Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe: Act-wise Summary

Summary of Act I, Scenes 1-2 Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Prologue:
  • The Chorus introduces the play as the story of Faustus, a man who, despite being born to ordinary parents in Germany, forsakes theology for the pursuit of dark magic, drawing a parallel with the myth of Icarus.
  • Scene 1.1:
  • Faustus contemplates various fields of knowledge, including logic, medicine, law, and divinity, expressing disillusionment with each due to their limitations.
  • Enchanted by the idea of surpassing the powers of kings, Faustus becomes fascinated by the possibilities offered by magic.
  • Summoning his friends Valdes and Cornelius, Faustus seeks their counsel, believing their guidance will aid him in his magical pursuits.
  • A Good Angel and an Evil Angel appear, each offering contradictory advice on whether Faustus should engage in magic, with the former urging him to abstain from evil pursuits.
  • Despite the Good Angel's warnings, Faustus resolves to pursue magic, convinced that it is the only subject vast enough to satisfy his intellectual curiosity and ambition.
  • Excited by Faustus's decision, Cornelius and Valdes envision themselves as masters of the earth, leveraging Faustus's knowledge and their experience to uncover hidden treasures and wield great power.
  • Scene 1.2:
  • Two scholars, concerned about Faustus's whereabouts, inquire from his servant Wagner, who reveals that Faustus is currently with Valdes and Cornelius, both renowned necromancers.
  • Alarmed by this revelation, the scholars decide to inform the Rector, with one expressing a sense of hopelessness about the situation and the other emphasizing the importance of doing whatever they can to help Faustus.
  • Summary of Act I, Scenes 3-5 Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

    Scene 1.3:
  • Lucifer and Four Devils enter, and Faustus summons Mephostophilis, who appears in a form Faustus finds unpleasant.
  • Faustus learns that Mephostophilis serves Lucifer and can't obey without his permission, but Faustus is eager to pledge allegiance to Lucifer.
  • Mephostophilis describes Lucifer's fall from grace, leading to his banishment to hell, which he defines as separation from God.
  • Faustus instructs Mephostophilis to inform Lucifer that he is willing to trade his soul for twenty-four years of worldly power and pleasure.
  • Thrilled by the prospect of power, Faustus expresses his willingness to sell his soul even if he had as many souls as there are stars in the sky.
  • Scene 1.4:
  • Wagner, Faustus's servant, meets a poor Clown and manipulates him into serving him through deceit and the threat of summoning devils.
  • Wagner coerces the Clown into compliance by summoning two devils, Baliol and Belcher, before promising to teach the Clown magic in exchange for his service.
  • Scene 1.5:
  • As Faustus contemplates whether to sell his soul, the Good and Evil Angels reappear, with the Evil Angel urging Faustus to pursue wealth over heaven.
  • Encouraged by Mephostophilis, Faustus signs a contract with his blood, sealing the deal to surrender his soul to Lucifer after twenty-four years.
  • Faustus is disturbed by the message "Homo fuge" ("Fly, oh man") that appears on his arm, but is momentarily distracted by the devils' displays of wealth and power.
  • Mephostophilis reveals the terms of their agreement, including Faustus's ability to transform and summon spirits, and the eventual claim of his soul by the devils.
  • Faustus questions Mephostophilis about the nature of hell, but struggles to grasp its concept, dismissing it as a fable.
  • As Faustus demands various forms of knowledge, Mephostophilis promptly provides him with books on diverse topics, fulfilling his desires.
  • Summary of Act II Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

