Last Updated on September 23, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1254
The Chorus begins by addressing the audience. The Chorus explains that the narrative which follows is not a story of kings and heroes like those of Greek antiquity but is instead the story of Faustus, a German man of humble birth, who excelled in his scholarly pursuits in order to become a respected doctor. However, the Chorus warns, Faustus’s ego was to get the better of him. Comparing him to the Greek mythological story of Icarus, the Chorus says that Faustus’s conceit would cause his studies to sway towards the magical arts in a search for power, resulting in his tragic downfall. The narrative then moves to Faustus as he sits in his study.
Faustus contemplates which area of study he ought to prioritize. First, he considers the field of natural philosophy and logic, citing specifically Aristotle’s works. He rejects this, however, saying that philosophy does not yield profound enough results. Next, he considers devoting himself to the study of medicine, citing Galen, the famous Roman physician. However, he quickly decides that the field of medicine is too pedestrian to meet his desires, focused as it is on that which goes on in the human body. Then, he considers devoting himself to the study of law but decides that the legal field is too self-serving, concerned only with the meager laws of humankind. Following this line of thought, Faustus then considers devoting himself to theology. He rejects this idea, however, and offers a specific argument for doing so. Citing Romans 6:23, which says “the reward for sin is death,” Faustus argues that because all human beings are born in sin and must die, then both sin and death are inevitable. Thus the inevitability of sin and death leads Faustus to his final idea: that he should study magic.
Delighted by this idea, Faustus enumerates the marvelous things he could do if he were to become a master in this field, asserting that he could control both humans and the world, making him like a god. His servant, Wagner, enters, and Faustus tells him to go and bring Valdes and Cornelius, friends of his who are learned in the ways of magic.
At this point, the Evil Angel and the Good Angel both enter and attempt to convince Faustus to follow through, and to repent, respectively. The Good Angel tells Faustus to drop the idea of studying magic and turn instead back to theology and to scripture, in order to avoid blasphemy and damnation. The Evil Angel, conversely, tells Faustus to delve into the magical arts because doing so will make him like the god Zeus, master of all elements in the world. Both angels exit.
Having clearly been convinced by the Evil Angel, Faustus excitedly speaks of the wondrous things he will be able to accomplish with unholy power: discovering the world’s grandest treasures, exploring each corner of the globe, learning all the secrets of nations and of philosophy, commanding the political landscape of Europe, and even changing the course of the Rhine for the benefit of Germany.
Valdes and Cornelius both enter, and Faustus explains the thought process which led him to his new desire to master the magical arts. Valdes and Cornelius both happily reply that they will teach him what they know, suggesting that between the three of them, they will become a great and unstoppable force. The three agree to have dinner together, after which Valdes and Cornelius will teach Faustus to conjure demons.
In scene 2, we see two scholars who have come to call upon Faustus. When they...
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ask Wagner where they can find the master of the household, Wagner replies with a series of comedic and inane rhetorical tricks, intended to mock the intelligence of the two scholars and impress upon them Wagner’s own perceived intelligence. After some argument, Wagner finally tells the men that Faustus is having dinner with Cornelius and Valdes. The scholars are immediately concerned that Faustus, whom they respect, may have fallen prey to the lure of magic, the study of which Valdes and Cornelius are known to engage. The scholars depart to find the local rector, hoping that he will be able to convince Faustus to repent and save his soul.
Scene 3 begins as Faustus enters his study, carrying a book of magic. Having learned the art of summoning demons from Cornelius and Valdes, he sets himself immediately to the task, drawing a circle on the floor, along with the names of various holy figures. After speaking a Latin incantation, Faustus successfully summons the demon Mephistophilis.
Faustus recoils, however, at the hellish appearance of Mephistophilis and demands that the demon disappear and return as a Franciscan friar. Mephistophilis does precisely as Faustus commands and upon his return asks what Faustus would have him do.
Faustus tells the demon to do his bidding, but Mephistophilis refuses, saying that he only obeys the commands of Lucifer. Mephistophilis clarifies his statement, saying that the incantation with which Faustus summoned him was not itself the chief cause of his arrival. Rather, the demons of hell are always seeking to claim the souls of those who would reject God. Faustus reaffirms his rejection of God and praises Lucifer.
In their conversation, Faustus asks whether or not Lucifer was once an angel of God, and Mephistophilis responds affirmatively. He says that Lucifer was once beloved of God but succumbed to a downfall borne of pride and rebellion and was cast down to hell along with all the other spirits who supported him. Faustus then asks how Mephistophilis could have left hell, and Mephistophilis tells him that hell is not a location but the absence of God’s divine joy, and he is therefore in hell at all times. Mephistophilis at this point asks Faustus not to speak any more of hell, as the subject is too terrible, even for a demon.
Faustus, however, scoffs and says that he has too great a fortitude to be afraid of God’s rejection and demands that Mephistophilis return to Lucifer with his offer: In exchange for twenty-four years of servitude from Mephistophilis, Faustus will offer Lucifer his eternal soul.
Mephistophilis agrees to do this and exits. Faustus then remarks that if he had one thousand souls to give, he would make the same bargain one thousand times. The scene ends with Faustus musing once more about the impressive, lofty goals he has for the powers he will soon possess.
Scene 4 takes place in the street and consists of a comedic interaction between Faustus’s servant, Wagner, and a Clown. Wagner calls out to the Clown in jest, insulting him for his low status and evident poverty. The Clown responds to Wagner’s insults with self-deprecating jokes and double-entendres. Wagner comments that the Clown is so poor that he would surely sell his soul to the devil for a shoulder of raw mutton, and the Clown responds that he would only sell his soul for a cooked shoulder of mutton with a good sauce. Continuing to trade insults, Wagner threatens the Clown with magic, saying that he will conjure devils for the Clown’s torment unless he agrees to become Wagner’s servant for seven years. Upon seeing the devils, the Clown cries and relents, agreeing to become a servant. The Clown then implores Wagner to teach him the magic for summoning devils, and the two joke further about the mischief they would cause with magical powers. Wagner insists now on being called “Master.”