Doctor Faustus Summary and Complete Analysis

Read our detailed notes below on the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Our notes cover Doctor Faustus summary and complete analysis.

Doctor Faustus Introduction:

Christopher Marlowe, the predominant figure of English Literature in the period of Renaissance, was born at Canterbury in England on February 26, 1564. He was poet and playwright at the vanguard of the 16th century. Though his literary career persisted less than six years, he influenced William Shakespeare and many writers ahead. The critics claim that if there were no Marlowe, there would be no Shakespeare. His plays, particularly The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus, are the best representation of Renaissance and endures the lasting legacy. His literary works include Dido, Queen of Carthage, Marlowe’s 1st play that was not published until 1594, Tamburlaine the Great, Doctor Faustus, Jew of Malta, and Edward the second. He was killed in the street brawl on May 18, 1593.

Doctor Faustus was initially published as The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus and then named as The Tragicall History on the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. Doctor Faustus is a tragic play written in the early 1590s in England. It was first published in 1604 in Philip Henslowe, a theatre entrepreneur; while the B text was published in 1616.

There is no narrator in the play. The background information is provided by the chorus that appears in between the scenes. Faustus is the central character of the play and has long soliloquies that highlight his point of view as well. The tone of the play is grandiose and tragic along with some comedy.  The time and place of the setting of the play are the 1580s in England, particularly Germany and Italy.

Doctor Faustus Summary:

The play opens with Doctor Faustus, a famous German scholar, who is sitting in his study wondering about his extensive knowledge that he has of the four major subjects of the time- philosophy, religion, law, and medicines. Faustus grows frustrated with the traditional form of knowledge and plumps that he wants to study to practice magic. Two of his friends Valdes and Cornelius guided him in the black magic. Faustus begins his new career as a magician by summoning up Mephistopheles, a secretary to Lucifer (the master of devils). Faustus presented his desire to practice magic in front of Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles warns him of the horrors of hell but Faustus tell him to return back to his master with an offer of Faustus’s soul for an interchange of Mephistopheles’s services for twenty-four years. In the meantime, Faustus’s servant Wagner picks up some magic tricks from Faustus and apply it on Robin to press him into his service (a comic scene).

Mephistopheles comes back to Faustus and tells him of Lucifer’s approval of his offer. Faustus seems to be confused and experience some misgivings and marvels whether he should repent and save his soul; however, he decided to carry on as he signs the deal with his blood. Just as he does so, words as “Homo Fuge” (Latin words for “O man, fly”) appear tattooed on his hand. Faustus, once more, has a second thought but Mephistopheles changes his mind by imparting rich gifts on him. Faustus receives a book from Mephistopheles to learn different spells. Faustus, later, asks questions from Mephistopheles about nature and the world that Mephistopheles answers; however, he refused to answer Faustus when Faustus asks him about the creator of the universe. This refusal stimulus another stint of doubt in Faustus’s mind, but to distract him Mephistopheles and Lucifer carry in the characterization of seven deadly sins to dance in front of Faustus that has impressed him a lot.

Faustus, equipped with new powers and company of Mephistopheles, begins to travel across the world to gather more and more knowledge. At first, making themselves invisible, they go to the pope’s courtroom. At Pope’s court, Bruno, the king of Germany, was about to deliver a punishment. Faustus, being having special association with Germany, plays a trick and release Bruno from Pope’s imprisonment. Afterwards he interrupts Pope’s meal by stealing food from him and boxing his ears. After this mischievous incident, he goes to Europe. His fame was spreading across the world like a fire in the forest. Eventfully, He gets an invitation from the Emperor of Germany, Charles Ⅴ, to the court and asks him to make him see his ancestors particularly Alexander the Great. Faustus tells him that it is impossible for him to show him the actual of his ancestors, however, he will manage to show him the shadows of them to him; moreover, he must not touch them as they are merely the shadows. Charles, after watching his ancestor, seems inspired and impressed with Faustus’s conjuring abilities. A knight, who is watching all these, taunts at Faustus’ conjuring abilities, eventfully, making Faustus angry. Faustus punishes him by making his head horn’s leaf. Consequently, the manic knight pledges to avenge Faustus.

In the meantime, Robin, Wagner’s servant, along with his friend Rafe, learns some spells and summons Mephistopheles by chance. Mephistopheles gets very angry at this misadventure and looms both of them to turn them to animal and perhaps he does so to chastise for their silliness.

Faustus continues with his travel where he comes across a horse-courser on the way and plays a trick on him. Faustus sells him a horse at cost of $40 and warns him not to ride it in the water. The horse-courser ignores his advice and rides the horse into the water and the horse turns to heap straw. Horse-courser gets angry and comes to Faustus to take his money back which he refuses to pay back. The horse-courser takes away his leg with him. Faustus, being immortal for twenty-four years, regenerates his leg. Meanwhile, he gets an invitation from Duke of Vanholt, where he impressed the Duke with his feasts. The horse-courser, Robin, Robe, Dick along with few other people, who fall a victim of Faustus’s tricks, shows up in the court of Duke of Vanholt to protest against Faustus. Faustus spells on them and made them a source of amusement for the Duke and Duchess.

The twenty-four years of his deal of the exchange of the soul for the services of Mephistopheles come to end. Faustus starts to fear his dreadful death. Mephistopheles call upon Helen, the most beautiful lady in Greek mythology, to diverge Faustus’s thoughts and uses her existence to excite the scholars. An old man appears, as a symbol of faith, and asks Faustus to repent, however, Faustus pushes him away. Faustus calls Halen time and again to diverge his attention. The time is growing shorter and comes to an end. Now, Faustus reveals his pact to the scholars who become fearful and pray for him. The final night of the expiration his pact with Lucifer, Faustus kills his fears and beg for mercy. As soon as the clock strikes 12, the devils come and take his soul away. The scholars, in the morning, come to Faustus’s study and find his limbs and agrees to have a grand funeral for him.

