Summary: Scene 2

Two scholars come to see Faustus. Wagner makes jokes at their expense and then tells them that Faustus is meeting with Valdes and Cornelius. Aware that Valdes and Cornelius are infamous for their involvement in the black arts, the scholars leave with heavy hearts, fearing that Faustus may also be falling into “that damned art” as well (2.29).

Summary: Scene 3

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?

That night, Faustus stands in a magical circle marked with various signs and words, and he chants in Latin. Four devils and Lucifer, the ruler of hell, watch him from the shadows. Faustus renounces heaven and God, swears allegiance to hell, and demands that Mephastophilis rise to serve him. The devil Mephastophilis then appears before Faustus, who commands him to depart and return dressed as a Franciscan friar, since “[t]hat holy shape becomes a devil best” (3.26). Mephastophilis vanishes, and Faustus remarks on his obedience. Mephastophilis then reappears, dressed as a monk, and asks Faustus what he desires. Faustus demands his obedience, but Mephastophilis says that he is Lucifer’s servant and can obey only Lucifer. He adds that he came because he heard Faustus deny obedience to God and hoped to capture his soul.

Faustus quizzes Mephastophilis about Lucifer and hell and learns that Lucifer and all his devils were once angels who rebelled against God and have been damned to hell forever. Faustus points out that Mephastophilis is not in hell now but on earth; Mephastophilis insists, however, that he and his fellow demons are always in hell, even when they are on earth, because being deprived of the presence of God, which they once enjoyed, is hell enough. Faustus dismisses this sentiment as a lack of fortitude on Mephastophilis’s part and then declares that he will offer his soul to Lucifer in return for twenty-four years of Mephastophilis’s service. Mephastophilis agrees to take this offer to his master and departs. Left alone, Faustus remarks that if he had “as many souls as there be stars,” he would offer them all to hell in return for the kind of power that Mephastophilis offers him (3.102). He eagerly awaits Mephastophilis’s return.

Summary: Scene 4

Wagner converses with a clown and tries to persuade him to become his servant for seven years. The clown is poor, and Wagner jokes that he would probably sell his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton; the clown answers that it would have to be well-seasoned mutton. After first agreeing to be Wagner’s servant, however, the clown abruptly changes his mind. Wagner threatens to cast a spell on him, and he then conjures up two devils, who he says will carry the clown away to hell unless he becomes Wagner’s servant. Seeing the devils, the clown becomes terrified and agrees to Wagner’s demands. After Wagner dismisses the devils, the clown asks his new master if he can learn to conjure as well, and Wagner promises to teach him how to turn himself into any kind of animal—but he insists on being called “Master Wagner.”

Analysis: Scenes 2–4

Having learned the necessary arts from Cornelius and Valdes, Faustus now takes the first step toward selling his soul when he conjures up a devil. One of the central questions in the play is whether Faustus damns himself entirely on his own or whether the princes of hell somehow entrap him. In scene 3, as Faustus makes the magical marks and chants the magical words that summon Mephastophilis, he is watched by Lucifer and four lesser devils, suggesting that hell is waiting for him to make the first move before pouncing on him. Mephastophilis echoes this idea when he insists that he came to Faustus of his own accord when he heard Faustus curse God and forswear heaven, hoping that Faustus’s soul was available for the taking. But while the demons may be active agents eagerly seeking to seize Faustus’s soul, Faustus himself makes the first move. Neither Mephastophilis nor Lucifer forces him to do anything against his will.

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Indeed, if anything, Mephastophilis seems far less eager to make the bargain than Faustus himself. He willingly tells Faustus that his master, Lucifer, is less powerful than God, having been thrown “by aspiring pride and insolence, / … from the face of heaven” (3.6768). Furthermore, Mephastophilis offers a powerful portrait of hell that seems to warn against any pact with Lucifer. When Faustus asks him how it is that he is allowed to leave hell in order to come to earth, Mephastophilis famously says:

Why 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? (3.7680)

Mephastophilis exposes the horrors of his own experience as if offering sage guidance to Faustus. His honesty in mentioning the “ten thousand hells” that torment him shines a negative light on the action of committing one’s soul to Lucifer. Indeed, Mephastophilis even tells Faustus to abandon his “frivolous demands” (3.81).

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But Faustus refuses to leave his desires. Instead, he exhibits the blindness that serves as one of his defining characteristics throughout the play. Faustus sees the world as he wants to see it rather than as it is. This shunning of reality is symbolized by his insistence that Mephastophilis, who is presumably hideous, reappear as a Franciscan friar. In part, this episode is a dig at Catholicism, pitched at Marlowe’s fiercely Protestant English audience, but it also shows to what lengths Faustus will go in order to mitigate the horrors of hell. He sees the devil’s true shape, but rather than flee in terror he tells Mephastophilis to change his appearance, which makes looking upon him easier. Again, when Mephastophilis has finished telling him of the horrors of hell and urging him not to sell his soul, Faustus blithely dismisses what Mephastophilis has said, accusing him of lacking “manly fortitude” (3.85). There is a desperate naïveté to Faustus’s approach to the demonic: he cannot seem to accept that hell is really as bad as it seems, which propels him forward into darkness.

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The antics of Wagner and the clown provide a comic counterpoint to the Faustus-Mephastophilis scenes. The clown jokes that he would sell his soul to the devil for a well-seasoned shoulder of mutton, and Wagner uses his newly gained conjuring skill to frighten the clown into serving him. Like Faustus, these clownish characters (whose scenes are so different from the rest of the play that some writers have suggested that they were written by a collaborator rather than by Marlowe himself) use magic to summon demons. But where Faustus is grand and ambitious and tragic, they are low and common and absurd, seeking mutton and the ability to turn into a mouse or a rat rather than world power or fantastic wealth. As the play progresses, though, Faustus’s grandeur diminishes, and he sinks down toward the level of the clowns, suggesting that degradation precedes damnation.

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