Doctor Faustus

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Themes and Colors
Temptation, Sin, and Redemption Theme Icon
The Bargain Theme Icon
The Renaissance Individual Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Education, Knowledge, and Power Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Doctor Faustus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Bargain Theme Icon

Faustus' bargain with Lucifer is the most famous part of Doctor Faustus. The so-called “Faustian bargain” has become a standard way of referring to some kind of “deal with the devil,” a motif that recurs throughout Western literary and cultural traditions (from a version of the Faust story by the German poet Goethe to the blues musician Robert Johnson, who legend says sold his soul to Satan for his skill on the guitar). But the importance of the bargain extends beyond this famous plot device. The idea of some kind of economic exchange or deal pervades the tragedy. Just as Lucifer cheats Faustus in their deal, Faustus cheats the horse-courser who buys a horse from him and Wagner gets a clown to agree to be his servant in return for learning some magic. These deals might be taken to suggest that bargains are often simply occasions for one individual to exploit another.

However, there is another system of bargaining in the play, related to Christianity. The very word “redemption” literally means “a buying back.” In Christian thinking, Jesus redeems mankind by “buying back” their sins at the expense of his own death. If Faustus' bargain with Lucifer is sealed with blood, God's agreement with mankind is, too—with the very blood of Jesus, shed on the cross. Moreover, Faustus can strike a deal with God at any point in the play, gaining eternal salvation by simply repenting his sins. Lucifer may hold Faustus to his original agreement, threatening him when he thinks about repenting, but God is willing to take mercy even on sinners who don't uphold their end of the divine bargain. Faustus, however, refuses to make this ultimate deal. At the end of the play, he is desperate but still attempts to haggle with God, begging for salvation in return for a thousand or a hundred-thousand years in hell.

Thus, one could see the play as ultimately about good and bad deals. And through this profusion of deals and exchanges, Marlowe is able to raise questions of value: what is worth more, power in this world or salvation in the next? How much is a soul worth? Can it even be put in terms of money and profit? As a tragic hero, Faustus is done in by his excessive ambition and pride, but he is also doomed by his tendency to under-value the things he bargains with and over-value the things he bargains for.

The Bargain ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Bargain appears in each scene of Doctor Faustus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Bargain Quotes in Doctor Faustus

Below you will find the important quotes in Doctor Faustus related to the theme of The Bargain.
Scene 3 Quotes

Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer,
Seeing Faustus hath incurred eternal death
By desperate thoughts against Jove's deity:
Say, he surrenders up to him his soul
So he will spare him four and twenty years,
Letting him live in all voluptuousness,
Having thee ever to attend on me,
To give me whatsoever I ask,
To tell me whatsoever I demand,
To slay mine enemies, and aid my friends,
And always be obedient to my will. (87-89)

Related Characters: Doctor Faustus (speaker), Mephastophilis, Lucifer
Page Number: 1.3.87-97
Explanation and Analysis:

Pressed by his thirst for knowledge, Faustus has learned about hell and Lucifer's fall from Mephistophilis. Now, he instructs the devil to bring a deal proposal to Lucifer. Here Faustus speaks as though his death and damnation are secured and fated, speaking of them as a matter of fact. The bargain he offers Lucifer is that he will give up his soul if Mephistophilis will be his servant for 24 years, doing whatever he demands, even killing for him, "ever obedient to [Faustus's] will." Faustus wants power over Mephistophilis, and through him, immense necromantic power and knowledge. He is so willing to part with his soul that he proposes the terms to Lucifer, believing that the 24 years of power will be well worth the price of his eternal soul. Striking evidence that Faustus believes this bargain is a good one can be found in the quote below.

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Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I'd give them all for Mephastophilis.
By him I'll be great emperor of the world. (102-104)

Related Characters: Doctor Faustus (speaker), Mephastophilis
Page Number: 1.3.102-104
Explanation and Analysis:

After Mephastophilis leaves, planning to go to Lucifer with the bargain terms and to return at midnight, Faustus delivers another brief soliloquy, which begins with this quote. He claims that if he had "as many souls as there be stars," he would still trade all of them for Mephastophilis's service. The reason? Power: with Mephastophilis's help Faustus can become "great emperor of the world." These lines reveal the extent of Faustus's perversion and vast underestimation of the worth of his soul. Though devils flock to any opportunity to obtain a "glorious soul," Faustus devalues his soul. In conjunction with the shift he made above, switching necromantic books for heavenly ones, he now lives for this black magic instead of living for God.

