Faustus was born into lowly circumstances. He studies hard and masters all the knowledges known to man, but he is still dissatisfied. Faustus determines to study magic, the one knowledge that can break the limits of all others. He engages two master magicians to teach him. While he awaits their arrival, a good and an evil angel appear. The good angel urges him not to go through with his plans, but Faustus is determined. He learns quickly and for his first act calls up Mephistophilis, Satan’s messenger. Faustus is very pleased, thinking he has control over the forces of evil, but Mephistophilis says he only showed up because Faustus had rejected God. Faustus offers to give his soul to Lucifer if Mephistophilis will wait on him for twenty-four years. Lucifer agrees.

Faustus is not troubled by this pact because he does not believe in eternal life. With Mephistophilis’ help, Faustus makes a great career for himself. He amazes the Pope by becoming invisible and stealing things from his hands. He calls forth the spirit of Alexander the Great for the Emperor. As his twenty-four years draw to a close, he begins to fear Satan and nearly repents. Instead, he asks Mephistophilis to bring him Helen of Troy to be his lover in his final moments. Just before his end, he reveals to his fellow scholars how he gained his powers. He is then carried off by a group of devils.


Marlowe is trapped between the religious Middle Ages and the man-centered Renaissance. Faustus replaces God with his belief in man’s rational ability. But the abilities he gains are a little silly and the cost to him is tremendous. Though he can see so much, he cannot see his own mistakes or eternal truths. But Faustus is not an entirely unsympathetic character. Knowledge surely is a good thing. But how far should it be taken? Similar conversations are currently evoked by such issues as reproductive technologies, genetic engineering, and euthanasia.


First published: 1588



Place Published

New York