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Character Analysis in Doctor Faustus
Doctor Faustus: The title character of this play is a renowned theological scholar at the University of Wittenberg when we first meet him in the play. Despite his achievements, Faustus is unsatisfied by the knowledge that is available to him. He turns to black magic to achieve ultimate knowledge and power. Faustus at first appears arrogant and short sighted. However, as the play goes on he becomes a more sympathetic character. He refuses to repent for his sins either because he is too prideful or because he believes that his actions cannot save him. He spends the play squandering the power that his deal granted him, choosing instead to distract himself with frivolous magic, practical jokes, and paramours created by Mephistophilis.
Mephistophilis: Mephistophilis is the demon sent to collect Faustus’s soul and attend on him for the duration of Faustus’s 24-year contract. While some productions of the play have depicted Mephistophilis as an agent of evil, Marlowe’s text portrays the demon as a sympathetic character. Mephistophilis is similarly condemned by his choice to follow Lucifer in a war against God. He not only warns Faustus about the horrors of hell but also behaves like a friend when Faustus grows ill at the end of his life. If nothing else, Mephistophilis appears empathetic to Faustus’s fear and suffering.
Character Analysis Examples in Doctor Faustus:
"Wertenberg..." See in text (Chorus 1)
Wertenberg is the university where Martin Luther, an influential figure in the Protestant Reformation, was educated. In this allusion, Faustus is implicitly equated with radical theological thought.
" being dead, raise them to life again,..." See in text (Scene 1)
Faustus finds medicine problematic because it does not offer him enough power. He could not use it to raise the dead from their graves or give everlasting life to his patients. These are two powers that Marlowe's Early Modern audience would have recognized as powers unique to Jesus Christ. This implicit comparison shows that Faustus envisions himself with godlike power.
"Summum bonum medicinae sanitas..." See in text (Scene 1)
This Latin phrase means "the purpose of medicine is the body's health." Notice that before he states this, Faustus considers medicine for its ability to make him rich and give him a famous legacy (if he discovers a wondrous cure). The juxtaposition of Faustus's perception of medicine and the purpose he reads on his medical textbook demonstrates Faustus's vanity, greed, and arrogance.
"Bene disserere est finis logices..." See in text (Scene 1)
Analytics is the title of Aristotle's treatise on logic. This phrase in Latin means "to carry on a debate well is the end or purpose of logic." Notice that Faustus kind of misses the point of this phrase when he translates it to mean, "arguing is the point of logic" when Aristotle is instead talking about debating, discussion fueled by opposing positions.
"This night I'll conjure tho' I die therefore...." See in text (Scene 1)
Notice that Faustus recognizes the danger in his actions. He mentions the death that comes with engaging in necromancy and decides that power is more important to him. This end to Scene 1 simultaneously foreshadows Faustus's tragic end and demonstrates the character's careless vanity.
"Valdes, and Cornelius..." See in text (Scene 1)
These are Faustus's friends who are already practitioners of magic. Like all of the other characters in this play, except for Mephistophilis, Valdes and Cornelius appear in one scene and disappear for the rest of the play.
"these are those that Faustus most desires. O, what a world of profit and delight, Of power, of honour, of omnipotence..." See in text (Scene 1)
These are the qualities that Faustus was looking for and did not find in his consideration of other professions. Notice that all of these traits are condemned as sinful in the Christian tradition. This established Faustus as the anti-Christian hero, very different from the main characters of other plays at this time.
"desperate..." See in text (Scene 3)
"Desperate" means having abandoned hope or being driven to despair. Faustus's use of this adjective to describe his denunciation of God supports the reading of his decision as a reaction to predestined damnation. Faustus can be seen as embracing his damnation because he is "desperate;" God has already forsaken him.
"Learn thou of Faustus..." See in text (Scene 3)
Notice that Faustus dismisses Mephistophilis's warning about Hell with an assertion of his ego. He believes that it is not Hell that is terrifying but rather Mephistophilis who is weak. Faustus's pride and ego will be his downfall.
"Where are you damned?..." See in text (Scene 3)
The description of Hell and damnation that Mephistophilis presents here radically contradicts Faustus's vision of Elysium. This exchange can be seen as the point at which Faustus gradually beings to realize that his expectations do not line up with reality and that he cannot undo his decision.
