Wagner takes the stage and describes how Faustus traveled through the heavens on a chariot pulled by dragons in order to learn the secrets of astronomy. Wagner tells us that Faustus is now traveling to measure the coasts and kingdoms of the world and that his travels will take him to Rome.
Faustus appears, recounting to Mephastophilis his travels throughout Europe—first from Germany to France and then on to Italy. He asks Mephastophilis if they have arrived in Rome, whose monuments he greatly desires to see, and Mephastophilis replies that they are in the pope’s privy chamber. It is a day of feasting in Rome, to celebrate the pope’s victories, and Faustus and Mephastophilis agree to use their powers to play tricks on the pope.
Note: The events described in the next two paragraphs occur only in the B text of Doctor Faustus, in Act III, scene i. The A text omits the events described in the next two paragraphs but resumes with the events described immediately after them.
As Faustus and Mephastophilis watch, the pope comes in with his attendants and a prisoner, Bruno, who had attempted to become pope with the backing of the German emperor. While the pope declares that he will depose the emperor and forces Bruno to swear allegiance to him, Faustus and Mephastophilis disguise themselves as cardinals and come before the pope. The pope gives Bruno to them, telling them to carry him off to prison; instead, they give him a fast horse and send him back to Germany.
Later, the pope confronts the two cardinals whom Faustus and Mephastophilis have impersonated. When the cardinals say that they never were given custody of Bruno, the pope sends them to the dungeon. Faustus and Mephastophilis, both invisible, watch the proceedings and chuckle. The pope and his attendants then sit down to dinner. During the meal, Faustus and Mephastophilis make themselves invisible and curse noisily and then snatch dishes and food as they are passed around the table. The churchmen suspect that there is some ghost in the room, and the pope begins to cross himself, much to the dismay of Faustus and Mephastophilis. Faustus boxes the pope’s ear, and the pope and all his attendants run away. A group of friars enters, and they sing a dirge damning the unknown spirit that has disrupted the meal. Mephastophilis and Faustus beat the friars, fling fireworks among them, and flee.
Robin the ostler, or stablehand, and his friend Rafe have stolen a cup from a tavern. They are pursued by a vintner (or wine-maker), who demands that they return the cup. They claim not to have it, and then Robin conjures up Mephastophilis, which makes the vintner flee. Mephastophilis is not pleased to have been summoned for a prank, and he threatens to turn the two into an ape and a dog. The two friends treat what they have done as a joke, and Mephastophilis leaves in a fury, saying that he will go to join Faustus in Turkey.
The scenes in Rome are preceded by Wagner’s account, in the second chorus, of how Faustus traveled through the heavens studying astronomy. This feat is easily the most impressive that Faustus performs in the entire play, since his magical abilities seem more and more like cheap conjured tricks as the play progresses. Meanwhile, his interests also diminish in importance from astronomy, the study of the heavens, to cosmography, the study of the earth. He even begins to meddle in political matters in the assistance he gives Bruno (in the B text only). By the end of the play, his chief interests are playing practical jokes and producing impressive illusions for nobles—a far cry from the ambitious pursuits that he outlines in scene 1.