Home > The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
I’ve long been interested in the Faust legend, which, apparently, began with Saint Theophilus , but I didn’t know a great deal about the origins or even the actual first stories. So, I’m starting at the beginning.
The stories/novels I have read that are related to the Faust legend according to this list on Wikipedia are T he Monk by Matthew Lewis, which has quite the Faustian bargain, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan Howard, and ‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I do not see the Faustian connection there, at all. If you get the connection, please leave a comment.
The earliest English version of the legend I could find was The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, which was first published in 1604. So that’s this week’s review.
Faustus is a very learned scholar–so learned he’s bored and wants more. He wants everything. In pursuit of this, he decides to study Magic and eventually summons a devil, Mephistophilis. Once summoned, Faustus attempts to bind the devil to him, But Mephisto says he serves Lucifer and the good doctor says he’ll sign his soul away to have his very own devil to do his bidding, as well as, you know, everything else. Sort of a genie in a lamp with endless wishes.
Mephisto goes to get permission/deliver the message. Upon Lucifer’s blessing, Mephisto returns and Faustus has made up a contract saying he wants twenty four years of whatever his heart, mind, and body desires and then Satan can have his soul. The deal is signed in blood and Faustus begins the rest of his life. But he doesn’t do much of anything with it. He pulls the sorts of things the couple in Beetlejuice do to the Deetses.
Throughout the play his good angel/bad angel tell him to repent before he goes any further/he’s already beyond redemption (depending upon which angel is speaking). This is a scenario that will be replayed multiple times.
This is a cautionary play about what happens when you turn your back on God, so it goes as you’d expect.
I was surprised by how much Mephisto and Lucifer both seemed to try to convince Faustus to turn back towards salvation, but he was bent on his own damnation. They had much more depth than what you’d see today, where evil is pure evil. But when they first meet, Mephisto talks about how everywhere that isn’t Heaven is Hell. And at one point, Lucifer shows Faustus personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins and those beings were not enjoying themselves the way you’d think. Faustus was blind to this, however.
The relationship between Faustus and Mephisto reminded me a great deal of the relationship between Light and Ryuk in Death Note . I checked and the manga is mentioned on the Wikipedia page about works based on Faust above. Yet another excellent reason to read the books.
About the good and evil angels…
I laughed when they first appeared–you simply don’t expect something you saw in cartoons to happen in an olde timey play–but it makes sense that they’d have been around since Plato since everyone wrestles with their conscience. I couldn’t help picturing someone in wings and a halo and someone else in plastic horns and a pointy tail, though.
Now that I have a firm knowledge of the legend I’m ready for other works based on it.