Scene 5 Quotes

But Faustus, thou must bequeath it solemnly,
And write a deed of gift with thine own blood,
For that security craves great Lucifer. (34-36)

Related Characters: Mephastophilis (speaker), Doctor Faustus, Lucifer
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 2.1.34-36
Explanation and Analysis:

Though the Good Angel has tried to convince him to turn back towards heaven, faustus has resolved to continue with his deal, excitedly imagining all the wealth and power he will gain. He summons Mephistophils, and asks whether Lucifer has accepted the deal. Mephistophilis tells Faustus that Lucifer has in fact accepted, and in the quote he describes the gruesome detail that will make the bargain official. Faustus must "write a deed of gift" with his "own blood." Only this step will make the deal secure enough for Lucifer to accept it. Faustus stabs his arm and begins writing, though there are a few opportunities for him to stop. His blood congeals, and he receives a divine warning, "Homo Fuge"—"flee, man"—in his very flesh. But ultimately, he still signs away his soul.

This bargain brings up the question that Faustus himself asks: is your soul your own? Can a person even sign it away? Ultimately, it may be that the deal is meaningless, and it is Faustus's refusal to repent that brings about his damnation, not any signature or bargain. Also note the intense, ironic symbolism of blood: Faustus uses his own blood to sign away his soul and secure his own damnation, but even one drop of the most powerful blood of all, Christ's saving blood, would be enough to bring Faustus mercy and salvation.

Scene 12 Quotes

Sweet Mephastophilis, entreat thy lord
To pardon my unjust presumption;
And with my blood again I will confirm
My former vow I made to Lucifer. (60-63)

Related Characters: Doctor Faustus (speaker), Mephastophilis, Lucifer
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 5.1.70-73
Explanation and Analysis:

As mentioned above, Faustus has uttered the words "I do repent," causing Mephastophilis to rage against him and threaten to tear him to pieces. Seeing how angry Mephastophilis is, Faustus speaks the lines in this quote, saying he will reaffirm his vow to Lucifer. Sacred and profane are inverted for Faustus, so repentance is "unjust," and he asks the devil to "pardon him." The extremity of this quote demonstrates the power that his above "I do repent" carried. To cancel out the repentance, Faustus must confirm the vow he made to Lucifer with "blood again." All of his sins are washed away by the simple utterance of repentance, and he must be made to make more deadly sins if Lucifer hopes to retain his soul.

One thing, good servant, let me crave of thee,
To glut the longing of my heart's desire:
That I might have unto my paramour
That heavenly Helen which I saw of late,
Whose sweet embracings may extinguish clean
These thoughts that do dissuade me from my vow:
And keep mine oath I made to Lucifer. (72-78)

Related Characters: Doctor Faustus (speaker), Mephastophilis, Lucifer
Page Number: 5.1.81-87
Explanation and Analysis:

Having reaffirmed his vow to Lucifer, once again in blood, Faustus now requests that Mephastophilis fulfill his usually gluttonous desire with an unusual object. Instead of asking for more books, Faustus asks Mephastophilis to produce again the Helen of Troy that he recently conjured to impress the Scholars. He reasons that Helen's "sweet embracings" will distract him from his thoughts of repentance and allow him to keep the oath he made to Lucifer. When Mephastophilis brings forth Helen, Faustus utters the play's most famous line (and possibly the best-known line that Marlowe ever wrote): "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?" Faustus then delivers a famous, seemingly romantic monologue about Helen.

This famous scene, however, should not be taken at face value. Recall that this is not Helen of Troy, but is instead a devil in her shape. This fact would be easy to remember during a contemporary performance of the play, as theatrical productions had all male casts during the English Renaissance. Thus a male actor would have played a male devil dressed as Helen of Troy. And Faustus have been as aware of this strange, demonic cross-dressing as the audience. Recall that when Faustus asks for a wife, Mephastophilis produces a devil dressed as a woman, which Faustus immediately rejects with disgust. His response to Helen here can then be seen as indicative of his dramatic change from the start of the play. He is now so steeped in necromancy and sin that he no longer cares what or who the false Helen really is.