Faustus, a fancy pants scholar and all-around boss decides he's bored with all the typical scholarly disciplines—philosophy, theology, medicine, and law. He decides to study magic instead, and gets a few of his more magically inclined buddies to teach him the fine art of pulling rabbits out of hats. Or something like that.
Faustus's decision to study magic may at first seem unremarkable, particularly to the modern reader who's well versed in Harry Potter and the Twilight series. Um, who wouldn't want to have magical powers?
But wait a second: First Scholar and Second Scholar seem really worried when Faustus's servant tells them that Dr. F has taken up with known magicians Valdes and Cornelius. They even seem to think his soul might be in danger. Apparently, there's a potential for something really bad to happen.
In order to gain Mephistopheles as a servant (so he can really scratch his magical itch), Faustus has to sign over his soul to the devil. And he doesn't seem particularly conflicted about it, saying "Had I as many souls as there be stars, / I'd give them all for Mephistopheles" (1.3.100-101).
But Faustus's blasé attitude certainty doesn't last long. There is a conflict here, and it's over Faustus's eternal soul, which is no small matter. He may not realize it at first, but the Good and Bad Angels certainly do, and they immediately begin warring to win Faustus over to their way of thinking.
Faustus wonders if he might still have a chance at salvation. And the Good Angel's all, sure you do, buddy! If you thought Faustus was as good as doomed the minute he started even contemplating signing that contract in blood with the devil, well, not so fast, mister (or miss). The Good Angel insists that Faustus still has a chance at salvation, if he'll only repent. This complicates things, because Faustus can't go about his business without wondering if he's made (and is still making) the right decision.
This is the moment that we've all been waiting for. It's the moment of truth for Faustus. Will he waver? He doesn't, but his blood does, congealing as if his own body is rejecting the idea of belonging to the devil eternally. Yet, in the end, the contract does get signed. Faustus belongs to the devil, and Mephistopheles to him (for now, anyway). The salvation ship has sailed. Or at least so we think.
At multiple points throughout the play, Faustus contemplates repentance. The Good and Bad Angel, and the Old Man, war for his soul.
The question that drives Doctor Faustus after he signs the contract with the devil is, will he repent, or won't he? Is repentance even possible for Faustus at this point? At several moments, Faustus seems ready to take it all back, even remarking at one point, "If heaven was made for man, 'twas made for me. / I will renounce this magic and repent" (2.3.10-11). And though he always ends up returning to his devils, we can't help but wonder if he'll eventually make his way back to God. Doesn't everyone deserve a second chance?
Suspense over. Faustus doesn't repent. He doesn't even seem to be able to. He's just too far gone. Although this answers our question about whether or not Faustus will repent (nope), it doesn't let us know whether or not he could have. Shmoop likes to think that that the play intentionally leaves the answer ambiguous, but what do you think?
In case there was any doubt in your mind about whether Faustus really died, the Scholars' discovery of his mangled body sure puts it to rest. And with the Chorus, we even get a nice interpretation of the meaning of Faustus's story—don't dabble in the dark arts, if you know what's good for you.