In the play Doctor Faustus, who commands who? Is Doctor Faustus who commands the devil or vice versa?

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Your question presents an interesting quandary--Is being responsible for one's actions equivalent to being in command or control? I would argue that the two differ. For example, in a military setting, a soldier is responsible for his choices--whether he uses his training effectively, whether he acts with valor, whether he follows orders. However, he has no control over who gives him orders, what his assigned mission is, or where he is deployed; thus, he is not in command.

While Dr. Faustus clearly makes poor choices, he does not command or control whether Lucifer originally presents him with a deal or whether Mephistopheles  plagues him. Admittedly, Dr. Faustus believes that he is in control, but this is merely part of Mephistopheles' manipulation. In Scene XVI, Dr. Faustus accepts the consequences of his decision, but he has still resigned himself to "Fate" (regardless of whether that be the Devil's control over him or God's judgment). He is hardly the portrait of one who is in command. 

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I believe that Dr. Faustus makes his own choice: he has free will. While he may believe he commands the powers of darkness, only after he trades his soul has he actually become enslaved himself. Everything that happens to him is his fault. Perhaps his sense of superiority and ego cloud his better judgment.

In Scene III, Faustus makes it known to Mephistopheles that he knows exactly what he is doing; he has conjured, has rejected God and has thrown his lot in with Lucifer. Mephistopheles tells Faustus what a man must do to draw the attention of the powers of evil. For in these actions, the servants of the Devil see the chance to turn a soul to darkness and claim it.


… when we hear one rack the name of God, (50)

Abjure the Scriptures and his Saviour Christ,

We fly in hope to get his glorious soul;

Nor will we come, unless he use such means

Whereby he is in danger to be damned:

Therefore the shortest cut for conjuring (55)

Is stoutly to abjure the Trinity,

And pray devoutly to the Prince of Hell.

Faustus says he has done all that is necessary. He promises himself to Belzebub (Lucifer), and is unconcerned with the consequences ("damnation").


So Faustus hath

Already done; and holds this principle,

There is no chief but only Belzebub; (60)

To whom Faustus doth dedicate himself.

This word “damnation” terrifies not him...

Nearing the end, in Scene XVI, Faustus is stoic and reasonable about his fate:


But Faustus' offences can never be pardoned: the (15)

serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus.

The Scholars encourage him to ask for forgiveness, but he cannot.


Yet, Faustus, call on God.


On God, whom Faustus hath abjured! on God,

whom Faustus hath blasphemed! Ah, my God, I would (30)

weep, but the Devil draws in my tears.

Faustus entered into his agreement willingly.

Faustus recognizes that he knew what he was doing when he made his deal with Lucifer. Perhaps his ego blinded him to the true extent of what "damnation for all eternity" meant—perhaps he could not conceptualize it, therefore felt no fear of it. Either way, he does not make excuses for himself, but assumes responsibility for his actions.


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It is easy to pity Dr. Faustus, but we have to remember that he went into the deal with his eyes open. I don't think he was in any way tricked by the devil. He wanted to gain from his association with the devil, and so he made the deal.
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I agree with #3. It is very clear that it is Mephistopheles who calls the shots in regards to his relationship with Faustus ultimately, because although he acts like a sidekick in regards to Faustus, at the same time we know that his boss, Lucifer, is the one in charge. Ultimately, however, we must not allow this to make us think that Faustus does not hold control of his fate in his own hands--he makes his bargain and faces the consequences.

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Interesting question and one upon which much of the tragedy depends. Faustus clearly desires to command Mephistophilis and believes he does command him:

I make spirits fetch me what I please,
Resolve me of all ambiguities,
Perform what desperate enterprise I will


I charge thee to return, and change thy shape;
Thou art too ugly to attend on me:
Go, and return an old Franciscan friar;
How pliant is this Mephistophilis,
Full of obedience and humility!
Such is the force of magic and my spells:
I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,
To do whatever Faustus shall command,

Nonetheless, Mephisto attempts (subtly, perhaps) to set Faustus straight right at the beginning. He says clearly that it is Lucifer who gives him his orders and who sets the boundaries of what commands Mephisto may fulfill for others:

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.

All you need to do to analyze who gives whom commands is look at the transactions that occur between Faustus and Mephisto throughout beginning with Mephisto's provisio that Faustus sign in blood--a point Faustus unsuccessfully disputes before obeying:

MEPHIST. But, Faustus, thou must bequeath it solemnly,
And write a deed of gift with thine own blood;

Two other examples are: Faustus wants an empire, but meets an Emperor; he wants to "make the moon drop from her sphere," he is given books on the cosmos instead.

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Dr. Faustus is ultimately responsible for his own fate. He is not a "victim" of the devil.  In fact, when Mephistopheles first appears, he repeatedly implies that Faustus is making a bad decision by making his deal with Lucifer. Mephistopheles indicates that hell is not a place but a condition of the soul ("this is hell, nor am I out of it") and he makes it clear that the condition of being separated by God is a very painful condition and one that Faustus should reject. However, after Faustus signs his contract, Mephistopheles becomes more of a conventional tempter and manipulator. One scene that very clearly and repeatedly shows that Faustus is responsible for his own fate is the scene in which he gives his final speech. He keeps saying that he "must" be damned, but he never asks for forgiveness. He tries to blame everyone but himself (including his parents and also Lucifer), when in fact he is completely responsible for his own damnation.

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