Faustus is born to a common family in Rhodes, Germany. In his maturity, while living with relatives in Wittenberg, he studies theology and becomes a doctor as well. However, Faustus is so swollen with conceit that, like Daedalus, the ancient Greek inventor, he strives too far, becoming glutted with learning. He conspires with the Devil and falls, accursed to Hell.
At the outset of his downward path, Doctor Faustus finds himself complete master of three fields of knowledge—medicine, law, and theology. As a medical doctor, he achieves huge success and great renown. After obtaining good health for his patients, he faces no challenge except achieving immortality for them. He concludes that law is nothing but an elaborate moneymaking scheme. He thinks that only theology remains, but that it leads to a blind alley. He knows that the reward of sin is death and that no one can say that he or she is without sin; all people, guilty of sin, consequently die.
Necromancy, or black magic, greatly attracts Faustus. Universal power would be within his reach, the whole world would be at his command, and emperors would lie at his feet, if he could become a magician. Summoning his servant, Wagner, Faustus orders him to contact Valdes and Cornelius, believing they could teach him their black arts.
The Good Angel and the Evil Angel each try to persuade Faustus. Faustus is in no mood to listen to the Good Angel. He exults over the prospects of his forthcoming adventures. He will get gold from India, pearls from the oceans, tasty delicacies from faraway places; he will read strange philosophies, cull from foreign kings their secrets, control Germany with his power, reform public schools, and perform many other fabulous deeds. Eager to acquire knowledge of the black arts, he departs to study with Valdes and Cornelius. Before long the scholars of Wittenberg begin to notice the doctor’s prolonged absence. Learning from Wagner of his master’s unhallowed pursuits, the scholars lament the fate of the famous doctor.
Faustus’s first act of magic is to summon Mephostophilis. At the sight of the ugly Devil, he orders Mephostophilis to assume the shape of a Franciscan friar. The docile obedience of Mephostophilis elates Faustus the magician, but Mephostophilis explains that magic has limits in the Devil’s kingdom. Mephostophilis claims that he does not actually appear at Faustus’s behest but comes, as he will to any other person, because Faustus curses Christ and abjures the Scriptures. Whenever someone is on the verge of being damned, the Devil will appear.
Interested in the nature of Lucifer, Faustus questions Mephostophilis about his master, the fallen angel, and about Hell, Lucifer’s domain. Mephostophilis is cagey. He claims that the fallen spirits, being deprived of the glories of Heaven, find the whole world to be Hell. Even Mephostophilis urges Faustus to give up his scheme. Faustus, however, scorns the warning, saying that he will surrender his soul to Lucifer if the fallen angel will give to Faustus twenty-four years of voluptuous ease, with Mephostophilis attending him.
While Faustus indulges in an intellectual dispute concerning the relative merits of God and the Devil, the Good Angel and the Evil Angel, symbolic of Faustus’s inner conflict, appear once again, each attempting to persuade him. The result is that Faustus is more determined than ever to continue his course.
Mephostophilis returns to assure Faustus that Lucifer is agreeable to the bargain, which must be sealed in Faustus’s blood. When Faustus tries to sign his name, however, his blood congeals, and Mephostophilis has to warm the liquid by fire. Significantly, the words “Fly, man” appear in Latin on Faustus’s arm. When Faustus questions Mephostophilis about the nature of Hell, the Devil claims that Hell has no limits for the damned. Intoxicated by his new status, Faustus disclaims any belief in an afterlife. In this way, he assures himself that his contract with Lucifer...
(The entire page is 1,044 words.)
Owl Eyes subscribers get unlimited access to our expert annotations, analyses, and study guides on your favorite texts. Master the classics for less than $5/month!