Notes on Characters from Dr. Faustus

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Dr. Faustus Major Characters

Faustus, John (Doctor): The main character of the story, Faustus is a professor of divinity at Wittenberg, as well as a renowned physician and scholar. Not satisfied with the limitations of human knowledge and power, he begins to practice necromancy. He eventually makes a deal with Lucifer (commonly referred to as the "Faustian bargain"), whereby he exchanges his soul for twenty-four years of the devil’s service to him. In the next twenty-four years, Faustus obtains all kinds of knowledge and power through his devil-servant, Mephistophilis. They travel all over the world, playing practical jokes on peasants and even the Pope, displaying magical powers to the emperor and the nobility; Faustus wishes and whims are played out in his various adventures. At times Faustus experiences doubt and despair over having sold his soul to the devil. He comes close to repenting at several crucial points in the story, but never follows through. Even to the end, Faustus refuses to fully repent, and he is eventually taken by the devils to hell. The character of Faustus comes from a well-known legend of a German physician who reported sold his soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers. In Marlowe’s rendition, he is portrayed as a tragic hero in that his unbridled ambitions lead him to an unfortunate end. But at a deeper level, the tragedy is twofold. First, there is a clear devolvement of his character, from a confident, ambitious scholar, to a self-satisfied, low-level practical joker. Although he makes a name for himself as an expert magician, Faustus never accomplishes the lofty goals he initially sets for himself. Second, there are times when Faustus despairs over his decision and comes close to repenting, only to back away at the last moment. On the other hand, Faustus can be seen as a hero in that he rejects God’s authority and determines his own course of life. Faustus is the paragon of the Renaissance Man—turning away from the religious strictures of the Medieval Age (God-centeredness) in favor of the enlightened age of reason and human achievement (man-centeredness).

Wagner: Faustus’ servant and eventual heir of his fortunes, Wagner is a pale reflection of Faustus; he displays a nature similar to his master, even trying to obtain his own servant through the practice of magic. Wagner’s background is not known, but it is clear from his language and demeanor that he is a young servant who looks up to Faustus. Wagner tries to imitate Faustus in many ways, in the way he talks and even in his taking up of magic. Wagner is Faustus’ image-bearing progeny. That he inherits Faustus’ fortunes suggests he might even be of physical progeny. At several points, Wagner acts as a narrator, filling in gaps in the story.

Good Angel: An agent of God who appears in pair with the Evil Angel, the Good Angel tries to make Faustus think about God and of heavenly things. The Good Angel represents the good side in the good/evil dichotomy. In a literary sense, the Good Angel reflects the good side of Faustus’ conscience, for Marlowe tries to show that Faustus, like every human being, has two natures, both good and bad. What the Good Angel says mirrors what Faustus’ good nature is thinking. Thus, the interchanges between the Good Angel and the Evil Angel reveal Faustus’ inner struggles with himself. The Good Angel’s main message to Faustus is that it is never too late to turn to God.

Evil Angel: An agent of Lucifer who appears in pair with the Good Angel, the Evil Angel tries to keep Faustus focused on power, wealth, and worldly pleasures. In direct contrast to the Good Angel, the Evil Angel represents the evil side in the good/evil dichotomy. In a literary sense, the Evil Angel reflects the evil side of Faustus’ conscience, for Marlowe tries to show that Faustus, like every human being, has two natures, both good and bad. What the Evil Angel says mirrors what Faustus’ evil nature is thinking. Thus, the interchanges between the Good Angel and the Evil Angel reveal Faustus’ inner struggles with himself. The Evil Angel main message to Faustus is that God will not accept his repentance.

Mephistophilis: The devil that appears before Faustus, Mephistophilis makes the deal where he is to serve Faustus for twenty-four years in exchange for Faustus’ soul. Mephistophilis is the main antagonist in the story, but he is also a conflicted character in his own right. As part of the rebellion of heaven, Mephistophilis was cast out with the other angels and sent to hell. When Faustus inquires about hell, Mephistophilis admits that he regrets forgoing the joys of heaven for the torment of hell. Mephistophilis tries to talk Faustus out of making a pact with Lucifer. But when Faustus makes the deal, Mephistophilis dutifully fulfills Faustus’ wishes, whims, and desires for the next twenty-four years. Although Mephistophilis warns Faustus about the torments of hell, once the deal is made, Mephistophilis uses his power and cunning to prevent Faustus from repenting.

