Character of Mephistopheles
The only other character, that deserves some attention in the play, Doctor Faustus, after the hero is the infernal spirit Mephistopheles. Of course, Marlowe’s Mephistopheles is not any vulgar and violent spirit or demon, continuously inclined to do mischief. Mephistopheles here is a sober, intelligent and potential spirit, and remains impressive all through.
Marlowe’s Mephistopheles is not, as a Goethe’s drama, the arch-enemy himself, but an attendant spirit, who serves Lucifer, the Prince of Hell. Mephistopheles frankly points out to Faustus his unfailing obedience to his master, and thereby clearly illustrates his sense of loyalty:
“I am a servant to great Lucifer,
And may not follow thee without his leave!
No more than he commands must we perform.”
Mephistopheles is a fallen angel and his aim is to secure the glorious soul of man. Whenever the human nature is in danger to be damned, he flies “in hope to get his glorious soul”. And so he has come to serve Faustus in the hope of getting the prize of his glorious soul.
In Doctor Faustus, Mephistopheles is rather a symbolic figure with considerable dramatic significance. From the very beginning of Faustus’s meteoric rise and anti-Christian career, till the terrible tragic end, Mephistopheles is his constant companion and he is the source of Faustus’s rise as well as his downfall.
Mephistopheles has been introduced in the play as a deputy of Lucifer, the Prince of Hell. He is also a fallen angel who associated himself with Satan’s revolt against God. Unlike the Devils of Miracle and Moralities, Mephistopheles is not just a villain but is endowed with some redeeming features. In fact he confesses to Faustus that he is keenly and sadly conscious of his sufferings in hell and that the loss of Heaven and God’s blessings are a constant source of deep mental anguish for him. He is no doubt the evil genius of Faustus.
Yet, Marlowe’s Mephistopheles is no cold, hard hearted agent of the devil. As a fallen angle, he is certainly repentant, although it is impossible for him to rectify the wrong already committed. He sorrows, with a profound sense of pathos, over the bliss that he has forfeited:
“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 depriv’d of everlasting bliss?”
Again, there is much of the human intellectual element in Marlowe’s conception of Mephistopheles’ character. He is not simply a devil’s advocate. On the contrary, he is possessed of the genuine fire of a highly intellectual individuality. His pointed and simple answer to Faustus’s queries definitely exhibits the intellectual spirit of the Renaissance –
“Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place: for where we are is hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be,
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that is not heaven.”
We find the artful Mephistopheles playing rather a double role in his relationship with Faustus. When Faustus is normal and sticks to the conditions of his contract with the Devil, Mephistopheles is his most obliging slave. It is Mephistopheles who tries to satisfy his thirst for knowledge by answering all his questions to the best of his ability.
Mephistopheles’ role in the tragedy of Faustus is insignificant. After all, Faustus’s tragedy is his own, and not the outcome of his association with Mephistopheles. This infernal spirit rather serves to symbolize the infinite power of the cursed art of necromancy. He is no real being, yet Marlowe has made him quite diverting and interesting both by his imagination and by his dramatic sense.
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