Dr Faustus- A Man’s Worst Enemy


Christopher Marlowe died at 29, a very early age for such an impressive playwright. A contemporary of Shakespeare, he only managed to write four texts, three of which were published posthumously. Out of these, it is almost inarguable, that the most thought provoking, emotionally moving and popular was The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus.

For those not familiar with the basic storyline, Faustus, a doctor of many disciplines sells his soul to the Devil for the use of the demon Mephostophilis for twenty four years. Despite initially having many visions of power and wealth once he signs the deal, Faustus wastes his gift, essentially becoming a travelling magician, impressing various courts with feats of illusion, all created by Mephostophilis. Eventually, despite repeated attempts to absolve himself of the deal, and become sided with God once again, Faustus is dragged to Hell, to face eternal torture and suffering. The text is a bleak one, with little in the way of redemption or salvation. Faustus’ torn clothes lie on the stage, as the curtains close, and the play ends.

Now, many readers of the text see Mephostophilis as the villain of the text. It is he who appears to Faustus when he considers selling his soul. It is also Mephostophilis who gives Faustus incentives to stay on the side of darkness, when his heart begins to stray toward the grace of God. However, I believe that Mephostophilis has a mere part to play in Faustus’ downfall. It is the Faustus himself that is the protagonist, but also the true antagonist in this play.

Faustus has multiple chances to save himself from damnation, but each time, he fails, fearing violence from various ‘hellish’ beings. Whenever Faustus considers repenting, an Angel and Devil appear, as essentially moral guides to help him decide. However, each time, it is the Devil that speaks first, and last. This seems to mean that Faustus has already made up his mind that he will stay on the path of evil. The Angel only seems to be there for the Devil to refute its arguments, a kind of ‘devil’s advocate’ (fairly ironic). Therefore, if Faustus was never really going to change his mind, from the very start of the play, we can consider him an evil character, damning himself to Hell, Satan only supplying the means to do it.

Another piece of evidence that points to Faustus being a villain is the marking that appears on his arm after he makes the pact with the Devil. The words ‘Homo Fuge’ appear, written like scars. The Latin for ‘fly man’, this seems to indicate that once the deal has been completed, Faustus’ flesh itself seems to indicate that his humanity has left him. He is no longer human. And if what we can assume about protagonists is correct, good characters are rarely without their humanity, their souls.

Of course, Faustus commits many sins during the play itself, torturing nobles who question his powers, and tricking men into buying horses made of hay. What I consider most damning is that he sleeps with a demon, who takes on the persona of Helen of Troy, whose face ‘launch’d a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of Ilium’. The previous act, Faustus tells the German Emperor that to touch a demon would damn ones soul to Hell. Now, weak willed, he himself succumbs to the touch of the demon. Faustus damns himself to Hell with finality, God refusing to forgive one who cavorts with Satan’s spawn.

In conclusion, I believe it quite clear that even though Mephostophilis plays an important part in Faustus’ downfall, it is the man himself who is the real villain of the play. By committing many heinous sins, Faustus’ perpetual torture in Hell can only be blamed on Faustus, not any other character in the play.

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