The protagonist. Faustus is a brilliant sixteenth-century scholar from Wittenberg, Germany, whose ambition for knowledge, wealth, and worldly might makes him willing to pay the ultimate price—his soul—to Lucifer in exchange for supernatural powers. Faustus’s initial tragic grandeur is diminished by the fact that he never seems completely sure of the decision to forfeit his soul and constantly wavers about whether or not to repent. His ambition is admirable and initially awesome, yet he ultimately lacks a certain inner strength. He is unable to embrace his dark path wholeheartedly but is also unwilling to admit his mistake.
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A devil whom Faustus summons with his initial magical experiments. Mephastophilis’s motivations are ambiguous: on the one hand, his oft-expressed goal is to catch Faustus’s soul and carry it off to hell; on the other hand, he actively attempts to dissuade Faustus from making a deal with Lucifer by warning him about the horrors of hell. Mephastophilis is ultimately as tragic a figure as Faustus, with his moving, regretful accounts of what the devils have lost in their eternal separation from God and his repeated reflections on the pain that comes with damnation.
A character who stands outside the story, providing narration and commentary. The Chorus was customary in Greek tragedy.
An enigmatic figure who appears in the final scene. The old man urges Faustus to repent and to ask God for mercy. He seems to replace the good and evil angels, who, in the first scene, try to influence Faustus’s behavior.
A spirit that urges Faustus to repent for his pact with Lucifer and return to God. Along with the old man and the bad angel, the good angel represents, in many ways, Faustus’s conscience and divided will between good and evil.
A spirit that serves as the counterpart to the good angel and provides Faustus with reasons not to repent for sins against God. The evil angel represents the evil half of Faustus’s conscience.
The prince of devils, the ruler of hell, and Mephastophilis’s master.
Faustus’s servant. Wagner uses his master’s books to learn how to summon devils and work magic.
A clown who becomes Wagner’s servant. The clown’s antics provide comic relief; he is a ridiculous character, and his absurd behavior initially contrasts with Faustus’s grandeur. As the play goes on, though, Faustus’s behavior comes to resemble that of the clown.
An ostler, or innkeeper, who, like the clown, provides a comic contrast to Faustus. Robin and his friend Rafe learn some basic conjuring, demonstrating that even the least scholarly can possess skill in magic. Marlowe includes Robin and Rafe to illustrate Faustus’s degradation as he submits to simple trickery such as theirs.
An ostler, and a friend of Robin. Rafe appears as Dick (Robin’s friend and a clown) in B-text editions of Doctor Faustus.
Two friends of Faustus, both magicians, who teach him the art of black magic.
A horse-trader who buys a horse from Faustus, which vanishes after the horse-courser rides it into the water, leading him to seek revenge.
Faustus’s colleagues at the University of Wittenberg. Loyal to Faustus, the scholars appear at the beginning and end of the play to express dismay at the turn Faustus’s studies have taken, to marvel at his achievements, and then to hear his agonized confession of his pact with Lucifer.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church and a powerful political figure in the Europe of Faustus’s day. The pope serves as both a source of amusement for the play’s Protestant audience and a symbol of the religious faith that Faustus has rejected.
The most powerful monarch in Europe, whose court Faustus visits.
A German nobleman at the emperor’s court. The knight is skeptical of Faustus’s power, and Faustus makes antlers sprout from his head to teach him a lesson. The knight is further developed and known as Benvolio in B-text versions of Doctor Faustus; Benvolio seeks revenge on Faustus and plans to murder him.
A candidate for the papacy, supported by the emperor. Bruno is captured by the pope and freed by Faustus. Bruno appears only in B-text versions of Doctor Faustus.
A German nobleman whom Faustus visits.
Friends of Benvolio who reluctantly join his attempt to kill Faustus. Martino and Frederick appear only in B-text versions of Doctor Faustus.