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Top 10 Notes: Doctor Faustus

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Baptised February 26, 1564, Christopher Marlowe was a playwright who gained success during the Elizabethan era. He is considered one of the greatest influences of William Shakespeare. His play, "Doctor Faustus," is based on an older German legend about a man who makes a deal with the devil for power and knowledge. Welcome to and in this installment of Mojo Notes, we’ll be exploring ten things you should know about Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.”

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This play gives the classic treatment to Faust’s legendary deal with the devil. Welcome to and in this installment of Mojo Notes, we’ll be exploring ten things you should know about Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.”

#10 – About the Author

Born in Canterbury, England and baptized in 1564, Christopher Marlowe graduated from university with a Bachelor of Arts. His first plays started to be performed in the late 1580s and were quite successful in the Elizabeth theatre. Near the end of his life, Marlowe got in trouble with the law and was killed during a fight in 1953.

#9 – Influences and Inspirations

Based on an older German legend, “Doctor Faustus” is a tragedy with a few moments of comedy. Written in blank verse and prose, Marlowe’s work is most likely the first time the tale has been told in play form and it changes the protagonist’s fate. Though there are two known versions of the play, scholars usually refer to Text A from 1604 as the first and most definitive one.

#8 – Settings and Era

Written in England during the early 1590s, “Doctor Faustus” is in Europe set a decade earlier. While the title character spends some time in locations like Italy and England, the most important action occurs in Wittenberg, Germany. During Marlowe’s time, this city was known for its nontraditional ways of thinking, which contrasted with the ideas of the English Renaissance.

#7 – Plot

The play’s only narration is provided a group of people called the Chorus, which alternates between the past and present tenses. It introduces us to the highly educated Doctor Faustus who becomes completely absorbed by his pursuit of magic. After calling up a devil named Mephistophilis, he makes a bargain with Lucifer, or The Devil himself. In exchange for his soul, Faustus will have Mephistophilis as his servant for the next twenty-four years. Though angels warn him against the pact, Faustus already believes he’s damned so he continues his quest for the world’s knowledge, but this leads to his downfall.

#6 – Doctor Faustus

When it comes to academic subjects, Faustus is an extremely intelligent German scholar. However, he’s slightly egotistical and thinks learning magic will help him become even more powerful. These ambitions and excessive pride lead him to make his fateful deal with the Devil. But when it comes to his own salvation, Faustus isn’t that smart: he refuses to give up his worldly knowledge and ends up in hell.

#5 – Mephistophilis

Whether you call him a devil or a fallen angel, Mephistophilis’ fate remains the same: he’s damned to hell and serves only Lucifer. So when Faustus tries to make Mephistophilis his servant, the devil shows his loyalty and declines the request. But, once Faustus signs away his soul though, Mephistophilis dedicates himself to showing the Doctor the ways of the world and pleasing his every whim. He’s an evil creature with supernatural powers and he foreshadows what’s to come for Faustus after he dies.

#4 – Other Characters: Angels

The Good Angel and the Bad Angel are supernatural beings that try to help Faustus make decisions. Since the Good Angel’s loyalty is to God, he wants the Doctor to repent for his sins. The Bad Angel does what he can to keep Faustus on the road to evil and he ultimately succeeds.

#3 – Values and Themes

One of the play’s major themes is the fight between good and evil, as shown through Faustus’ own internal struggle and the Good and Bad Angels in the play. Other key themes include the potential risks involved with the quest for knowledge and the nature of fate versus free will. “Doctor Faustus” also touches upon magic, death, and sin.

#2 – Modern Popularity

“Doctor Faustus” was performed on stage before being published in 1604 as “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus” several years after Marlowe’s death. Thanks to its many universal themes, Marlowe’s play popularized the classic German legend among English audiences. The character of “Faust” has since become associated with individuals who sacrifice their morals in exchange for wealth, power and material gain.

#1 – Adaptations

The legend of Faust has inspired a wide range of art, from opera, literature, comic books and theatrical works to video games, films, and music. The most well-known screen adaptation of Marlowe’s play is perhaps 1967’s recording of the stage version with Richard Burton. But Faustian themes have also appeared in movies like “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Ghost Rider” and more.

What’s your favorite piece of “Doctor Faustus” trivia? For more informative top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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