And now to patient judgements we appeal And speak for Faustus in his infancy. Now is he born of parents base of stock In Germany within a town called Rhode; At riper years to Wittenberg he went Whereas his kinsmen chiefly brought him up. So much he profits in divinity That shortly he was graced with doctor’s name, Excelling all, and sweetly can dispute In th’ heavenly matters of theology[.]
In the Prologue, the Chorus introduces Faustus by describing his background and experience. Through these lines, the Chorus explains that while Faustus was born in Rhode to average parents and went to Wittenberg when he got older and became a doctor, he was raised to appreciate theology and divinity. These details about Faustus hold importance because they describe a strong foundation and connection to God, making Faustus’s desire to seek out dark magic even more monumental.
Till swoll’n with cunning, of a self-conceit, His waxen wings did mount above his reach And melting, heavens conspired his overthrow! For falling to a devilish exercise And glutted now with learning’s golden gifts He surfeits upon cursèd necromancy: Nothing so sweet as magic is to him Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss— And this the man that in his study sits.
In the Prologue, the Chorus continues to describe how Faustus began to admire dark magic and devilish ways. In these lines, the Chorus compares Faustus to Icarus, a figure in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun with waxed wings despite his father’s warnings and, as a result, fell to his death. This comparison identifies Faustus as arrogantly determined to seek out dark magic despite his strong theology background and its warnings against “devilish exercise.”
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. Why, then belike, we must sin, and so consequently die. Ay, we must die an everlasting death. What doctrine call you this? Che serà, serà: What will be, shall be! Divinity, adieu! These metaphysics of magicians And necromantic books are heavenly; Lines, circles, letters, characters— Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires. O, what a world of profit and delight, Of power, of honor, and omnipotence Is promised to the studious artisan!
Faustus contemplates his next step in life, speaking to the audience as he talks through his decision. In these lines, Faustus says goodbye to divinity, identifying his doubts about living without sin only to die anyway. He also describes his interest in dark magic and the power and profit such abilities can bring him. These details define a strong shift in Faustus’s beliefs and show his ambitious desire for more.
Had I as many souls as there be stars I’d give them all for Mephostophilis. By him I’ll be great emperor of the world, And make a bridge through the moving air To pass the ocean with a band of men; I’ll join the hills that bind the Afric shore And make that country continent to Spain, And both contributory to my crown; The Emperor shall not live but by my leave, Nor any potentate of Germany. Now that I have obtained what I desired I’ll live in speculation of this art Till Mephostophilis return again.
After Faustus announces the bargain that he wants to make with Lucifer to Mephostophilis, he speaks about his ambitious desire for power. Through these lines, Faustus describes the many ways Mephostophilis’ power will benefit him, giving him all he desires. However, Faustus also admits that he wants this power so badly that he is willing to give up his soul to the devil.
Now, Faustus, must thou needs be damned; Canst thou not be saved! What boots it then to think on God or heaven? Away with such vain fancies, and despair— Despair in God and trust in Belzebub! Now go not backward. Faustus, be resolute! Why waver’st thou? O something soundeth in mine ear, “Abjure this magic, turn to God again.” Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again. To God? He loves thee not; The god thou serv’st is thine own appetite Wherein is fixed the love of Belzebub! To him I’ll build an altar and a church And offer lukewarm blood of newborn babes!
Faustus is back in his study, once again questioning his decision to choose Lucifer over God. In these lines, Faustus convinces himself to stop thinking about redemption because redemption is not possible. He tells himself that while the love of God is transient, the love of Belzebub, a devil, is “fixed.” Faustus reveals a shaky confidence in his own decisions even though he continues to come back to dark magic.
My heart is hardened, I cannot repent. Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven, Swords, poison, halters, and envenomed steel Are laid before me to dispatch myself. And long ere this I should have done the deed Had not sweet pleasure conquered deep despair . . . I am resolved, Faustus shall not repent!
These lines document Faustus’s transformation into the darkness of Lucifer’s control. Faustus now believes there is no turning back, his “heart is hardened,” and that he must accept his fate of damnation. When he states that he is resolved and will not repent, he moves from a state of contemplation to complete resolution.
Sweet Mephostophilis, thou pleases me. Whilst I am here on earth let me be cloyed With all things that delight the heart of man. My four and twenty years of liberty I’ll spend in pleasure and in dalliance, That Faustus’ name, whilst this bring frame doth stand, May be admirèd through the furthest land.
While speaking with Mephostophilis, Faustus reveals his selfish ambition and need for fame. Here, Faustus discusses Mephostophilis’ role in pleasing Faustus over the course of his twenty-four-year bargain with Lucifer. A blinding desire to be admired seems to motivate every choice that Faustus makes, leading him down a path toward damnation.
My gracious lord, not so much for injury done to me, as to delight your Majesty with some mirth, hath Faustus justly requited this injurious knight; which being all I desire, I am content to remove his horns. Mephostophilis, transform him. And hereafter sir, look you speak well of scholars.
When a sleepy Benvolio casts doubts on Faustus’s ability, Faustus gets revenge by placing horns on him. In this quote, Faustus agrees to remove the horns, claiming he performed the feat more for the Emperor’s entertainment than to punish Benvolio. However, Faustus ends the quote with a warning to Benvolio, revealing an arrogant character with a true distaste for Benvolio’s insults against his abilities.
Why, Lucifer and Mephostophilis. O gentlemen, I gave them my soul for my cunning . . . God forbade it indeed, but Faustus hath done it. For the vain pleasure of four and twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill with mine own blood. The date is expired. This is the time. And he will fetch me.
When the scholars question Faustus’s fear, Faustus explains the deal he made with the devil. Here, Faustus reveals an awareness of the poor choices he made, regretting his vain reasons for participating in dark magic. Faustus begins to recognize his role in his upcoming damnation, but mostly, Faustus fears his dark fate and seeks the scholars’ prayers and sympathy.
My God, my God! Look not so fierce on me! Adders and serpents, let me breathe awhile! Ugly Hell, gape not! Come not Lucifer! I’ll burn my books!—O Mephostophilis!
Faustus’s final desperate pleas toward the end of the text bring Faustus’s character full circle. Here, he tries to return to divinity, calling out to God to forgive him. At the beginning of the play, Faustus throws his divinity away to seek dark magic, but in these final lines, Faustus is begging to go back to God. The play uses Faustus’s character to teach a moral lesson, favoring redemption and warning against sin.