Theatre / Doctor Faustus
Veni, veni, Mephistophile!

So you're a doctor in post-medieval Germany who's getting tired of the dreary drudgery of everyday life. What to do when saving the lives of your patients no longer brings you a feeling of satisfaction and joy? Why, turn to satanic magic and summon a devil to use as your own personal slave, of course! We're sure you can guess what happens next.

The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus is 16th-century English playwright Christopher Marlowe's take on the classic legend of Faust, or, as he calls him, Dr. John Faustus. Marlowe, who in his own time was considered something of a rebel and an atheist (which is to say, someone who did not practise the faith exactly as the law said it should be practised; the word could apply to someone who was simply sceptical of the scripture as it was given, someone who blasphemed, or even a Catholic), represents Faustus as a typically Renaissance figure, seeking above all things knowledge — and the expansion of personal wealth and power that knowledge brings. His play is the first version of the story to present the central figure as an Anti-Hero, who is somehow magnificent even in the midst of his crimes, exactly because his desires have no limits.

Perhaps the best known part of this play is the famous invocation of Helen of Troy (or, as Faustus calls her, "Helen of Greece"):

Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?—
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.—

This play is, of course, the Trope Namer for Launcher of a Thousand Ships. See also Faust for further information, including versions of the story by other authors.

Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus contains examples of the following tropes:

  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Faustus cannot stand Mephistopheles' initial appearance (which isn't specified beyond calling it "too ugly"), ordering him to vanish and reappear in the form of a Franciscan monk.
  • Altum Videtur: Faustus frequently quotes Latin phrases and Bible quotes either poorly or completely out of context.
  • Anti-Hero: In fact a Byronic Hero, 200 years before Byron.
  • Badass Normal: Faustus claims to have cured plagues before making his pact with the devil.
  • Black Magic
  • Butt-Dialing Mordor: Though Faustus himself knows exactly what he's getting into when he starts summoning demons, Those Two Guys that serve him don't. They're larking around, mimicking Faustus's incantations more as a joke than anything else, and end up summoning Mephistopheles himself. Needless to say, he's not happy at all and they get transfigured into animals.
  • Chronic Villainy: Faustus almost repents frequently throughout the play, but keeps convincing himself that he's too far gone, even when an angel tells him otherwise. Even as he's about to be sent to Hell for eternity, Faustus makes a speech begging to be given more time to live so he can repent, even though he could easily just repent then and there and save himself.
  • Deal with the Devil: Pretty much the story's entire plot, and quite possibly the Trope Codifier.
  • Downer Ending
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: You made a Deal with the Devil to have magic powers in exchange for taking your soul in a few short years... really, why act surprised? What did you THINK was going to happen?
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Mephistopheles implies that Lucifer before his fall was superhumanly beautiful, but the first thing Faustus does upon seeing the present-day Lucifer is ask "Who are you that look so terrible?"
  • False Reassurance: Mephistopheles is totally honest, but his words (the famous "why this is hell" speech) are vague enough that Faustus can stupidly interpret them however he wants to.
  • Flaming Devil: Mephistopheles' interaction with Faust contains a fair amount of implied homosexuality on the former's part (such as Mephisto stating that Heaven "is not so fair as [Faustus] or any man that breathes on earth"). Stage productions sometimes turn the subtext into text.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Despite just summoning a demon from Hell and proceeding to sell his immortal soul to the Devil, Faustus insists to Mephistophiles' annoyance that Hell and damnation are metaphorical.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Tons and tons. One of the minor characters mentions that he'd use magic to transform into a flea and crawl into women's plackets, quite literally slits in skirts.
  • A God Am I: Faustus says, "A sound magician is a mighty god."
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Marlowe actually calls the characters Good Angel and Bad Angel in the script.
  • Healing Factor: Part of Faustus's deal with the devil. In one version, he regrows a torn-off leg and a severed head.
  • Idiot Ball: After being humiliated by Faustus, the knight Benvolio gets a group of knights together to get revenge. Against the scholar with a demon slave and all the powers of Hell. It goes about as well as you'd expect. Faustus more than qualifies as well (see Badass Normal, Informed Ability, and Misapplied Phlebotinum).
  • Informed Ability: You'd think a so-called genius like Faustus could come up with more intelligent uses for his powers than pranks and shows.
  • Kid with the Leash: Even though he's an adult.
  • Magic Is Evil
  • Meaningful Name: The demon Faust summons is originally called "Mephostophiles", which is Greek for "Not A Lover of Light". Goethe would later change the name to Mephistophiles, as Mephis is a medical term for extremely bad breath, and "tophiles" sounds like "Teufel", the German word for devil, ultimately making his name Smelly-Breathed Devil.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Faustus uses Mephisto's phenomenal cosmic powers to pull pranks and get women.
  • Mundane Utility: Sure, Faustus has the powers of hell at his disposal, but most of the time he uses it to... make fun of the pope? Get fresh grapes in winter for his lady friend?
  • Noble Demon: You could make an argument for Mephistopheles.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Arguably.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: In this particular adaptation, Faustus truly believes there's no way to repent for his sins, despite freaking angels telling him otherwise. In some versions however, Mephistopheles gloats how he tricked Faustus into going too far to repent.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Faustus meets them in Anthropomorphic Personification form at the beginning.
  • Special Person, Normal Name: Faustus's first name is ... John.
  • Summoning Ritual: The play features a scene in which Faust summons Mephistopheles from Hell.
  • Sycophantic Servant: When Faustus is considering rescinding on their bargain, Satan appears to parade the Sins before him and ask whether they're delightful. Faustus agrees, emphatically, that they are. Because, under the circumstances, disagreeing would be a terminally bad idea.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Mephistopheles, ironically, seems to be one of the sanest and most honest characters in the entire play. Not to mention his "Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it" speech.
  • Third-Person Person: Faustus.
  • Those Two Guys: Faustus' students, who provide much of the plays comic relief by using their teacher's magic to dick around.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Before summoning Mephistopheles, Faustus mentions how he would build an altar and church to sacrifice newborns to Beelzebub on. It's unclear if he would actually do it, however.

Alternative Title(s): The Tragical History Of Doctor Faustus