty that strikes the note of tragedy in the play. It is a venture into an uncharted region which only Shakespeare was to explore thoroughly: these faint tracks of the pioneer point the way to Hamlet" (Simpson 99).

Doctor Faustus as a Morality Play

While the play is certainly a tragedy, it also has the elements of a morality play. It is a black and white tale of good versus evil with a Christian lesson to be learned by the end; "Hardin Craig's definition of morality play as the presentation of man in the postlapsarian situation, where he is destined to die in sin unless he be saved by the intervention of divine grace and by repentance, is certainly applicable to Doctor Faustus" (Cole 232). There are several times in which Faustus considers repenting. He even meets an old man who beseeches him to give up his wicked ways. Despite the fact that Mephistopheles admits he cannot harm the man because his faith is too strong. This even occurs just one scene before Faustus dies. Had he done the proper Christian thing, it is conceivable the devils would not have been able to tear him apart. In the end we are taught the lesson to repent before it is too late.


  • Cole, Douglas. Suffering and Evil in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962. Print.

  • O’Neill, Judith. Critics on Marlowe. Coral Gables: U of Miami, 1970. Print.

  • Logan, Robert A. Shakespeare’s Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare’s Artistry.

  • Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Print. Simpson, Percy. Studies in Elizabethan Drama.