Doctor Faustus Characters
The main characters in Doctor Faustus are Doctor Faustus, Mephistophilis, Wagner, the Good and Evil Angels, and the Old Man.
Doctor Faustus sells his soul to the devil in return for twenty-four years of power. He represents the overachieving Renaissance individualist.
- Mephistophilis is the demon who lures Faustus into a contract for his soul and who carries out his wishes for twenty-four years.
Wagner is Faustus's prideful, ambitious servant.
The Good and Evil Angels appear periodically to sway Faustus towards their respective moral aims.
The Old Man tries to compel Faustus to repent shortly before his twenty-four years are over.
The titular character and tragic hero of the play, Faustus is a brilliant and well-respected German scholar. Faustus decides to learn magic in order to gain wealth, fame, and power. He summons the demon Mephistophilis and sells his eternal soul to Lucifer in exchange for twenty-four years of service from Mephistophilis, who is to grant him whatever he wishes.
Faustus is ambitious to a fault and egotistical enough to believe himself above hell’s torments. He sets himself high-minded and impressive goals, such as to reorganize Europe’s geographical boundaries. In practice, however, Faustus quickly finds that his true motivations are not as lofty as his ambitions. At first, he pursues grand knowledge, but he quickly stops doing so in favor of personal delights, such as mocking the Pope. He uses Mephistophilis’s power to pursue wealth and fame throughout Europe and perform for royalty. At times he reconsiders his commitment to Lucifer. He is, however, easily manipulated into complacency by the dark forces.
Faustus is not a particularly prudent man, and time easily gets away from him. He finds the twenty-four years drawing to a close faster than he could have imagined, and his ambitions turn into anxieties. As his remaining years dwindle, Faustus becomes increasingly petty and even vindictive. He uses Mephistophilis’s powers less extensively and often for mere low-brow entertainments. At the end of the twenty-four years, Faustus has abandoned nearly all ambitions, and he retires to his hometown and resumes his life as a scholar. As his inevitable damnation approaches, Faustus comes to regret his decision to sell his soul, but he is too late.
A demon monarch of hell and servant of Lucifer, Mephistophilis is summoned when Doctor Faustus begins his foray into magic. He comes to Faustus because he believes that there is a good chance of harvesting the scholar’s soul for Lucifer.
Surprisingly forthcoming and honest, Mephistophilis answers Faustus’s questions about Lucifer, hell, and damnation candidly. He admits that hell is everywhere and that he is tormented at all times by the absence of God’s presence and grace. He tells Faustus precisely which torments await the man should he sign away his soul.
Nonetheless, Mephistophilis is a demon and is intent on bringing Faustus’s soul to Lucifer. As such, he is both incredibly patient and very manipulative. Serving as Faustus’s servant for twenty-four years, Mephistophilis is the one who accomplishes every one of the deeds for which Faustus takes credit.
When Faustus wavers in his commitment to Lucifer, Mephistophilis can become wrathful and manipulative. He often tries to sway Faustus from seeking God’s grace, whether by distraction or coercion. Ultimately, Mephistophilis is merciless. The final words that Faustus utters are an appeal to Mephistophilis—an appeal that surely goes unmet.
The servant of Faustus, Wagner is of a lower class but is ambitious and prideful. He does the bidding of his master faithfully, but when left to his own devices, he can be mean-spirited and petty, seeming to take pleasure in bullying a local Clown for being in poverty. Wagner steals a book of magic spells from Faustus, and uses them with a sort of petty malice, forcing the Clown to become his servant and demanding to be called “Master Wagner.”
An expositional device used since ancient Greek theatre, the Chorus in Marlowe’s Faustus appears periodically to offer context. Directly addressing the audience as an omniscient narrator, the Chorus fills in the informational gaps between scenes, and indicates the passage of time. The Chorus also introduces the play and speaks the last lines at the end, conveying the final message.
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A man who is clearly in abject poverty, the Clown is the subject of Wagner’s abuse. True to form, however, the Clown uses self-deprecating humor to defy Wagner’s insults. Despite his low status, he displays himself as a person of some intelligence and wit. After being threatened by devils, he becomes Wagner’s servant for seven years.
Valdes and Cornelius
Valdes and Cornelius are the two scholars who introduce Faustus to the practice of magic. From their instruction, Faustus is able to summon Mephistophilis. Although these men are scholars in the same vein as Faustus, they do not seem to achieve the same level of renown, nor do they seem to summon spirits as effectively. This may be due to their relative unwillingness to defy God.
The Good Angel and the Evil Angel
The Good and Evil Angels enter scenes during times when Faustus experiences emotional conflict. The two angels try to convince him to do the right thing or the wrong thing, as the case may be. They do not seem to have any traits unto themselves, other than a desire to offer Faustus moral guidance. In this way, they are not so much as distinct characters but dual aspects of Faustus’s own personality and conscience.
Robin and Rafe
Robin and Rafe are two stable hands who act as comic relief and embody a kind of vulgarity. Although Robin is illiterate, he steals a book of magic from Faustus, and the two men use it to get away with stealing a silver goblet from the pub. Although they speak gibberish as they utter a spell, Robin and Rafe nonetheless successfully summon Mephistophilis. The demon is enraged by this and turns his wrath on them as a result, turning Robin into an ape and Rafe into a dog.
Lucifer is described as an unhappy resident of hell who seeks to populate his domain with souls so that he can have company in his misery. Once a beloved angel of God, Lucifer rebelled and was cast down into eternal torment caused by the absence of God’s grace. Lucifer tries to keep control of Faustus’s soul, putting on a show for Faustus and offering to lead him on a private tour of hell.
The Horse Courser
The Horse Courser is a horse trader. He tries to buy Faustus’s horse for considerably less than it is worth and later fails to heed Faustus’s warning not to ride the horse into water. The Horse Courser becomes enraged when the horse turns into a bundle of straw and demands his money back from the doctor. However, Faust plays a trick on the Horse Courser and makes him believe that he has pulled Faustus’s leg clean off. In so doing, the doctor extorts even more money out of the Horse Courser before sending him away, horrified.
The Old Man
Towards the very end of Faustus’s twenty-four years, the Old Man approaches Faustus and implores him to repent. This Old Man, representing God’s infinite mercy, conveys his disdain for Faustus’s sinful ways. His speech nearly drives Faustus to commit suicide, but the Old Man also stays Faustus’s hand and gives him hope that his soul may yet be redeemed. This, however, enrages Mephistophilis, who orders devils to attack the Old Man. He faces the approaching devils with dignity and courage, trusting in his faith in God.