Doctor Faustus Themes:

  • Sins, Revitalization, and Damnation:

Doctor Faustus, being a Christian play, deals with the major themes of Christianity. The play tragically describes the idea of sin that is defined as the contrary act to the will of God. Faustus committed an ultimate sin while signing a pact with Lucifer. By doing so he not only disobeyed the God but also denounced his disobedience towards God, consciously and eagerly. In Christianity, the worst sin can be forgiven by God if the person repents and seeks forgiveness at his heart from God. No matter how much terrible the Faustus pact with Lucifer was, if he had sought forgiveness, he would have been forgiven. Faustus, in the play, encountered countless moments to repent but he missed all of them, resulting in his dreadful death. Despite getting many moments to repent, Faustus decides to persist loyal to hell than to return back to God. This disobedience towards God dooms him to spend an infinity in hell. It was the final stage when he realized and repent and asks forgiveness from God, but it was too late and the door of forgiveness was closed for him.

  • Power as a Corrupting Impact:

In the start of the play, Faustus seemed to be very determined in the positive use of power that he got from magic. He inspired to know the miseries of the world, to discover the undiscovered, to gain unlimited knowledge. However, once Faustus actually got the power, his limit seemed narrow. He used his power to do the insignificant and mischievous things and tricked other people. We cannot say that gaining power has made Faustus corrupted by making him evil, however, obtaining absolute power over everything made him mediocre and corrupted him as he had forsaken his grandeur ambition and found pleasures small tricks.

  • Man’s Divided Nature:

Throughout the play, Faustus seemed to be highly confused that whether he should repent and return to the God or endure his deal with the devil. A part of him always wanted to serve and obey God while the dominant and evil part wanted his to attain the unlimited power through magic. The appearance of good and bad angles time and again appeared that symbolizes his struggle and confused nature.

Doctor Faustus Characters Analysis:

The major characters of the play are:

  • Doctor Faustus:

The protagonist and the tragic hero of the play, with a contradictory character, possessing wonderful ambition yet prone to waste his unlimited powers. He is a 16th-century scholar from Wittenberg, Germany. He is very ambition to gain unlimited knowledge of the universe, wealth, and power and this desire made him pay a very high price i.e., he sold his soul to the master of the devil, Lucifer, in exchange of services of Mephistopheles. He seems to very ambition at the beginning of the play but his inner-self reflects a weak person by his confused nature in taking decisions unwillingness to admit his mistakes.

  • Mephistopheles:

A devil who Faustus summons by the spells his learn from his friends. Mephistopheles is an ambitious man just as Faustus, who 1st warns Faustus of the consequences of conjuring and hell. He time and again dissuades Faustus to make deal with Lucifer. However, Faustus seems reluctant to his advice and ask Mephistopheles to sell his soul to Lucifer. Once Faustus soul is sold out, Mephistopheles makes sure that Faustus continues his pact with Lucifer.

The minor characters of the play are:

  • Old man:

The old man appears towards the end of the play and is the representation of faith. He asks Faustus to repent and ask forgiveness from the God but Faustus pushes him away.

  • Good Angel:

Good angel always appears when Faustus seems to be in an indecisiveness and he guides him to the right path.

  • Evil Angel:

Evil angel always appears with the good angels and is dominant over a good angel. He makes Faustus make a pact with Lucifer and do all the evil deeds.

  • Lucifer:

He is master of devils to whom Faustus sells his soul for twenty-four years

  • Wagner:

A comic character in the play. He is Faustus’s servant.

  • Robin:

He is another comic character in the play who is enslaved by Wagner through the spells he learned from Faustus’s book.

  • Dick:

A knight at the court of the emperor of Germany who makes fun of Faustus.

  • Rafe:

A Robin’s friend. He mistakenly summons Mephistopheles by spells and he turned him to an animal.

  • Valdes and Cornelius:

Faustus’s friend who guide him in learning black magic.

  • Horse-courser:

A passerby who is tricked by Faustus.

  • Pope:

A ruthless, proud man who arrested Bruno, emperor of Germany for no good reason than that he utilizes his powers. Faustus teaches him a lesson by tricking him at his court.

  • Emperor Charles

Emperor of Germany who invited Faustus and asks him to show him his ancestors particularly Alexander the great.

Doctor Faustus Analysis:

Doctor Faustus is the best representation of Renaissance of the 16th century. The play shows the conflict between the Renaissance and medieval values. In medieval times. God was at the center of everything while man and nature were kept aside. Renaissance was a revolt against those medieval values. People started getting the education and realizing themselves. Faustus, by pointing out each major subject of medieval age, called them of no use and frustrated of them. Being a man of Renaissance he wished to acquire the knowledge about God and questions the existence of God.

Doctor Faustus represents the true nature of human psyche. Just like Doctor Faustus, every man is enslaved by his desires. No matter whether it is the desire for wealth, power, or knowledge. Every one of us wants the unlimited of everything. In short, every one of us is Doctor Faustus in one way or other.

Magic and supernatural elements are reoccurring themes in play. Everyone is performing magic and spells, however, it is significant to mention that nothing significant is achieved through this magic.

The play also contains practical jokes that server as the comic break in the play to delight the audience. Blood, Faustus rejection of medieval values, and time and again appearance of good and evil angel are the symbols used by Marlowe in the play to represent artistic ideas.