"by aspiring pride and insolence..." See in text (Scene 3)
The characteristics Mephistophilis ascribes to Lucifer underscore the traits that Faustus has shown. Lucifer's story foreshadows Faustus's ultimate downfall and tragic end; like Lucifer, Faustus's insolence and pride will cause him to fall.
"Faustus shall command,..." See in text (Scene 3)
Notice that Faustus imagines Mephistophilis as subservient to his power. Faustus believes that he controls the demon and has supernatural power.
"cloth of arras..." See in text (Scene 5)
"Arras" was a find cloth export from Flanders that was generally used to make tapestries. Pride claims that it cannot talk until it is standing on this fine cloth after boasting that it can get into every crevice of a woman's body. Notice that the characteristics of this sin, Pridefulness, limit Pride's ability.
"Paradise was to Adam..." See in text (Scene 5)
Notice that Faustus is still speaking through a Christian paradigm. He cannot yet understand hell, the devil, or the deal he has made without comparing it to the paradise that he has lost. This suggests that Faustus does not fully comprehend the deal he has made.
"How many heavens, or spheres, are there?..." See in text (Scene 5)
Notice that Faustus moves directly away from understanding the divine reasoning behind the movement of the spheres and returns to asking questions about the mechanics of their movements. This suggests that when Mephistophilis confirms that there is an angel moving the spheres this frightens Faustus who claims he does not believe in divine punishment or salvation.
"intelligentia..." See in text (Scene 5)
An "intelligentia" is the angel or higher being believed to be responsible for the motion of each sphere. Faustus brushes off Mephistophilis's initial explanation of planetary movement as basic, since he presents a widely known theory at this time, and instead wants to understand the why behind the theory. Faustus wants to know more than the philosophers, and astronomers he has studied.
"fearful..." See in text (Scene 5)
Though Faustus just claimed that he did not believe in hell, here he admits that his fear of hell "echoes in his ears." Faustus fears his damnation but cannot, or will not do anything to stop it.
"one book more..." See in text (Scene 5)
Notice that Faustus's grand ideas about conquering the world and building bridges between his empires have been reduced to acquiring books. This could suggest that Faustus is looking for distraction from the knowledge of his impending damnation.
"For I am damned, and am now in hell...." See in text (Scene 5)
Faustus denies the reality of hell while speaking to a demon. Mephistophilis points out this absurdity and thus makes Faustus appear more foolish to the audience. The blatant denial of the truth before him either represents Faustus's blindness or his intentional rejection of a reality he cannot bear.
"Why, think'st thou, then, that Faustus shall be damned? ..." See in text (Scene 5)
Faustus's lines after he signs the contract with Mephistophilis appear surprisingly ignorant to his reality: he has just signed a deal with the devil and does not to seem to realize that this means he is damned. Faustus's ignorance can be read in two ways. First, that he genuinely does not believe in hell or damnation and thus believes that he is getting magical powers for free. Second, that Faustus is in denial about his impending doom and therefore pretends that hell is not real.
"hell...." See in text (Scene 5)
Notice that the first thing Faustus wants to know about is hell, a place that he earlier stated he did not fear because he knew it so well. This shows Faustus's lingering insecurity and doubt about his decision.
"great as Lucifer..." See in text (Scene 5)
This statement is ironic given everything Mephistophilis has told Faustus and the audience about hell and Lucifer. Lucifer is not "great" but rather trapped and tortured in hell. Being as "great as Lucifer" ironically means being as imprisoned and powerless as Lucifer.
"As great as have the human souls of men...." See in text (Scene 5)
Notice how many times Mephistophilis emphasizes souls suffering in hell. He claims here that demons, himself included, suffers just as much as human souls. However, also notice that this fact seems to be lost on Faustus. Faustus's pride and arrogance blind him to the reality of hell and keep him from hearing Mephistophilis's warnings.
"When Mephistophilis shall stand by me,..." See in text (Scene 5)
Notice how Faustus's conception of his own power has shifted. He no longer believes that he will make the mountains move and rulers will fear him, but rather that nothing can touch him when he is with Mephistophilis. Faustus has no power of his own; he is completely dependent on the demon who owns his soul.
"ippocras..." See in text (Scene 6)
" 'ippocras" is Robin's pronunciation of Hippocras, a spiced wine. Marlowe uses verbal mispronunciations like this to emphasize Robin and Ralph's lack of learning and low class status.
