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 a character 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 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.
  • Badass Normal: Faustus claims to have cured plagues before making his pact with the devil.
  • 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.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: The sequence where Faustus uses his diabolical powers to prank people is both cruel and funny.
  • Deal with the Devil: The Trope Codifier; Faustus sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for having Mephistopheles at his command.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Faustus' biggest flaw is that he sees himself as beyond redemption, even when angels tell him he can make a Faustian Rebellion.
  • Downer Ending: Faustus refuses to see the error of his ways, then dies and goes to Hell for all eternity.
  • 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 Is Petty: Faustus gains great demonic power and immediately.... punches the Pope. This is the point, Faustus gains great power at a horrific cost and squanders it all away, showing that the problem is not the lack of knowledge or ability but the man wielding it.
  • 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?"
  • Evil Virtues: Both Faustus and Mephistopheles have a defining one:
    • Faustus is filled with Ambition to a fault. His primary reason for his interest in dark magic is because he refuses to accept any limitation on what he can know or do. It doesn't work out.
    • Mephistopheles displays a surprising amount of Honor. He keeps his bargain to the letter, giving Faustus everything that he promises, without even invoking Exact Words. He even tries to talk Faustus out of the deal, pointing out that if he, a demon, exists, then it's likely that God and Hell also exist and thus Faustus would be making a horrible mistake to take Faustus up on the offer, though he concedes when Faustus points out that one part of a story being true does not prove any other parts true.
    • Mephistopheles also has a great deal of Loyalty. He obeys Lucifer's call consistently and without hesitation, and holds no resentment despite being well aware that Lucifer is responsible for his inability to partake in the infinite joys of Heaven. He doesn't even have any selfish reasons for helping Lucifer-he simply has no desire to defy his master.
  • 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.
  • 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? Have sex with Helen of Troy? Faustus eventually realises that he wasted his infinite knowledge for the pettiest of reasons, instead of using said knowledge as he promised before he made that stupid pact, like changing the world for the better. Alas, it is too late, and marks the point where he crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Noble Demon: Mephistopheles adheres to Villains Never Lie and does exactly what Faustus tells him so, to make the point that it is Faustus himself who ruined his own life.
  • Pride: Faust suffers heavily from hubris. In true Greek style, Faust rejects and questions God, angels and devils thinking himself better and more learned than them
  • Religion Is Wrong: The story has Mephistopheles and Hell, but Faustus begins the drama by rejecting religion and Mephistopheles implies that hell and damnation means something different from how Christianity has conceived it.
  • 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.
  • Too Clever by Half: Faustus' brilliance ends up working against him as he essentially tricks himself into accepting Mephistopheles' deal
  • 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