Faust, Dr. Faustus
German legend of the 1500s
In German legend, Faust is a successful scholar who is dissatisfied with his life, leading him to make a pact with the Devil and exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.
As protagonist of Christopher Marlowe’s play The Tragic History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, first performed circa 1590–92 and published posthumously in 1604, he is Dr. John Faustus, an early 16th century German alchemist.
Having learned everything he could and become one of the most genial scientific minds of his time, John Faustus eventually grew bored of it and started craving for new and forbidden knowledge. Using occult spells and black magic he was able to summon a demon straight from the pits of hell. This pawn of Lucifer, called Mephistopheles, agreed to become Faustus' servant for the remaining of the doctor's life in exchange for his soul.
For the next 24 years, Faustus traveled through Europe, making use of his nearly unlimited magical powers granted by Mephistopheles. However, he mostly used his powers for futile things: from playing pranks on the Pope to performing magic tricks for nobles and impressing the Emperor (Charles V). After the years pass, Faustus senses his death approaching and becomes desperate. Despite his Good Angel insisting that he still may be forgiven if he regrets, Faustus claims it's too late and is sure that his eternal damnation is coming. Sure enough, despite all his pleas, a horde of demons arrive to drag him to hell.
Faustus comes across as something of a megalomaniac, as well as being obsessed with knowledge and power; this despite the fact that he uses his powers for either selfish or futile gains. Despite summoning a demon and making a deal with Lucifer himself, Faustus remains skeptic of the afterlife, claiming that he won't be doomed for eternity because after death his soul will simply cease to be and therefore Lucifer won't have it. Needless to say, he's proven wrong.
Despite his egomania, he's still a sociable man with a circle of close friends who are mostly fellow scholars. His friends try to help him and save his soul, but are ultimately unable to. Faustus also expresses a desire to find a good woman and get married, but after his deal, Mephistopheles forbids him from doing so, as the demon claims that marriage is a holy union and they should stay away from it, as well as from all heavenly and God-related matters, otherwise they will be severely punished by Lucifer.
At the very end of his life, Faustus comes to regret his choices, realizing that he will have to face an eternity of punishment. He vainly wishes for time to stop, for the day to never end, so that he doesn't have to face his damnation.
Public domain literary appearances
- Historia von D. Johann Fausten, 1587.
- The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (play), by Christopher Marlowe, ca. 1594.
- Faust (play), by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1790 (fragmentary form), 1808 (part one), 1832 (part two).
- Aus Goethes Faust (song), by Ludwig van Beethoven, 1809.
- Gretchen am Spinnrade (song), by Franz Schubert, 1814.
- Faust (opera), by Louis Spohr, 1816.
- La damnation de Faust (opera), by Hector Berlioz, 1846.
- Faust (ballet), libretto by Jules Perrot, music by Giacomo Panizza, Michael Andrew Costa and Niccolò Bajetti, 1848.
- Faust and Marguerite (opera), by Meyer Lutz, 1855.
- Faust (opera), by Charles Gounod, 1859.
- Mefistofele (opera), by Arrigo Boito, 1868.
- Gretchen (play), by W. S. Gilbert, 1879.
- Faust up to Date (burlesque), by Meyer Lutz, 1888.
- The character was possibly based on a real life German scholar, alleged con man and magician called Dr. Johann Georg Sabellicus Faust, who lived in the late 15th and early 16th century, and whose body was found mutilated after death. Among his magical books is noted the name of a demon, "Mephostophiles", which naturally inspired Mephistopheles.