Study Guide

Doctor Faustus Summary

By Christopher Marlowe

Doctor Faustus Summary

Doctor Faustus sits in his study, trying to decide what he should become an expert in. Theology? Nah. Medicine? Nope. Law? As if. How boring. How pointless.

How about… magic? That sounds downright delightful. So it's time for Faustus to have a chat with renowned magicians Valdes and Cornelius—they'll know the ins and outs of the magical trade. His new teachers give him the scoop and it's time for Faustus to get his magical groove on, all on his own.

For his first trick, he calls the devil Mephistopheles (uh, does anyone else think this is the baddest of bad ideas?) and asks ol' Meph to be his servant. But Mephistopheles serves Lucifer first and foremost, so Faustus makes Lucifer an offer he can't refuse: he will sell his soul to the devil himself in exchange for twenty-four years of life with Mephistopheles at his beck and call. Okay, remember what we said about calling Mephistopheles being the baddest of bad ideas? We were wrong. This idea is way worse.

Especially when Lucifer is all, yeah that sounds awesome. He agrees to Faustus's bargain as long as he signs his soul away in a document written and signed in his blood, which Faustus promptly produces. We're thinking maybe he should have pursued that law degree after all…

Meanwhile, similar deals with the devil are going down among the town's peasants. Faustus's servant, Wagner, has already procured his own "devil familiar" in the form of an apprentice named Robin; now Robin and his friend Dick try their hand at conjuring, with free booze as their goal. Boys.

Back to the main plot: Faustus is starting to have second thoughts about this whole selling-his-soul-to-Satan shebang, so he considers repenting. He's even got a Good Angel and a Bad Angel to try and convince him one way or the other. But the devils that surround Faustus insist that he's already too far gone down the road to damnation, so they distract him with talk of astrology and a show put on by the Seven Deadly Sins.

Plus they woo him with travel. Mephistopheles takes Faustus on a wild chariot ride through the heavens and around the globe, finally stopping in Rome, where Pope Adrian is about to pass judgment on a rival German pope named Bruno. Faustus saves Bruno (he has a soft spot for Germans) and spirits him back to Germany, then torments the Pope by stealing his dishes and food during a feast. Not cool dude.

Meanwhile, Robin and Dick stole a cup from their local tavern and then called on Mephistopheles to protect them. Annoyed, he turns them into an ape and a dog (certainly not worth the booze).

Now in Germany, Faustus gets props from the Emperor for saving Bruno. In turn, Faustus impresses the Emperor with a few magic trucks, including putting horns on the head of a nearby naysayer, Benvolio. Enraged by his humiliation, Benvolio enlists his friends Martino and Frederick to help him kill Faustus in an ambush. Much to their dismay, after they chop Faustus's head off, he is very much undead and has his devil cronies drag Benvolio and crew through the mud. That'll teach 'em.

Back in Jolly Old England, Faustus sells an enchanted horse to a horse dealer. When the man rides his new horse over the water, it changes into a bale of hay. Whoops. As it turns out, the horse dealer is not the only townsperson Faustus has wronged.

Robin, Dick, and a dude named Carter are also pretty peeved at the magician, so they meet up in a tavern to plan their revenge. They demand to see Faustus while he's hanging with the Duke and Duchess of Vanholt, for whom he's produced a castle in the air and grapes out of season. It's not a good time for Faustus to handle his bitter buddies, so he charms them into silence before they can call him out for any wrong-doing.

Now nearing the end of his life, Faustus meets an Old Man (an allegorical figure) who counsels him to repent and turn to God once again. Faustus sends Mephistopheles to torment the Old Man, which is not exactly the nice-guy way to go.

On Faustus's last day of life, he confesses all his bad deeds to a group of scholars, who promise to pray for the guy as he meets his end. Faustus's Good and Bad Angels appear and show him a glimpse of heaven and hell. Terrified of Hell, Faustus longs for time to stop, or for his soul to be mortal so that he will not have to suffer eternally. But the clock strikes twelve and the devils who have followed him through life enter Faustus's study to claim his soul. Yikes.

The next morning, the scholars find his body torn to pieces (yuck), and they decide to give him a proper burial. After all, even though he was a major sinner, he was a promising scholar in his day. Finally, the Chorus ends the play by interpreting Faustus's story as a warning to the wise about the dangers of forbidden fruit. In other words, don't sell your soul to the devil because, you know, he's going to come collect at some point.