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A 3 pages term paper on Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe


         In Doctor Faustus, as in many Elizabethan plays, the main plot focuses on the tragic hero, while a subplot offers comic relief. Dr. John Faustus, the renowned scholar of Wittenberg, has closeted himself in his study to decide his future career. Law, medicine, theology-he has mastered them all. Moreover, he finds them all dissatisfying.

         Faustus wants a career to match the scope of his ambition, a subject to challenge his enormous intellect. Therefore, he turns to black magic, which seems to offer him godlike powers. He knows, however, that it involves forbidden interaction with demons.

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         Mephistophilis is a devil that becomes Faustus' servant for 24 years because of his deal with Lucifer. He accompanies Faustus and remains invisible to everyone else for most of the play. He uses his magical powers to fulfill Faustus' wishes.

         Faustus summons Valdes and Cornelius, two accomplished magicians, to instruct him in the art of magic. That night, in the midst of a crashing thunderstorm, Faustus raises up the demon spirit, Mephistophilis. Faustus offers a bargain. He will give his eternal soul to the devil in exchange for twenty-four years of magic and merry-making. Mephistophilis procrastinates. And asks Faustus to reconsider. You really do not know what you are getting into. Besides, Mephistophilis does not have the power to conclude such an agreement. He is only a servant to Lucifer, the prince of hell. Faustus orders him to speak with Lucifer, so Mephistophilis quickly flies off to the nether regions.

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Faustus has in Mephistophilis an alter ego who is both a demon and a Damon. The man has an extraordinary affection for the spirit, the spirit a mysterious attraction to the man. Mephistophilis should not be confused with Goethe's sardonic naysayer; is he neither an operatic villain nor a satanic tempter. He proffers no tempting speeches and dangles no enticements; Faustus tempts himself and succumbs to temptations, which he alone has conjured up. What Mephistophilis really approximates, with his subtle insight and his profound sympathy, is the characterization of Porfiry, the examining magistrate in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

         The dialogues between Faustus and Mephistophilis resemble those cat-and-mouse interrogations in which Porfiry teaches the would-be criminal, Raskolnikov, to accuse and convict himself. (The Overreacher)

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         Where precisely Hell was located was, of course, the subject of debate: Marlowe's Doctor Faustus urges Mephistophilis to tell him where it is, and Mephistophilis replies that it is within the lower elements of earth itself -- but at the same time is everywhere that is not heaven:

 

Faustus: Tell me, where is that place that men call hell?

Mephistophilis: Under the heavens. Faustus: Ay, but whereabouts?

Mephistophilis: Within the bowels of these elements, where we are tortured and remain forever. Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed In one self-place, for where we are is hell, And where hell is there must we ever be. And, to be short, when all the world dissolves, And every creature shall be purified, All places shall be hell that is not heaven.

Faustus: I think hell's a fable.

Mephistophilis: Aye, think so still, till experience change thy mind.
(2.1.117-28)

         The main agreement of service in Doctor Faustus exists between Faustus and Mephistophilis, and it is through this contract that all other relations are to be discovered. The contract itself, while yielding Faustus twenty-four years of indulgence, does so by binding Mephistophilis as Faustus' servant (II.2, 95-115). This particular arrangement gives Faustus authority defined only in terms of his ability to influence Mephistophilis, and allows him no power unto himself. The contract is also unusual in that at the end of the space of twenty-four years, it is Faustus who must submit himself to Mephistophilis, thus reversing the previous hierarchy.

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         Neither of the two main characters, furthermore, enters into this association without already having been subject to previous associations. When Faustus submits to Mephistophilis, he is in fact submitting to Mephistophilis' master Lucifer (I.3, 44-45). Lucifer, however, is not at the top of the hierarchy, for he was an angel of God, only cast out from Heaven when he came to believe himself equal to God (I.3, 72-73). As it is Mephistophilis who relates the Story of Lucifer to Faustus, it appears the Mephistophilis, too, was a resident in Heaven, and thus is himself a banished servant of God (I.3, 80-84).

Works cited

Levin, Harry. The Overreacher. Boston: The Beacon Press, 1964.

 
 


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