A gifted scholar of humble origins living in Wittenberg, Germany in the 16th century, Doctor Faustus is the tragic hero of Marlowe's play. Having come to what he believes is the limits of traditional knowledge, he decides to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for twenty-four years of unlimited knowledge and power. To be Faustian is to be recklessly ambitious, and Marlowe's Faust uses his newfound power to travel around the world and attain all kinds of knowledge. However, he also uses his magic to engage in petty practical jokes (at the expense of the pope, for example) and to indulge his desire for a beautiful woman (summoning Helen of Troy to be his lover). Faustus begins to see the error of his ways early on in the play, and wavers in his commitment to his deal with Lucifer, but it is not until the final scene of the play that he realizes his doom. While he tries to repent at the end of the play, Christ is merely one out of a number of things he calls out to for help, and he still attempts to bargain with Christ, asking for salvation in return for a thousand or more years in hell. It is somewhat ambiguous to what degree Faustus actually repents, but in any case it is to no avail. As the chorus informs the audience at the play's conclusion, he ends up falling to hell.
Mephastophilis: Mephastophilis is the devil Faustus summons when he first tries his hand at necromancy, and he remains at Faustus's side for much of the rest of the play, doing his bidding, answering his questions, distracting him when he has doubts about his decision to sell his soul, and even taking him on an eight-day tour of the known universe on a chariot drawn by dragons. It is Mephastophilis who encourages Faustus to take a blood oath that Lucifer should have his soul when his twenty-four years are up. His motivations for pushing so hard to keep Faustus may seem ambiguous, since he admits to being miserable in Hell and to regret having forsaken God, but he basically explains himself with the now-famous proverb: Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris (loosely translated, misery loves company).
Wagner: Wagner is Faustus's student and servant. Although he does not sell his soul to Lucifer alongside his master, he does dabble in the dark arts by borrowing Faustus's spell book. He is fiercely proud of his connection with such an infamous man, and in comedic scenes amongst the clowns, he takes a high-and-mighty tone with respect to information and authority. At the end of the play, Faustus bequeaths to Wagner a generous share of his wealth.
Lucifer: Marlowe's Lucifer is distant. His interests in Faustus's affairs are usually represented by Mephastophilis, who does his bidding above all else, and who does not have the authority to make a deal for Faustus's soul without Lucifer's permission. This Lucifer may be powerful, but he is also a practical businessman who is aware of his weaknesses. He is offended when Faustus calls out to God, and he insists on an official blood oath from Faustus as a guarantee of loyalty.
Chorus: A traditional figure in Greek tragedy, the Chorus delivers the Prologue, a monologue in the middle of the play, and an Epilogue that ends the play. Unlike traditional Greek choruses, though, this chorus is a single person. Removed from the action of the play, the chorus helps introduce and set the scene for the main plot, and concludes the play, confirming for the audience that Faustus was damned to hell.
Good Angel and Evil Angel: A pair of angels who appear onstage every time Faustus wavers in his resolve or considers repenting. They usually deliver contradictory messages, one promising God's forgiveness and the other swearing that Faustus is irrevocably damned and so should embrace the powers and treasures of dark magic. One can see these two spirits as representing the two conflicting impulses of Faustus's conscience, but in the religious world of the play (in which actual devils appear on the stage), they should also be seen as real, literal angels.
Robin: Robin is a stable-hand who steals a spell-book from Doctor Faustus. He reappears in comic scenes throughout the play. His foolish attempts at magic act as a counter to Faustus' serious, ambitious sorcery. However, at times one may question how different the two uses of magic are: Faustus ends up using his magic to do parlor tricks for wealthy noblemen and to summon a beautiful woman (Helen of Troy); in some ways, then, the ambitious Faustus is really not so different from the lowly Robin.
Horse-courser: A horse-trader who buys a horse from Faustus. Faustus warns him not to ride the horse in water. The Horse-courser assumes Faustus is trying to cheat him and rides it in water; the horse promptly melts. The angry Horse-courser confronts Faustus (whom he finds sleeping) and pulls on his leg to wake him up. The leg comes apart from Faustus' body (through a magic trick), terrifying the trader, who flees.
The Pope: Faustus and Mephastophilis visit the pope in his private chambers in Rome. They annoy him and play practical jokes on him. This antagonizing of the head of the Catholic church is an example of Faustus' rejection of religion, but the duped pope may also have been a source of comedic amusement for Marlowe's Protestant, anti-Catholic audience.
A Knight at Charles' Court: Charles V's knight is skeptical of Doctor Faustus and does not want to see him perform his magic. Faustus makes horns appear on his head in return for his skepticism and snide remarks. (In the B-text, the knight is named Benvolio and has a slightly expanded role, attempting to exact revenge on Faustus by killing him.)
Three Scholars: Scholars in Wittenberg who gossip about and bemoan Faustus's interest in necromancy, rise to power, and damnation. They are emblems of a wider public reaction to Faustus's meteoric rise and fall, and also serve as examples of the scholarly, academic world in which Faustus lives. While devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, they do not put their desire for knowledge ahead of their devotion to God (unlike Faustus) and they pray for Faustus' soul at the end of the play.
Helen of Troy: In Greek mythology, Helen is the most beautiful woman in the entire world and the cause of the Trojan War (the Trojan prince Paris stole her from her Greek husband Menelaus). The scholars ask Faustus to summon Helen and Faustus later asks Mephastophilis to make Helen his lover, so that her beauty can distract him from his impending doom.
Valdes and Cornelius: Faustus's friends and mentors in the dark arts, instrumental in initiating his journey into magic and forbidden knowledge.
Belzebub: One of Lucifer's powerful officers, instrumental in carrying out Lucifer's malevolent plans.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Personifications of the sinful impulses that plague humanity, parading before Faustus and tempting him further into debauchery and moral decay.
Clown / Robin: A mischievous character who learns demon summoning, representing the base desires and petty ambitions that contrast with Faustus's initial lofty aspirations.
Dick and Rafe: Companions of Robin, contributing to the comic relief in the play.
Vintner, Carter, and Horse-Courser: Individuals who encounter Faustus and fall victim to his deceptions and trickery.
Hostess: An ale wench who shows kindness to Robin and his friends.
The Pope: Depicted as power-hungry and cruel, Faustus plays pranks on him, reflecting Marlowe's critique of religious authority.
Bruno: A potential Pope, representing the conflicts between religious and secular authority.
Raymond, Charles, Martino, Frederick, and Benvolio: Courtiers and knights who become entangled in Faustus's deceptions and illusions.
Saxony: A courtier at the German Emperor's court.
Duke and Duchess of Vanholt: Nobility who witness Faustus's illusions and magical feats.
Spirits in the shapes of Alexander the Great, Darius, Paramour, and Helen: Illusions conjured by Faustus, reflecting his grandiose aspirations and his descent into self-indulgence.
An Old Man: A holy figure who attempts to save Faustus through repentance, only to be targeted by Faustus's malevolent actions later in the play.