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It is a commonplace for critics to state that Faustus derives little satisfaction from his acquired powers. This is a problem of character; it is also a question of human limitation. Faustus’ desire for knowledge cannot be satisfied fully. In one sense, Faustus is satisfied. Mephistophilis refuses to give him a wife, but he does promise him the possession of any woman he desires. His longings find their realization in Helen of Troy. This represents an important facet of Faustus’ character: his willingness to carry things to an ultimate conclusion. Helen is a spirit raised by the devil, and therefore, one may presume, a spirit of evil. She certainly portends evil for Faustus.
Faustus is given to bouts of despair. Mephistophilis, despite his own rather melancholy disposition, tries to cheer him through a series of “spectacles.” Even Lucifer provides the pageant of the Seven Deadly Sins. Faustus is excited by all facets of life. He is determined to live it to the full, but he is unhappy in it. This melancholy and despair may well have influenced his agreement to the compact with Lucifer.
There is, in Faustus, no serious motivation towards good when he speaks of it. The reference is always outside himself. He does not seek a genuine relationship with Christ or with God. He sees Christ’s blood as something separate from his reality. He is concerned, at the end, with the clock and with time, rather than with God. Faustus throughout the play does not accept the limitations imposed upon man by human life, the world and the social order. So, in his last moments, he struggles both to resolve and escape from the idea of eternity, which means for him eternal damnation. He is honest here as elsewhere. He places the blame upon himself and upon Lucifer. In his desire to burn his books, he recognizes that his greed for knowledge and his insatiable curiosity have led to his damnation. The Chorus leaves the audience with a tragic sense of waste. Faustus, who might have been a force for good, remains as a warning to those who desire a power beyond what God is prepared to grant.
Mephistophilis is an agent of Lucifer. Like Faustus, he is on the devil’s side. He is not without his good qualities. He is bluntly honest with Faustus from his very first appearance. He obeys Faustus’ command and returns as a Franciscan Friar. On that occasion Faustus remarks: “How pliant is this Mephistophilis/ Full of obedience and humility.” Once the pact is made, Mephistophilis carries out his side of the bargain faithfully. In addition to satisfying Faustus’ intellectual curiosity, he attempts to keep him entertained. He is wholly honest on the subjects of hell and damnation.
Mephistophilis is no moralist. He has nothing to do with the conventional morality of marriage. He promises Faustus that he can have any woman he desires. Indeed, he does a fine job of producing before Faustus Helen of Troy.
Towards the end of the play, the relationship between Mephistophilis and Faustus changes. Instead of providing the despairing Faustus with amusement, he gives him a dagger. He even threatens to tear Faustus apart if he does not remain faithful to Lucifer.
The name of Mephistophilis is the last word Faustus utters before he dies. He has been Faustus’ companion in his passage towards damnation. He is at once servant, companion, master, teacher and entertainer for Faustus. He does not destroy Faustus. Faustus does that for himself.
Valdes and Cornelius
Valdes and Cornelius are instrumental in instructing Faustus in the rudiments of magic and in the conjuring of spirits. They both speak glowingly of the power and glory of magic and astrology and begin by associating themselves with Faustus in the enterprise; they speak of “the audience three,” but significantly, they do not join him when he conjures Mephistophilis. Apparently they are not prepared to push their art to any real conclusion.
Lucifer is the prince of Hell. “Lucifer” is another name for Satan, the archangel who was hurled from heaven for rebelling against God. Marlowe’s Lucifer is less majestic and terrible than Mephistophilis, who is the key representative of evil in Doctor Faustus. Yet when Mephistophilis speaks of Lucifer, it is with considerable respect. His actual appearance in the play is disappointing.