The character of Mephastophilis (spelled Mephistophilis or Mephistopheles by other authors) is one of the first in a long tradition of sympathetic literary devils, which includes figures like John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost and Johann von Goethe’s Mephistophilis in the nineteenth-century poem “Faust.” Marlowe’s Mephastophilis is particularly interesting because he has mixed motives. On the one hand, from his first appearance he clearly intends to act as an agent of Faustus’s damnation. Indeed, he openly admits it, telling Faustus that “when we hear one rack the name of God, / Abjure the Scriptures and his savior Christ, / We fly in hope to get his glorious soul” (3.47–49). It is Mephastophilis who witnesses Faustus’s pact with Lucifer, and it is he who, throughout the play, steps in whenever Faustus considers repentance to cajole or threaten him into staying loyal to hell.
Yet there is an odd ambivalence in Mephastophilis. He seeks to damn Faustus, but he himself is damned and speaks freely of the horrors of hell. In a famous passage, when Faustus remarks that the devil seems to be free of hell at a particular moment, Mephastophilis insists,
[w]hy this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
Again, when Faustus blithely—and absurdly, given that he is speaking to a demon—declares that he does not believe in hell, Mephastophilis groans and insists that hell is, indeed, real and terrible, as Faustus comes to know soon enough. Before the pact is sealed, Mephastophilis actually warns Faustus against making the deal with Lucifer. In an odd way, one can almost sense that part of Mephastophilis does not want Faustus to make the same mistakes that he made. But, of course, Faustus does so anyway, which makes him and Mephastophilis kindred spirits. It is appropriate that these two figures dominate Marlowe’s play, for they are two overly proud spirits doomed to hell.