In "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" by Marlowe, does Faustus command or is he commanded by Mephistophilis?  The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe [Enter...

In "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" by Marlowe, does Faustus command or is he commanded by Mephistophilis?

 

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
by Christopher Marlowe


[Enter MEPHISTOPHILIS.]
     FAUSTUS. I charge thee to return, and change thy shape;
     Thou art too ugly to attend on me:
     Go, and return an old Franciscan friar;
     That holy shape becomes a devil best.
[Exit MEPHISTOPHILIS.]
     I see there's virtue in my heavenly words:
     ...
     How pliant is this Mephistophilis,
     Full of obedience and humility!
     Such is the force of magic and my spells:
     Now, Faustus, thou art conjuror laureat,
     That canst command great Mephistophilis:
     ...
[Re-enter MEPHISTOPHILIS like a Franciscan friar.]
     MEPHIST. Now, Faustus, what wouldst thou have me do?

     FAUSTUS. I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,
     To do whatever Faustus shall command,
     Be it to make the moon drop from her sphere,
     Or the ocean to overwhelm the world.

     MEPHIST. I am a servant to great Lucifer,
     And may not follow thee without his leave:
     No more than he commands must we perform.
(Editor Rev. Alexander Dyce, Quarto of 1604)

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The breadth of the tragedy depends upon the answer to this question. As you can see from the full context of the quote above, Faustus believes he can command Mephistophilis, he expects to command him. Yet Mephistophilis, though willing to change his appearance at Fuastus's bidding, makes it clear that he takes his commands from Lucifer and no one else:

MEPHIST. I am a servant to great Lucifer,
     And may not follow thee without his leave:
     No more than he commands must we perform.

Faustus fully expects Mephistophilis to even alter the course of nature and natural events for him at his command:

Be it to make the moon drop from her sphere,
     Or the ocean to overwhelm the world

Yet when Faustus steps outside the bounds of Lucifer's limits for him, Lucifer comes personally and redirects Faustus's ideas and puts constraints on his prospects. Then, Lucifer leaves him with a book that teaches him nothing more than the parlor-magic of how to change his shape:

LUCIFER. Thou shalt; I will send for thee at midnight.110
     In meantime take this book; peruse it throughly,
     And thou shalt turn thyself into what shape thou wilt.

It is made clear by this visit, if it were still uncertain from went before, that though Faustus may command some things, the ultimate command is in the control of Mephistophilis as the agent of the great commander, Lucifer himself. This broadens the tragedy because Faustus can't have what he sells his soul to attain: unlimited knowledge. As Mephistophilis says at the very beginning:

I am a servant to great Lucifer,
     And may not follow thee without his leave:
     No more than he commands must we perform.

Sources:

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