Doctor Faustus | Analytical Summary and Critical Opinion

Doctor Faustus | Analytical Summary and Critical OpinionDoctor Faustus Summary

The action of the play begins with Faustus discovered in his study. He discusses each of the arts-logic, physic, law and divinity in turn, and expresses his dissatisfaction with them all. He has mastered them all, but they have left him ‘still but Faustus and a man’. He chafes at the mortal limitations and aspires after the art of magic. That secret knowledge can only assure him of profit and pleasure. It alone can give him the command of the universe and make him more powerful than any emperor or king Faustus looks upon a magician as a mighty god and resolves to attain this state.

Of course, Faustus’s mind is not free from the prick of conscience. The good spirit and the evil contend sharply within him. Faustus’s passion for omnipotence and the solicitations of his friends—Valdes and Comelius-, however, urge him to summon Mephistophilis, by means of incantations, to his side.

Mephistophilis is presented as an attendant spirit, ‘a servant to great Lucifer’. He tells Faustus that his master is eager for the prize of a sinner’s glorious soul’ and advises him to abjure the Trinity stoutly and pray to the Prince of Hell only. After enquiring about Lucifer and Hell, Faustus agrees to surrender his soul to the master of Mephistophilis, if he is allowed to live for twenty four years in all voluptuousness’ with Mephistophilis as his attendant. Mephistophilis leaves to inform his master of the proposal of Faustus, who, on his turn, begins to muse upon the power that he will command by the infernal aid.


Faustus is, again, discovered in his study. There is a struggle within his heart. Good and evil spirits whisper their counsels to him. A voice seems to sound in his ears – “Abjure this magic, turn to God again”. But the temptation is too strong, and, at midnight, in his study, alone with Mephistophilis, Faustus seals the bond. He is bidden by Mephistophilis to sign with his own blood, but soon, as he has written a few words, it congeals. It is melted by a chafer of coals brought by Mephistophilis. As he finishes the bill, Faustus is startled to find the mysterious inscription ‘home fuge’ on his arm. He is, to some extent, confounded and unnerved, but Mephistophilis diverts his mind with a pageant of the devils who offer rich gifts to him. Assured by Mephistophilis that he, too, can raise up spirits such as these, at his will, Faustus makes over his deed of the gift of “the body and soul to the servant of great Lucifer.

The contract of Faustus with Lucifer is now complete. Mephistophilis asks Faustus to put any question he likes. The latter repeats the old question of the whereabouts of hell. Mephistophilis gives him reply in the same vein. He points out to Faustus categorically that hell has no limit or boundary and that all places, which are not heaven, shall be hell.

Faustus now begins to try his newly gained power by demanding a wife, who must be the fairest maid in Germany.

Mephistophilis, after warning him against the silly ceremony of marriage, brings up a woman hardly of his choice. Afterwards he makes some more demands to confirm his newly won power, all of which are immediately complied with by Mephistophilis.

The acute prick of conscience, which Faustus can stifle by his passion for unlawful knowledge, remains all the while active within him. The Good Angel constantly whispers in his ears to repent. Faustus, in an outburst of remorse, calls upon Christ to save his soul. Lucifer, along with Belzebub and Mephistophilis, rushes in. He introduces himself to Faustus and warns him that he is violating his contract. Faustus vows in terror that he will no more look to heaven, name God, or pray to Him. The prince of Hell then presents the Seven Deadly Sins before Faustus who interrogates each of them. Lucifer gives a book to Faustus and asks him to peruse it thoroughly. He now goes away, followed by Belzebub. (Act II)

Faustus is now in the absolute command of his power. He visits Rome and performs, with the help of Mephistophilis, some tricks to annoy the Pope and other church-men. He performs further conjuring feats at the place of German Emperor, and at the court of the Duke of Vanhalt and win and high admiration and handsome rewards. [Act III and IV]

At last comes that final hour of Faustus’s doom. The scheduled period of twenty-four years has run its course and Faustus, much terrified, awaits the damnation of his soul.

He is consoled by some scholars who are much moved by the agonised state of his mind. As he is left alone with ‘but one bare hour to live’, Faustus is terribly tormented and reaches the height of passion and terror. In the frenzy of despair, he appeals to the sun to rise, rise again, and make perpetual day’. He seeks to leap up to God and craves for a drop, even half a drop of Christ’s blood that ‘streams in the firmament’. He entreats Lucifer to spare him and calls upon ‘mountains and hill to hide him from “the heavy wrath of God’. He also wants to run headlong into the earth, which must gape and harbour him.

Faustus’s frenzied prayers are of no avail, and he curses the immortality that brings about his unending torment. The clock strikes twelve. There are thunder and lightning, and the devils enter for their prey. The unimaginable horror of hell hedges him all around with his broken agonized words of prayer, Faustus is borne off to his doom in the hard clutch of his captors. [Act VI]

The play end with the final choric ode that draws a deep lesson from Faustus’s awful end. This is of the fatal effect of indulgence in too ambitious and dangerous activities.

Quotes on Doctor Faustus

“How greatly it is all planned”

– Goethe

“In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe attempted something new – the delineation of a struggle within the mind of the chief figure. This struggle is certainly somewhat primitive in its expression, but it is a foretaste of these inwards characteristics towards which, as Professor Vaughan has pointed out, drama, in its development, inevitably tends. Faustus, in this respect, is unquestionably the greatest tragic figure in the sixteenth century literature outside the work of Shakespeare.”


“Never had his genius soared so high, whether in the art of verse or in the general conception of the play. It is a pity that this drama, as it has come down to us, unfinished or mutilated, rough-learn or decayed, is only the very imperfect fulfillment of a great design.”


“But perhaps the highest praise that can be given to Marlowe’s Faustus is that, while it inevitably challenge comparisons with the masterpieces of modern literature it must always have its unique interest, not only as an Elizabethan play, but as the typically Renaissance render of the great story upon which it is based.”


“The scene in which Faustus sells himself to Mephistophilis and the final scene of redemption are obvious, Marlowe handles them magnificently, but the manipulation of the intermediate action proved too difficult.

-B. Evans

“Doctor Faustus is the greatest but the most controversy of Marlowe’s plays.”

– J.C Maxwell

“Greatly interior in structure and corrupted by interpolations, as it that play (Doctor Faustus) has wider human significance and contains the sublimest Marlowe’s writings, if anything is to be called the sum of his work, we think that it cannot be other than Faustus”

– Charlton

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