Character Analysis of Christopher Marlowe’s Play Doctor Faustus

Major Characters of Doctor Faustus

1. Doctor Faustus

The titular character Doctor Faustus is the protagonist and tragic hero of Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus. 

In the beginning, Faustus is just preparing to embark on his career as a magician. He imagines piling up wealth from all around the globe, reshaping the map of Europe and gaining access to every scrap of knowledge about the universe.

He is arrogant and self-aggrandizing, and his ambitions are so great that we even feel sympathetic toward him.

Doctor Faustus represents the spirit of the Renaissance, with its rejection of the medieval God-centered universe and its embrace of human potentialities.

Faustus also possesses an obtuseness that becomes apparent during his bargaining sessions with Mephastophillis. 

Having decided that a pact with the devil is the only way to fulfill his ambitions, Faustus blinds himself to what such a pact actually means.

Also, ReadPlot Overview of Christopher Marlowe’s Play Doctor Faustus

Sometimes, Faustus, tells himself that hell is not so bad and that one needs only ‘fortitude’. At other times, he remarks to the disbelieving demon that he does not believe hell exists.

Despite his lack of concern about the prospect of eternal damnation, Faustus is also worried and doubtful from the beginning repeatedly approaching repentance only to pull back at the last moment.

Why Doctor Faustus fails to repent is unclear; sometimes, it seems a matter of pride and continuing ambition, sometimes a conviction that God will not hear his plea. At other times, it seems that Mephastophillis simply bullies him away from repenting. In fact, bullying Faustus is less difficult than it seems, for after setting his protagonist up as a grandly tragic figure of sweeping visions and immense ambitions, the playwright, Christopher Marlowe spends the middle scenes revealing Faustus’ true petty nature.

Once Faustus gains his long-awaited powers, he does not know what to do with them. Marlowe suggests that this uncertainty is caused by the fact that a desire for knowledge leads inevitably toward God, whom Faustus has renounced.

Furthermore, absolute power seems to corrupt Faustus because when he can do anything, he no longer wants to do anything at all. Instead, he traipses around Europe, playing tricks on innocent people and performing conjuring acts to impress various heads of state.

Faustus wastes his incredible gifts for trifle entertainment. Hence, the possibility narrows down as he visits ever more minor nobles and performs ever more unimportant magical tricks.

Only in the final scene, Faustus is rescued from mediocrity as the knowledge of his impending doom restores his earlier gift of powerful rhetoric, and he regains his sweeping sense of vision. Now, the vision that he sees is of hell looming up to swallow him.

Marlowe employs much of his finest poetry to describe Faustus’ final hours, during which Faustus’ desire for repentance finally wins out, although too late.

Nevertheless, Faustus is restored to his earlier grandeur in his closing speech, with its hurried rush from idea to idea and its despairing, Renaissance-renouncing last line, “I’ll burn my book.”

Faustus becomes once again a tragic hero, a great man undone because his ambitions have butted up against the law of God.

2. Mephastophillis

The character of Mephastophillis is one of the first in a long tradition of sympathetic literary devils which includes figures like John Milton’s Satan. 

Marlowe’s Mephastophillis is particularly interesting because he has mixed motives. From his first appearance, he clearly intends to act as an agent of Faustus’ damnation.

It is Mephastophillis who witnesses Faustus’ pact with Lucifer and throughout the play, he steps in whenever Faustus considers repentance, in order to threaten him into staying loyal to hell.

In fact, there is an odd ambivalence in Mephastophillis. He seeks to damn Faustus but he is himself damned and speaks freely of the horrors of hell.

While talking to a demon, Faustus declares that he does not believe in hell, but Mephastophillis groans and insists that hell is real and terrible.

Before the pact is sealed, Mephastophillis warns Faustus against making the deal with Lucifer.  Like Faustus, Mephastophillis also is too proud and is doomed to hell.

3. Old Man

Old Man is an enigmatic figure who appears in the final scene of Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus. 

The old man urges Faustus to repent and to ask God for mercy. In fact, he seems to replace good and evil angels who try to influence Faustus’ behavior.

4. Lucifer

Lucifer is the prince of devils, the ruler of hell in Doctor Faustus. In fact, he is also the master of Mephastophillis. 

In Christianity, Lucifer is often thought to be the other name of Satan. 

5. Good Angel and Evil Angel

Good Angel is a spirit that urges Doctor Faustus to repent for his pact with Lucifer and return to God.

Evil Angel is a spirit that serves as the counterpart of the Good Angel and provides Faustus with reasons not to repent for sins against God.

Along with the Old Man, Good Angel and Evil Angel represent, in many ways, Faustus’ conscience and divided will between good and evil.

6. Wagner

In Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Wagner is Doctor Faustus’ servant. Wagner uses his master’s books to learn how to summon devils and work as a magician.

7. Cornelius

Cornelius is a friend of Faustus who teaches him the dark arts. However, he appears in the first act of Doctor Faustus. 

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