Plot Overview of Christopher Marlowe’s Play Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus, a well-received German scholar grows dissatisfied with the limits of traditional forms of knowledge – logic, medicine, law, and religion. As a result, he desires to learn to practice magic.

Faustus’ friends, Valdes and Cornelius instruct him in the black arts and he begins his new career as a magician by a devil named Mephastophillis. Mephastophillis warns him about the horrors of hell, but Faustus tells the devil to return to his master, Lucifer, with an offer of Faustus’ soul in exchange for twenty-four years of service from Mephastophillis.

In the meantime, Faustus’ servant, Wagner has gained some magical ability and uses it to force a clown named Robin into his service.

Mephastophillis goes to Faustus with a positive response from Lucifer; however, Faustus experiences some misgivings and wonders if he should repent and save his soul. Nevertheless, he agrees to the deal by signing it with blood. As soon as he signs the deal, the words “Homo Fuge”, Latin word for “O Man, Fly”, appear branded on his arm.

Again, Faustus has second thoughts, but Mephastophillis bestows rich gifts on him and gives him a book of spells to learn. Moreover, Mephastophillis answers all of Faustus’ questions about the nature of the world but refuses to answer when Faustus asks him about the creator of the universe. The refusal actually makes Faustus think of his misgivings. Meanwhile, Mephastophilis and Lucifer bring in personifications of seven deadly sins and impress Faustus again.

Armed with new powers and accompanied by Mephastophilis, Faustus begins to travel. He visits the Pope’s Court in Rome, makes himself invisible, and plays a series of tricks. He even disrupts the Pope’s banquet by stealing food and boxing the Pope’s ears.

Furthermore, he travels through the courts of Europe, earning more and more fame. Eventually, he is invited to the court of the German emperor, Charles V, who asks Faustus to allow him to see Alexander the Great. Faustus accordingly conjures up an image of the king and impresses Charles. A Knight scoffs at Faustus’ powers, and Faustus chastises him by making antlers sprout from his head. The furious Knight also vows revenge.

Also, read: Character Analysis of Christopher Marlowe’s Play – Doctor Faustus

Wagner’s clown, Robin has picked up some magic on his own, and with his fellow, Rafe, he undergoes a number of comic misadventures. When Robin manages to summon Mephastophilis, he Mephastophilis threatens to turn Robin and Rafe into animals.

On the other side, Faustus keeps on traveling, playing a trick on a horse-courser along the way. He sells the horseman a horse that turns into a heap of straw when ridden into a river.

Further, Faustus is invited to the court of Duke of Vanholt where he performs various feats. Even the horse-courser shows up there along with Robin and various others who have fallen victim to Faustus’ trickery. But he casts spells on them and manages to send them away.

As the twenty-four years of his deal with Lucifer is over, Faustus begins to dread his impending death. Hence, he has Mephastophilis call up Helen of Troy and uses her presence to impress a group of scholars.

An old man urges Faustus to repent, but Faustus drives him away. He summons Helen again and exclaims rapturously about her beauty. Faustus tells the scholars about his pact, and they are horror-stricken and resolve to pray for him.

On the final day before the expiration of the deal, Faustus is overcome by fear and remorse. He begs for mercy though it is too late. At midnight, a host of devils appear and carries his soul off to hell. The following morning, the scholars find Faustus’ limbs and decide to hold a funeral for him.

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