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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