The Chorus tells us that the play is about an ordinary man, a scholar called Faustus. His intellect has made him arrogant, and extremely ambitious. The story will open as he embarks on a study of magic, the only domain of knowledge he has yet to conquer.
Faustus is seen sitting amongst his books, and he begins to tell us about the authors. He derides them, rejecting each of their disciplines in turn. Theology is his last hope, but labels it useless, declaring it is inevitable that all men must sin and die. But Faustus believes that applying his considerable intellect to the study of magic will make him immortal. Admitting that he is still a novice in the subject, he sends his servant, Wagner, to fetch the magicians Valdes and Cornelius. They will teach him how to gain power over the spirit world.
The Good and Evil Angel appear. The Good Angel threatens Faustus with Gods anger if he continues; the Evil Angel counters this by telling Faustus his course will lead to greater power on earth. This prompts Faustus to aspire and dream, and he shares his ideas with Valdes and Cornelius. The two magicians promise to help him achieve his ambitions and the scene closes with Faustus attempting his first spell.
Two of Faustus old friends are seen wondering where he is now. Wagner, Faustus servant, passes them, and makes fun of typical scholarly discourse. Eventually he tells them that Faustus is dining with Valdes and Cornelius. The two men realize their friend is learning black magic and resolve to help.
Faustus has learned the art of magic and conjures up a devil called Mephastophilis. Faustus is arrogant but when he gives orders to the demon, he is told that his requests will only be granted if Lucifer, Mephastophilis master, consents. They discuss Lucifer and the account of his exile from heaven. Faustus proposes a contract with the devil - in exchange for his soul Lucifer should give him twenty-four years where he may live "in all voluptuousness". They arrange to meet and confirm the agreement after Mephastophilis has consulted his master.
Wagner meets a "clown" in the street and bribes him to become his servant. When the man hesitates, Wagner conjures up two devils, Baliol and Belcher, who frighten him into submission.
We see Faustus in his study, thinking about damnation. The Good and Bad Angel appear and plead with him. When they leave, Mephastophilis enters and tells Faustus that Lucifer has agreed to the bargain as long as the contract is signed in blood. The doctor questions Mephastophilis about hell, and then attempts to write his name. However, the blood will not flow, and when a message appears on his arm urging him to flee, the demon distracts him from hesitation by a group of dancing devils.
When the bargain is sealed, Faustus at once begins to pester Mephastophilis for the secrets of the universe. All of his requests are met with dissatisfaction. He thinks of heaven, and the Good and Bad Angels appear again. Faustus declares that he cannot repent, and calls on Mephastophilis to discuss the nature of the world. The information given seems limited, and the devil is not allowed to talk about theological matters. Faustus dismisses him and the Angels return. Just as the doctor seems to be on the verge of repenting, the most powerful devils, Lucifer and Belzebub, appear with Mephastophilis and issue threats with a display of the Seven Deadly Sins. Faustus is impressed and decides to visit Hell.
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