"chafing..." See in text (Scene 6)
"Chafing" means scolding. Ralph's lines position these two characters as servants who are at the beck and call of demanding masters. They are the low characters in the play.
"cosmography,..." See in text (Chorus 2)
"Cosmography" is the mapping of the heavens. Faustus has gone to "prove cosmography" which means to check the accuracy of the maps Mephistophilis gave him. This either suggests that Faustus remains skeptical about the knowledge that Mephistophilis gives him, or that he cannot learn anything through secondhand knowledge, he must experience to believe.
"I swear..." See in text (Scene 7)
Notice that Faustus is now swearing by the underworld and the places ruled by the Devil rather than God or paradigms of Christianity. Faustus has undergone a change between this scene and the last time we saw him: he obeyed the Devil and thinks only of him.
"power of my Spirit..." See in text (Scene 9)
The "power of my spirit" can mean two things. Spirit could refer to Faustus's own soul and signify that he is the person performing the magic. However, spirit could also refer to Mephistophilis, the demon he can control because he sold his soul. This line either demonstrates Faustus's power in black magic, or his ironic powerlessness if he must ask Mephistophilis to do his bidding.
"ostry..." See in text (Scene 10)
This is a low class pronunciation of hostelry, which is another term for an inn. Faustus uses his lost leg to blackmail the Horse-courser into giving him forty more dollars. Notice again that Faustus uses his powers for a measly sum; Faustus is wasting the power for which he sold is soul.
"fifty..." See in text (Scene 10)
Notice that Faustus is squabbling with this low class character over a sum of ten dollars. This once again demonstrates the tragic waste of Faustus's ambitions and power. He is not stockpiling immense wealth or empire, he is arguing over an insignificant sum.
"eight nights..." See in text (Scene 10)
Lack of sleep in Marlowe's time would have suggested a deep spiritual or psychological problem. Just as Lady Macbeth stops sleeping and wandering in the night because she is haunted by her deeds, Faustus is haunted by his damnation. This lack of sleep demonstrates that Faustus is not as flippant about his eternal fate as he claimed to be at the beginning of the play.
"Master Fustian..." See in text (Scene 10)
Notice that the Horse-Courser mistakes Faustus's name. This either shows that the character is shady and suspicious or that he is of the low class and therefore illiterate. This character's speech and profession would have made him unsympathetic to Marlowe's audience.
"all his goods:..." See in text (Chorus 4)
Faustus giving away his earthly goods suggests that he understands their worthlessness. While at the beginning of the play he did not believe in damnation or death, now he knows that physical earthly objects mean nothing. He instead indulges in drinking and carousing to distract himself from his ultimate damnation.
"furnace..." See in text (Scene 12)
Notice that the Old Man calls Earth a "furnace," a descriptor generally reserved for Hell. To this pious man, Earth itself has been a Hell because he is so pure. Unlike Faustus, the Old Man was able to resist temptation and pride and will now be rewarded with Heaven. The Old Man acts as a foil that demonstrates Faustus's faults.
"snares of death..." See in text (Scene 12)
Notice that Faustus is worried not about Hell but about death itself. He is not repenting for his sinful actions but wondering how he can escape death all together and continue living.
"Damned art thou..." See in text (Scene 12)
At the end of the play, Faustus fully recognizes the damnation that he has been pretending to ignore since the beginning. Notice though that Faustus does not react to the Old Man's warning the way a typical Renaissance character would. The recognition of his damnation and inevitable death does not make him repent. This suggests that Faustus cannot repent; he is predestined to die damned.
"I cannot touch his soul,..." See in text (Scene 12)
The Old Man is Faustus's foil. While Faustus remains beautiful because of his magic pact with the Devil, his soul is black and rotten. The Old Man, on the other hand, has a hideous exterior but a soul so beautiful Mephistophilis himself cannot touch it. The Old Man demonstrates Faustus's accursed nature by being exactly opposite of him.
"blest be Faustus evermore..." See in text (Scene 12)
This is the last act of conjuring that Faustus does in this play. Notice that once again Faustus acts in service of someone else rather than to advance his own desires, power, or wealth. He seems to be serving, but he is not serving God so it will not redeem his soul.