Mephistopheles varies greatly in his attitude towards Faustus, sometimes seemingly offering support and guidance while others acting in a dismissive, even disdainful manner. Throughout, Faustus is manipulated into fulfilling Mephistopheles’ own goals, yet the ‘bewitching fiend’ succeeds in giving him the belief that he wants to do these things himself whether or not he is being guided, albeit rather forcefully, there. Nonetheless it remains to be seen if this is a reflection of the deceitfulness from the devils servant or rather the weakness and arrogance shown by Faustus.
Faustus appears vulnerable and naïve upon conjuring for the first time, pathetic fallacy adding to the sombre mood, as ‘gloomy shadow(s)’ overcast the scene, obscuring what is about to happen, leaving the audience in the dark and instilling a sense of terror. Therefore when Mephistopheles appears as a devil it is presumably through fear that Faustus describes him as ‘too ugly’ such is the heightened sense of tension and feeling of the sublime he experiences. As opposed to reacting to Faustus’ needs Mephistopheles immediately gains control and begins surreptitiously asserting his dominance over him, taking advantage of the fact Faustus is clearly out of his depth, and resorting to imperatives, commanding Mephistopheles to ‘speak!’ hinting that desperation is starting to creep in.
Throughout the play it appears as though Mephistopheles is praying on Faustus’ weaknesses, identifying his ‘aspiring pride’ as a pressure point and luring him towards the idea of becoming the ‘sole king’ of all the earth. Once overcome with the thought of being a ‘great emperor’ Faustus is obviously convinced that selling his soul is the best option he has and appears to disregard any rational logic, allowing Mephistopheles to sit back only issuing short replies like ‘I will’ in return to the overly ambitious notions filling Faustus’ egotistical head. Faustus’ lack of control is only furthered when his ‘own appetite’ gets the better of him leading to Mephistopheles threatening to go ‘back to hell’ – forcing Faustus to implore with him not to leave – furthermore signalling his reliance on him to actually carry out all his frivolous desires. The compromise of being offered ‘greater things’ proves too much for Faustus as passion overcomes reason, which Mephistopheles is keen to distance them from, creating stark opposition and providing further evidence that he is willing to manipulate Faustus through his vulnerabilities, regardless of what emotions this will invoke in the mere mortal himself.
In addition to promise bringing ‘whirlwinds, tempests, thunder and lightning’ under the control of Faustus, Mephistopheles also immediately senses whenever there is slight doubt in his subject, quickly bombarding him with fantasises to ‘delight his mind’ and turn his attention away from any concept of repentance. This eagerness to persistently tempt Faustus towards hell every time he wavers slightly suggests a driven character, supported through his own claims that he would do anything to ‘obtain his soul’ no matter the cost, showcasing a lack of care or sympathy towards the difficult situation Faustus finds himself in. This only serves to further the level of deception and pretence when Mephistopheles calls on Faustus to ‘stab thine arm courageously’ resorting to flattery to get his own way, knowing that Faustus’ ego will easily succumb to being complimented and raised above others.
However in direct contrast, Mephistopheles shows he’s not afraid to resort to intimidation, reporting ‘hell hath no limits’ such is the reach of the devil, one should know not to cross him as ‘under the heavens’ the lines blur and the liminal becomes ever more apparent, this bold claim undoubtedly a shocking one in front of a contemporary audience wherein religion was distinct in its boundaries – hell and heaven two entirely different entities. After a relatively straight forward process of persuasion Mephistopheles gains Faustus’ soul, leading to an apparent change in attitude from Mephistopheles – more bold in his tactics – he openly denies Faustus his wishes, instead questioning his stupidity and chastising him by warning him to ‘talk not of a wife’ but rather concentrate on aspects of life he himself deems relevant.
Faustus’ pitiful cry at the end of scene 5 suggests that already he realises the drastic mistake he’s made and that ‘thou art deceived!’ by the dishonest Mephistopheles, leaving the audience to feel slight sadness for the misplaced trust he possessed. Nevertheless while this seems tragic one cannot avoid the suggestion that Faustus was only guided down a path he desired all along and that he convinces himself to be ‘resolute’ and show willing to commit the most heinous of crimes such as ‘offer luke-warm blood of new-born babies’ – an awful taboo that highlights just how far he will go in order to quench his thirst for power and fame.
In turn, this advocates Mephistopheles as more of a bystander than initially thought and while he is unequivocally determined in gaining more souls ‘to enlarge his kingdom’, he remains open about this throughout, instead of being sly and secretive. Therefore it can be considered that Faustus is in no position to call Mephistopheles a ‘bewitching fiend’ such are the failings of his own character. He is the one who condemns himself through his over ambition at becoming a ‘conjuror laureate’ and arrogance in believing that he has tamed Mephistopheles and made him ‘obedient’. Whereas Mephistopheles only points him in the right direction and technically always remains under his command, bringing him a ‘hot whore’ for a wife, while unsatisfactory is still fulfilling the parameters of Faustus’ self-indulgent wish.
Despite this obedience towards his supposed master, Mephistopheles can definitely be considered a ‘bewitching fiend’ due to his ability to lure Faustus into making the decisions that Mephistopheles himself wanted and the drive he holds in forcing the deal through to the end. Furthermore his lack of concern towards his own conjuror is revealing, joking ‘tut I warrant thee’ in reaction to Faustus’ recognition he has done wrong, displaying both a lack of remorse and also a smugness that he has succeeded in accomplishing Lucifer’s plan.
Courtney from Study Moose
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