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Mephistophilis in Marlowe’s Faustus

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Mephistophilis in Marlowe’s Faustus

Mephistophilis is a striking central character in the play ‘Doctor
Faustus’, written by Christopher Marlowe in the late sixteenth
century. His role in this flamboyant yet tragic play is ultimately to
aid Faustus’ downfall from renowned scholar to foolhardy prey of
Lucifer. However, Mephistophilis’ motives are perceptibly ambiguous
throughout ‘Doctor Faustus’; he seemingly alternates between a
typically gleeful medieval devil, and a romantically suffering fallen

Mephistophilis first appears in ‘Doctor Faustus’ in the third scene,
when he is summoned by Faustus’ experimental necromancy, as taught to
him by Valdes and Cornelius. Faustus becomes intrigued by the notion
of employing dark magic to supply him with what he most craves:
knowledge. Mephistophilis first appears to Faustus in his true,
terrifying form (suggested on the Elizabethan stage by a lowered
dragon). This wholly terrifying image is in keeping with the medieval
concept of the devil as a hellish supernatural being that encapsulated
horror. Mephistophilis’ appearance shocks Faustus to the extent that
he implores him to return in a different form, this time as an “old
Franciscan friar”. This embodiment epitomises much of the confusion
concerning the devil’s character: although the costume of a friar is
seemingly unpretentious and reassuring (and, for Marlowe’s
contemporaries, a daring anti-catholic joke), in a stage performance
of ‘Doctor Faustus’ the raised hood and floor-length robe is ominous
and chilling. It is this contradictory melange of qualities that make
Mephistophilis such an ambiguous character throughout the play.

In his first scene, Mephistophilis adopts the deflating and belittlin...

... middle of paper ... is a wonderfully
multi-dimensional character, developed in an intriguing manner that
makes the devil intensely unpredictable and thrilling. The sharp
contrast between his fiendishly gleeful qualities and the aspects that
suggest a romantically suffering angel fallen from grace, in my
opinion, make the character much more absorbing. Perhaps Marlowe
realised that the most captivating characters could never remain
one-dimensional. Although many critics are unhappy with the apparent
inconsistencies, I think it is the combination of the gleeful and
tormented aspects of the character that make him the central
masterpiece of ‘Doctor Faustus’.


- ‘Doctor Faustus’ by Christopher Marlowe (edited by John D. Jump)


- ‘Marlowe: Doctor Faustus’ by Philip Brockbank

- ‘Marlowe The Overreacher’ by Harry Levin

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