Lucifer: The Prince of the devils, Lucifer was once an angel of God who was cast out of heaven with other rebel angels because of their pride and insolence. Lucifer authorizes the deal between Faustus and Mephistophilis. If Mephistophilis is a conflicted devil, Lucifer shows no such weaknesses or signs of remorse for having been cast out of heaven. When Faustus cries upon the name of Christ, Lucifer comes, as though Mephistophilis is not crafty enough in such urgent cases. Lucifer masterly prevents Faustus from turning back to God at key points in the story.

Minor Characters

Chorus: A stage and literary device associated with Greek tragedy, the Chorus narrates and fills in parts of the story.

Valdes and Cornelius: Friends of Faustus, they are reputed to be practitioners of magic. Faustus calls on them to teach him the black arts. Valdes and Cornelius tell Faustus that with his wit, he will be powerful, and together they will be famous all over the world.

Two scholars: Faustus’ fellow colleagues at the university, they are concerned that he has not been around. They ask Wagner about Faustus’ whereabouts. When they find out Faustus has been with Valdes and Cornelius, they decide to tell the Rector of the university.

Belzebub: A companion prince of Lucifer, Faustus refers to Belzebub when he denounces God.

Clown: A poor, beggar-like character, the Clown is threatened by Wagner to be his servant. When the clown refuses, Wagner conjures up some spirits to scare him. The Clown follows Wagner, but asks Wagner to teach him magic.

Baliol and Belcher: Two spirits that Wagner conjures up to scare the Clown into serving him, Baliol and Belcher is a he-devil and a she-devil respectively.

Seven Deadly Sins: At the behest of Lucifer, Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, and Lechery appear before Faustus. Faustus is delighted by their presence.

Pope: Faustus intrudes upon the Pope’s privy-chamber and creates havoc, even hitting the Pope on the head.

Cardinal of Lorrain: The Pope’s guest when Faustus enters the privy-chamber, the Cardinal thinks the invisible Faustus is a ghost from purgatory.

Emperor Carolus the Fifth: Faustus visits the German Emperor, Carolus the Fifth, who makes a request to see Alexander the Great and his paramour in person.

Robin the Ostler: An employee of an inn, Robin steals one of Faustus’ magic books and makes Mephistophilis appear. He is turned into an ape by Mephistophilis.

Ralph: A fellow employee with Robin at the inn, Robin is turned into a dog by Mephistophilis.

Vintner: The Vintner, a wine merchant, comes to collect from Robin a silver goblet that is owed him. Robin tries to elude the Vintner by conjuring up a spirit, but it backfires.

Knight: The Knight, who serves in the court of Emperor Carolus the Fifth, is skeptical about Faustus’ magical powers. In spite, Faustus makes horns grow on his head.

Alexander the Great: Alexander the Great, the famous Macedonian conqueror, and his Paramour are the two figures of the past that the Emperor Carolus the Fifth wants Faustus to produce.

Paramour: Emperor Carolus the Fifth is curious to know if Alexander the Great’s lover, the Paramour, has a mole or a wart on her neck.

Horse-Courser: The Horse-Courser purchases a horse from Faustus. He is warned by Faustus not to ride the horse through water, but does not listen. When the Horse-Courser rides into water, the horse turns into a bottle of hay. The Horse-Courser tries to get Faustus’ attention by pulling on his leg while he is sleeping. But Faustus plays a joke on him by making his leg fall off, scaring the Horse-Courser away.

Duke of Vanholt: Faustus visits the court of the Duke of Vanholt. The Duke is impressed with Faustus’ magical powers.

Duchess of Vanholt: The Duchess of Vanholt, who is pregnant, desires ripe grapes in the dead of winter. Faustus is able to get her the best grapes she has ever had. The Duke and Duchess agree to reward Faustus handsomely.

Helen of Troy: The figure over which the Trojan War was fought, Helen of Troy is deemed to be the most admirable beauty in history. Faustus makes her appear before his colleagues. Faustus’ last request to Mephistophilis is to have Helen of Troy as his lover.

Old Man: The Old Man appears to Faustus in order to convince him to repent and turn to God. A contrast to Faustus, the Old Man keeps his faith even through persecution from devils.

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