Marlowe's drama Doctor Faustus is based on what purported to be a real account of a German scholar and magician of the name of Doctor John Faustus (1488-1541) who is said to have performed wonders and wreaked havoc across Germany until his death in 1541. An English language account of his life appeared in 1588. Marlowe, born in 1564, had just left Cambridge when The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus was published in England. Undoubtedly, Marlowe's youthful energy and Doctor John Faustus had much to do with the writing of his own The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.
With this background, Doctor Faustus is the story of a scholar who has exhausted every field of knowledge and yet scorns these accomplishments as being inadequate for greatness, power and glory. Faustus turns to magic--even to black magic--and calls upon the minion of Lucifer requiring him, Mephistophilis, to fulfill his aspirations for power and unlimited knowledge. Mephistophilis agrees in an underhanded sort of way, knowing that what he grants is itself limited by the bounds of Lucifer's authority over a both. Faustus, though quailing with fears--and seeing the warning "Homo fuge" ("Fly, man") written upon his arm as he readies to sign in blood the contract with the Devil--nonetheless sells his soul to the Devil for twenty-four short years of magical tricks, books of limited knowledge, and evil.
During these years, Faustus is still visited by both the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, the former trying to lead him to repent his deed and thereby still find redemption for his soul and the latter encouraging him in his evil ways. After tormenting Mephistophilis with the name of God, the whole contingent of Beelzebub, Lucifer and Mephistophilis successfully overwhelm Faustus who is cowed and intimidated into trembling compliance.
Again serving the dark powers, the Good Angel rejected, Faustus explores the cosmos in a dragon-flown chariot and finds himself--ironically--in Rome at the Pope's palace playing magical pranks against him, though Marlowe draws the Pope as someone as villainous as Faustus. The Chorus re-enters to tell us that Faustus gains some of the fame he covets (but not all the power), and he is welcome at the Emperor's palace (where pranks he plays come back to haunt him) and at the Duke and Duchess palace.
As the end of the last days of his twenty-four years draw near, he absorbs himself in drinking bouts where he conjures up Helen of Troy. Though a visitor in the person of the Old Man and his fellow scholars try to persuade him to follow his desires and repent, he refuses citing terror at the wrath and pain Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mephistophilis inflict if he so much thinks of God as his reason for not repenting. In the end, all abandon Faustus, the scholars and the Good Angel leaving him to face the torturing devils alone. His mutilated body is later found, and the Chorus enters to explain the tragical lessons to be learned from Doctor Faustus's regretted choices.