Mephistophilis In Marlowe’s Faustus Essay

1302 words - 5 pages

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 belittling
tone with Faustus that he often employs to quash him when he becomes
overly arrogant or excitable. As the critic Philip Brockbank writes:

“Mephistophilis promptly replaces Faustus as the intellectual centre
of the play.”

This is evident, for example, when Faustus proclaims:

“I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,

To do whatever Faustus shall command,

Be it to make the moon drop from her sphere

Or the ocean to overwhelm the world.”

And Mephistophilis dryly rebuffs him:

“I am a servant to great Lucifer

And may not follow thee without his leave;

No more than he commands must we perform.”

This rebuking disparagement, although suggesting the depth and
intellect of the fallen angel, aligns with the typical medieval
mystery play representation of a devil that scorns human beings.
Faustus thinks he is in charge of the devil he believes he summoned;
yet Mephistophilis carries all the intellectual weight and coolly
corrects Faustus with astonishingly powerful lines that suggest his
position with succinct clarity.

It is also clear that at times Marlowe does intend for Mephistophilis
to be perceived as a typical gleeful medieval devil, who aims to seize
human souls at any cost and...

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