The Complexities of Mephostophilis

In Medieval cycle plays, devils were portrayed as comic characters that triumphed over their adversaries in spite of

their crudeness and ineptitude. With the advent of Renaissance drama, came new ideas and characters, as

playwrights took a new stance in their portrayals of evil and devils. The devils and Mephostophilis in particular, in

Christopher Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus are much more complex than those in preceding medieval drama are.

Mephostophilis's only goal in the play is to acquire Faustus's damned soul for Lucifer. As straightforward a goal as

this might appear, its execution becomes fascinating for the audience because of Marlowe's characterization.

Mephostophilis is both friend and archenemy of Faustus. He is the teller of truths and the manipulator of lies; he is a

reflection of Faustus's own character and an instrument of Lucifer's diabolical quest. Mephostophilis's diversity of

characteristics makes him a most interesting Renaissance character because h!

e is not flat, all good or all bad, but rather a multifaceted character, which wins over Faustus and draws the audience

in with his intrigue.

The play opens in Faustus's study, where Faustus is contemplating his many scholastic accomplishments. Having

succeeded in his studies in both the academic and theological fields, Faustus has become bored and wishes to pursue

further knowledge in necromancy. He conjures up the image of a devil and so begins the relationship between Dr.

Faustus and Mephostophilis. Dissatisfied with Mephostophilis's demonic appearance, Faustus commands him, "I

charge thee to return and change thy shape, /Thou art too ugly to attend on me"(I.iii.25-6). Faustus is uncomfortable

with the devil's original appearance; he foolishly believes that, "by fiddling with surface matters,"(ix) the basic

morality of the character can be changed. "Go and return an old Franciscan friar,"(I.iii. 27) says Faustus; this form

not only makes Faustus more comfortable with the devil, but a Renaissance audience would have found this

transformation more attractive and palatable as well. Without a word, Mephostophi!

lis leaves to obey Faustus, and Faustus takes this as a sign of the devil's submissiveness. Faustus is falsely convinced

that he is in control of the situation and that Mephostophilis has appeared only to fulfill his whims and to serve as

his servant. He muses to himself, "How pliant is this Mephostophilis, /Full of obedience and humility, /Such is the

force of magic and my spells"(I.iii.31-3). When Mephostophilis enters as a friar, Faustus is seeing what he wishes to

see. The character of Mephostophilis remains as amoral as ever, but in the guise of a harmless friar, he appears more

amiable. Our initial glimpse of Mephostophilis shows the audience and Faustus his true, horrifying nature. Along

with this horrifying appearance early in the play, we see his only purpose is the capture of Faustus's soul.

Despite Mephostophilis's transformed outward appearance, his purpose remains as malevolent as ever. As

Mephostophilis quickly gains Faustus's confidence, the audience is able to peer further into his character. Virtually

elated with his magical success, Faustus is oblivious to the ominous reason Mephostophilis gives for appearing.

Contrary to what Faustus believes, the incantations he performed did not conjure up a devil; Mephostophilis

explains, "when we hear one rack the name of God, /Abjure the Scriptures and his saviour Christ, /We fly in hope to

get his glorious soul"(I.iii.46-8). Faustus scoffs at Mephostophilis and explains that he is not afraid of the ideas of

hell and damnation, for he does not believe that they exist. The notion of hell is not so meaningless to

Mephostophilis, who knows the torment of hell only too well. "Think'st thou that I who saw the face of God /And

tasted the eternal joys of heaven /Am not tormented with ten thousand hells /In being depr!

ived of everlasting bliss?"(I.iii.76-9) he demands of Faustus. Though he desperately seeks Faustus's soul,

Mephostophilis cannot hold himself back from expressing the absolute truth of hell and its agonies. Faustus has

already convinced himself that he wants what Mephostophilis can offer him and he refuses to listen to this important

and solitary warning. He sends him off to tell Lucifer of his proposition to give his soul in exchange for twenty-four

years of power and Mephostophilis's services. As Faustus sits waiting for the devil's return, he becomes impatient in

anticipation of