    Scene 2.1:
  • Faustus, accompanied by Mephostophilis, curses the devil for depriving him of heaven, but the devil argues that heaven is inferior to the pleasures of the world.
  • The Good and Evil Angels reappear, restating their contrasting advice, with the Good Angel urging Faustus to repent while the Evil Angel asserts that as a spirit, God cannot offer him mercy.
  • Despairing at his inability to repent, Faustus reflects on the pleasures he has experienced, including performances by Homer and Amphion, which distract him momentarily.
  • Faustus seeks to further distract himself by questioning Mephostophilis about the structure of the heavens and the creation of the world, causing the devil discomfort and prompting him to flee at the mention of God.
  • After the Good and Evil Angels reiterate their advice and depart, Faustus calls out to Christ for help, only to be confronted by Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephostophilis, who intimidate him and present the Seven Deadly Sins before him.
  • Lucifer promises to show Faustus hell that night, offering him a book on shapeshifting and forbidding him from speaking the name of Christ.
  • Scene 2.2:
  • Robin, previously known as the Clown, obtains one of Faustus's magic books but is unable to read it.
  • Accompanied by Dick and two other men, they engage in banter before leaving to get a drink.
  • Summary of Act III Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

    Scene 3.1:
  • The Chorus describes Faustus's journey to Mount Olympus and his subsequent travels studying the stars, celestial structures, and the geography of various kingdoms from the back of a dragon.
  • He then arrives in Rome, where preparations for the feast honoring St. Peter are underway.
  • Scene 3.2:
  • Faustus and Mephostophilis wait in the Pope's private chamber, where Faustus desires to witness Rome's wonders, but Mephostophilis restrains him to focus on their plan to torment the Pope and his followers.
  • The Pope enters with cardinals, bishops, and Bruno, a former contender for the papacy, who is now abused and humiliated by the Pope and his court.
  • Faustus instructs Mephostophilis to put the cardinals to sleep magically, allowing them to rescue Bruno and cause confusion in the Pope's court.
  • Disguised as sleeping cardinals, Faustus and Mephostophilis deceive the Pope and the assembly, leading to Bruno's purported sentence to be burned at the stake.
  • Scene 3.3:
  • Faustus and Mephostophilis revel in the confusion caused by their actions, rendering themselves invisible as they continue their mischief in the Pope's court.
  • They mock and disrupt the proceedings, with the Pope and his followers unable to comprehend the source of the disturbances.
  • Scene 3.4:
  • Robin the Clown and his friend Rafe utilize Faustus's magic book to perform tricks, including stealing a silver cup from a Vintner.
  • Summoning Mephostophilis to handle the situation, they are met with squibs placed on their backs, causing them to behave erratically before the devil threatens to transform them into animals.
  • Summary of Act IV, Scenes 1-4 Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

    Scene 4.1:
  • Martino and Frederick discuss recent events at the court of the German Emperor, anticipating the upcoming performance by Faustus and the return of Bruno, who rode home on a demon's back.
  • Attempting to persuade their friend Benvolio to join them, they prepare to watch Faustus's show from the window.
  • Scene 4.2:
  • At the court, Faustus presents a show to the German Emperor, conjuring Alexander the Great and Darius along with various spectacles, causing amusement and wonder.
  • As Benvolio mocks Faustus's abilities, Faustus retaliates by giving him a pair of antlers, later transforming them into real horns, before the Emperor intervenes and asks Faustus to restore Benvolio's human form.
  • Despite the commotion, the Emperor praises Faustus and promises him a high position in the court.
  • Scene 4.3:
  • Benvolio, Martino, and Frederick plan to ambush Faustus, but their attempt to attack him fails as Faustus's body is impervious to mortal harm due to his pact with the devil for twenty-four more years of life.
  • Faustus summons his devils, commanding them to punish the attackers and drag them through the wilderness, later using his powers to defeat the soldiers sent in ambush.
  • Scene 4.4:
  • With horns on their heads as a result of Faustus's magic, Benvolio, Martino, and Frederick decide to retreat to Benvolio's castle, intending to live in seclusion until the horns disappear, vowing to stay hidden forever if the horns remain.
  • Summary of Act IV, Scenes 5-7 Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

