Doctor Faustus Characters



•Within Faustus there exists a series of binary oppositions: he is capable of stupidity & intelligence; courage & cowardice; cruelty & generosity; Faustus is filled with contradiction and so comes across as very human, especially in his ambition to better himself. To this extent Faustus is a mankind figure: representative of an everyman. Faustus also tries to transcend that status, however, and this ambition to be greater than human is his downfall.

•Faustus is immensely conscious of social class - though probably no more so than most people of Marlowe's period. Nevertheless, his habit of respect for nobility & disrespect for servants directly contradicts any Christian sense of human being equals.

•He represents the spirit of the Renaissance, with its rejection of the medieval, god-centred universe, and its embrace of human possibility. Faustus, at least early on in his acquisition of magic, is the personification of possibility.

1 of 6


•Faustus is restored to his earlier grandeur in his closing speech, with its hurried rush from idea to idea and its despairing, Renaissance-renouncing last line, “I’ll burn my books!” He becomes once again a tragic hero, a great man undone because his ambitions have butted up against the law of God.

•Faustus appears to be torn between his hedonistic desires for power and his hope of redemption; the underlying conflict of the play appears to manifest itself as a struggle between Faustus’ aspirations and his guilty conscience.

2 of 6


•Mephistopheles also inspires a certain sympathy. He is the victim of a single mistake, loyalty to Lucifer, and we can almost feel him on occasion attempting to warn Faustus not to commit the same error.

•It is through Mephistopheles’ perceptions of the nature of damnation, and of the beauty of what it means to have a human soul, that we see just what Faustus is throwing away: "Think'st thou that heaven is such a glorious thing? / I tell thee 'tis not half so fair as thou, / Or any man that breathes on earth."

•There is an odd ambivalence in Mephistopheles. He seeks to damn Faustus, but he himself is damned and speaks freely of the horrors of hell. 

•Mephistopheles is perhaps the personification of Faustus’ temptation, Catholic audience may believe Faustus can be redeemed by ignoring Mephistopheles, Calvinists would think he’s been made a reprobate from birth.

3 of 6

Good & Evil Angels

•These always appear together as a matched pair & functions as binary opposites.

•The Good Angel focuses on the anger of God, to motivate Faustus to repent and cease practising black magic, and so foreshadows the angry God Faustus sees in Scene 13 "My God, my God, look not so fierce on me!".

•The conflicting ideas of whether or not Faustus is a redeemable character appear to be personified by the Good and Evil Angels; as the angels continue to argue with one another, Faustus’ internal conflict grows stronger.

4 of 6


•In Morality Plays, comic scenes depend on the antics of lower-class characters whose main interests in life were eating, drinking, and making rude jokes. Wagner inherits some aspects of this role: as a servant, he has a comic function in the play.

•He also emulates Faustus, showing the way in which a great man can have a bad influence on those around him.

•The ways in which Wagner comments on Faustus's behaviour is varied: he reflects Faustus in exaggerated form, showing how foolish Faustus is; he admires Faustus's achievements, showing how corrupting Faustus's irresponsible behaviour can be for others as well as himself; and he narrates events as an observer whose position changes during the course of the play from admiration to puzzlement.

5 of 6


•Together Valdes & Cornelius function as tempters of Faustus, describing him the joys he might obtain, thereby taking a version of the role of the vice-crew from the Morality Plays.

•Robin and Rafe represent common humanity, but they also mirror Faustus's ambition, his persuadability, and his approach to women. Seeing these traits as obviously foolish in these low comedy scenes helps the audience to perceive Faustus's parallel foolishness.

•The introduction of the Old Man in Act V Scene i of the play appears to insinuate the hope of redemption for Faustus in his final hours. It could be further interpreted that Marlowe’s inclusion of the merciful Old Man serves the purpose of reminding the audience that faith in God and belief in repentance is more powerful than the worldly knowledge that Faustus seeks. 

6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all Dr. Faustus resources »