Renaissance Attitudes Towards Faustus as a Magician

A Look at Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus




The “Real Faust”

“It is now clear to us that the real Dr. Faust, on whom Marlowe based his play, was not a magician at all but rather an incredible braggart and trickster. His stories were bred in the German inns of the sixteenth century, an environment described by E. M. Butler as a place where “jugglers, charlatans, and quacks of all kinds thrived. . ., the ideal breeding ground for those crass deceptions and knavish tricks associated with the real Faust” (121). Dr. Faust was known to publicize himself as chief of all astrologers, the most learned chemist of all times, a palmist, a crystal gazer, and a man who could perform miracles greater than Christ (121). Unfortunately for Faust, he was never able to bring about any of these miracles (unless one wants to argue that such a man achieving a good theological degree is a miracle in itself). The only documented facts that might have given him credibility as a wizard, among his barmates, were things that now seem trivial. These include such occurences as his keeping a dog with him at meals (some of the sixteenth century general public considered demons to disguise themselves as dogs), his ability to occasionally obtain out-of-season game, and his threatening a group of monks with a poltergiest because they gave him bad wine. Whenever he would claim to bring someone back from the dead, he always needed a couple of days to prepare, no doubt to hire the right actors and create an eager audience. Dr. Faust was not made famous and immortalized in literature by such authors as Marlowe because of amazing acts, but rather because his amazing amount of bragging caused false stories to become exaggerated over time. In truth, the real Faust sounds more like Shakespeare’s comically boastful Falstaff than the respectable man unable to avoid temptation that Marlowe creates.
Faust’s own legend did grow, however, to the point of his banishment from the city of Ingostadt for being a soothsayer. Faust brought this on himself though. Unlike the Faustus in Marlowe’s play, the real Faust went out of his way to inform people of his pact with the devil. According
to Johannes Weir, Faust once came up to him and said, “I surely thought that you were my brother-in-law and therefore I looked at your feet to see whether long, curved claws projected from them” (124). Faust had to know that such a statement would not be taken lightly by many in the sixteenth century, a time connected with great fear of Satan.”

Pasted from <http://replay.waybackmachine.org/20070205123822/http://virtual.park.uga.edu/cdesmet/tiffany/faustus4.htm>
[Compiled by: Jesse Baker, Adria Bredemann, Brittain Brussart, Adrian McLeer, Tiffany Tuck, & Tia Wolowicz for ENG 434, Dr. Desmet, University of Georgia, May 1997. The uga.edu page is gone, and the link is to the waybackmachine.org. All hail waybackmachine.]