    Scene 4.5:
  • Faustus contemplates the fleeting nature of his remaining time and plans to return to Wittenberg as a Horse-courser approaches to purchase his horse but is ultimately deceived by Faustus's magical tricks.
  • Wagner informs Faustus about the Duke of Vanholt's invitation, prompting Faustus to agree to serve the Duke and prepare to depart with Wagner.
  • Later, the Horse-courser returns, complaining about his horse turning into straw after being taken into the water, leading to a comedic confrontation with Faustus and Mephostophilis, during which Faustus momentarily pretends to lose his leg to swindle the Horse-courser for more money.
  • Scene 4.6:
  • The Clown, Dick, the Horse-courser, and the Carter share stories of their encounters with Faustus, each recounting instances where they were cheated or deceived by his magical prowess.
  • Unaware of Faustus's departure, they decide to indulge in some drinks before setting out to find and confront Faustus for his trickery.
  • Scene 4.7:
  • The Duke of Vanholt and his Duchess express admiration for Faustus's illusions, with the Duchess requesting ripe grapes despite the winter season.
  • Faustus explains the phenomenon of reversed seasons in the southern hemisphere to the Duke before the Clown, Dick, the Horse-courser, and the Carter arrive to settle their scores with Faustus.
  • Faustus uses his powers to silence each of the aggrieved individuals, leaving the Duke and the Duchess amused by the display of Faustus's magical abilities.
  • Summary of Act V, Scene I Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

    Scene 5.1:
  • Amidst thunder and lightning, devils enter with covered dishes, led by Mephostophilis into Faustus's study. Wagner enters and informs the audience of Faustus's preparations for death, including the drafting of his will, leaving all to Wagner.
  • Despite his impending doom, Faustus spends his days indulging in feasting and revelry with other students.
  • Three scholars enter, requesting Faustus to conjure the image of Helen of Troy. Enthralled by the sight, they thank Faustus and depart.
  • An Old Man appears, urging Faustus to repent and emphasizing the possibility of redemption. Faustus appears moved by the Old Man's words, contemplating his sins and acknowledging his impending fate.
  • Mephostophilis hands Faustus a dagger, and the Old Man exits. Faustus appears ready to repent, but Mephostophilis threatens him, prompting Faustus to order the devil to torment the Old Man instead.
  • As Mephostophilis torments the Old Man's body, Faustus requests Helen of Troy, and the devil summons her for him, after which he delivers a renowned soliloquy on Helen's beauty and his desire for immortality through her.
  • The Old Man re-enters and observes Faustus's fatal attraction to Helen, lamenting that Faustus is lost and beyond redemption.
  • The devils enter to torture Faustus, but he remains unshaken, realizing that they cannot harm his soul, and confronts them fearlessly.
  • Summary of Act V, Scene II Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

    Scene 5.2:
  • Thunder sounds as Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephostophilis enter, anticipating Faustus's impending damnation.
  • Faustus and Wagner enter, discussing Faustus's will, which leaves everything to Wagner.
  • The three scholars enter, noticing Faustus's distress, and urge him to seek a doctor. Faustus reveals that he is damned and cannot be saved, regretting his association with magic.
  • The scholars leave to pray for Faustus, unaware of the devils' presence. Mephostophilis taunts Faustus before departing.
  • The Good and Evil Angels appear, with the Good Angel lamenting Faustus's loss of heavenly joys. The Evil Angel taunts Faustus with the horrors of hell, and both exit.
  • The clock strikes, and Faustus begins his final monologue, pleading for time to stop and wishing for any possibility of salvation.
  • The clock strikes midnight, and amidst thunder and lightning, Faustus is dragged away by the devils as he pleads for mercy from God and the devil.
  • Scene 5.3:
  • The three scholars enter, disturbed by the noise they heard, finding Faustus's torn-apart body.
  • Epilogue:
  • The Chorus reflects on Faustus's downfall and warns the audience to remember the lessons learned from his tragic fate.
  • Study Guide

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