Doctor Faustus Summary
Well respected German scholar, Doctor Faustus, becomes discontented by the constraints of conventional knowledge forms – logic, medicine, law, and religion – and resolves to practice magic. He receives instruction in the black arts from his friends Valdes and Cornelius, soon he embarks on a new career as a magician and summons the devil Mephistopheles.
Choosing not to take heed in Mephistopheles’s warnings about the horrors of the underworld, Doctor Faustus instructs the devil to return to Lucifer, his master, with an offering of Faustus’s soul in exchange for twenty-four years of servitude from Mephistopheles. In the meantime, Wager, a servant to Faustus, has gained magical ability of his own and uses this to compel a clown named Robin to serve him.
Soon, Mephistopheles returns with word that Lucifer is prepared to accept the offer made by Faustus. Faustus, having experienced few uncertainties, contemplates whether he should repent in a bid to save his soul. In the end, however, he agrees to give his soul to Lucifer and signs the contract with his own blood.
As soon as his signature is final, the words “Homo fuge,” or “O man, fly” are branded onto his forearm. Faustus is once again plagued by second thoughts, however, Mephistopheles showers him in riches and provides him with a book of spells to learn. Mephistopheles soon provides Doctor Faustus with answers to questions about the nature of the universe, avoiding only one question – who the true creator is.
This refusal prompts Faustus to once again have reservations about the decision he has made. However, Lucifer and Mephistopheles summon the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins to dance for Faustus. This influences him enough to calm his doubts.
Now skilled in the magical arts, and aided by Mephistopheles, Doctor Faustus takes to the road. While in Rome, at the pope’s court, he shrouds himself in invisibility and plays a number of tricks.
First, he interrupts a banquet by stealing food and boxing the pope’s ears. From here, he makes his way to the courts of England, his fame increasing as he travels. Soon, he receives formal invitation to the court of the German emperor, Charles V. An enemy to the pope, Charles V asks Faustus to permit him to see Alexander the Great.
Faustus obliges and conjures up an image of the infamous fourth-century Macedonian king. Charles is clearly impressed by this, however, a knight heckles Faustus’s abilities, who responds by making antlers grow out of his head. Outraged, the knight pledges to exact his revenge.
Elsewhere, Robin, the clown belonging to Wagner, has learned a few magic tricks of his own. He, along with his fellow stable hand, Rafe, go on a series of comedic misadventures. At one point, the duo successfully summon Mephistopheles, who portends to transform them into animals to punish them for their wrongdoings.
Doctor Faustus continues his travels, deceiving a horse courser on the way. Faustus sells the man a horse that transforms into a straw bale as it is ridden into a river. Soon, Faustus receives an invite to the court of the Duke of Vanholt, where he is asked to perform a number of feats.
The horse courser arrives to the court, with him, Robin and Rafe and a number of others who have been victimized by Faustus’s witchery. However, Faustus is quick to place them all under a spell and sends them all on their way, much to the amusement of the duke and his wife.
As his twenty four year exchange with Lucifer comes to an end, Faustus begins to fear his imminent death. He asks that Mephistopheles summon Helen of Troy, and attempts to use her presence to sway a group of scholars. Faustus is urged by an old man to repent for his soul, but he drives the man away. Again, he summons Helen of Troy and regals in her beauty.
However, with time growing short, Faustus shares details about his pact with the group of scholars, who are noticeably affected and promise to pray for him.
On the last evening before the end of his twenty four year pact, Faustus is weak with fear and regret. He attempts to repent, pleads for mercy, but learns that it is too late. When the clock strikes midnight, he is met by a host of devils who tear his soul from him and descend to hell. The following morning, Faustus’s limbs are discovered by the scholars and they plan to host a funeral for him.