Dover Book

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    Dr. Faustus, or Faust is a character of German legend, the story of which has been interpreted by numerous authors, playwrights, and musicians throughout the ages. It is about a man who bargains with the devil for earthy power and knowledge in exchange for eternal damnation.
    Though often the subject of clowns or puppet theatre in Germany, Christopher Marlowe's play treats his Faustus dead serious. Marlowe lived in Elizabethan England—a contemporary of William Shakespeare, but died after being stabbed during a quarrel at age 29, a sad loss for a man of such talent. The original title was The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, and it was first published in 1604, eleven years after Marlowe's death, but parts of it had actually been written while he was working on his M.A. at Cambridge. While Goethe's Faust, first published in 1808, is granted redemption in the end, Marlowe is not so merciful in his version, and though Dr. Faustus makes a few feeble attempts to beg forgiveness, Mephistopheles and the Devil's other agents keep him in check.
    Whenever I think abut this tale, I wonder how anyone could be so greedy, so obsessed with power, so filled with lust as to make a pact with the devil for the purpose of experiencing unlimited earthly delights. Why would anyone do that? My question was partially answered here, in a conversation between Faustus and Mephistopheles:

Meph: All places shall be hell that is not Heaven.
Faustus: Come, I think hell's a fable.
Meph: Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind.
Faustus: Why think'st thou then that Faustus shall be damn'd?
Meph: Ay, of necessity, for here's the scroll
    Wherein thou hast given thy soul to Lucifer.
Faustus: Ay, and body, too; but what of that?
    Think'st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine (fond meaning foolish)
    That, after this life there is any pain?
    Tush; these are trifles and mere old wives' tales.

    Faustus obviously does not believe in hell, though a devil stands before him, and he doesnt much believe in Heaven either. And the scroll mentioned above refers to the pact which Faustus has written in his own blood.

    So for twenty-four years, Mephistopheles is Faust's servant, at his beck and call to perform any wonder or magic or whim. And that is often the comic relief, such as the scene in the Pope's privy-chamber, where he is at a banquet with the Cardinal of Lorrain and attendant friars. Faust becomes invisible, and steals the meat and wine. When the Pope begins crossing himself, Faust warns him to stop, and when he doesn't, he smacks him. Then they beat up on the friars, and set off fireworks.
    But finally, twenty-four years has passed, and by this time Faust knows for sure it was not a joke, and that hell is his destiny. In the last scene, it is an hour before the clock strikes midnight, and he is trying to conjure, attempting to make an hour last a year or month or week, or even one more day to give him a chance to save his soul. An old man enters, urging him to repent, there is still time, but Mephistopheles quickly appears and threatens to tear his flesh apart for disobedience to Lucifer. The play ends as the devils come to carry him off.


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