Discuss Marlowe's Doctor Faustus with regard to temptation.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Christopher Marlowe's play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, there seems to be one temptation that leads Faustus astray. Faustus is already a religious scholar, but turns his back on this knowledge and considers the black arts. He has friends that practice necromancy, and he sends Wagner, his assistant, to bring them to him. In the meantime, two angels appear: one is good and the other is evil. The Good Angel warns Faustus to stop reading about the black arts, to read the Bible instead, and avoid temptation. However, the Evil Angel speaks to Faustus' ego, telling him he can be as important on earth as Jove (God) is in heaven.

Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art

Wherein all Nature's treasure is contain'd:

Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,

Lord and commander of these elements.

Doctor Faustus eventually calls forth Mephistophilis, a servant of Lucifer (the Devil). The dark "angel's" appearance is so "ugly," that Faustus sends him away, telling him to return looking (ironically) like a Franciscan friar. Mephistophilis goes to do his bidding, and the usually wise Faustus allows his ego to overpower his intellect: he believes he holds sway over this servant of the Devil, praising himself for his power.

How pliant is this Mephistophilis,

Full of obedience and humility!

Such is the force of magic and my spells:

No, Faustus, thou art conjuror laureat,

That canst command great Mephistophilis...

This concept of man being tricked into believing that he can control beings more powerful than himself—which leads to his doom—is seen also (as one example) in Shakespeare's Macbeth, when Macbeth believes that he controls the three witches. The Goddess of the Witches, Hecate, declares that a false sense of security leads one's soul to damnation. Faustus is as foolish as Macbeth.

Faustus talks with Mephistophilis about the fall of Lucifer, Faustus' lack of fear of eternal damnation (he thinks hell is a "fable"), and his willingness to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for Mephistophilis' service for twenty-four years. Even Mephistophilis tries to tempt Faustus to change his mind, knowing himself the suffering of being kept from the presence of God:

O, Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,

Which strike a terror to my fainting soul!

Faustus ignores him, and makes his deal. He wants riches, "control [of] the elements," and a "knowledge of nature." Several times, Faustus considers repenting, but the powers of darkness convince him there is no hope and Faustus agrees. At the end, as Faustus' life approaches its end, the scholars speak to Faustus just before he must relinquish his soul, telling him to appeal to God and ask forgiveness.


Yet, Faustus, look up to heaven; remember God's mercies are infinite.

But Faustus sees no hope for himself.

FAUSTUS. But Faustus' offence can ne'er be pardoned:  the serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus.

Faustus is taken by Mephistophilis, and then the Chorus enters.

The Chorus tell us that while Faustus was a branch that "might have grown full straight," instead he yearned to learn "unlawful things ... [and] to practice more than heavenly power permits."

The Chorus warns others not to make the same mistake. Faustus is tempted by his desire to rise above his place in this world, and by the time he realizes his foolishness, it is too late for him to redeem his soul—and he is carried off to hell.