Faustus, a learned scholar of Wittenberg, has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. When the play opens, Faustus is seen in his study examining the various branches of knowledge he has studied in the past: logic, philosophy, medicine, law and theology. Dissatisfied with all these, he turns to the dangerous practice of necromancy, or black magic. With the help of his servant, Wagner, he summons Valdes and Cornelius and requests them to initiate him into the rudiments of magic. Faustus begins his experiments by conjuring up spirits. Mephistophilis appears before him, but Faustus is so shocked by his horrible appearance that he asks him to go away and come back again in the guise of a friar. Faustus then learns that it was not his invocation that produced Mephistophilis, but the curses he heaped on the holy trinity. Faustus asks Mephistophilis to return to the mighty Lucifer and meet him again in his study at midnight to enact the pact.
Faustus is then subject to a spiritual conflict. The two angels arrive. The Good Angel admonishes him to leave the black arts and concentrate on “heaven and heavenly things.” The Bad Angel advises him to “think of honor and of wealth.” Faustus dreams of the power and wealth that will soon be his. Mephistophilis arrives to inform Faustus that Lucifer needs a declaration from him to be signed in blood. Faustus signs a contract by which he agrees to give his soul to Mephistophilis in return for twenty-four years of faithful service. He is, however, upset by several bad omens. To divert Faustus, the three devils (Mephistophilis, Beelzebub and Lucifer) arrange for some entertainment: a parade of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Then Mephistophilis takes Faustus to Rome. In the Pope’s private chamber, both of them play practical jokes on the Pope. At the court of Emperor Charles V, Faustus punishes a skeptical courtier by putting horns on his head. He then produces the apparitions of Alexander the Great and his paramour and that of Darius, King of Persia. At the court of the Duke of Vanholt, Faustus, with the help of Mephistophilis, produces grapes in January. The twenty-four years allotted to Faustus are now almost over, and Faustus expects the devil to come at midnight to claim him. To entertain his scholar friends, Faustus summons the spirit of Helen of Troy from the underworld. But nothing can save Faustus now. The old man witnesses Faustus’ exclusion from “the grace of heaven.” The Bad Angel warns Faustus to be ready to “taste hell’s pains perpetually.” The Good Angel tells him that “the jaws of hell are open” to receive him. Faustus has only an hour to live. He dreads the moment of damnation. Faustus begs for relief from the eternal torment in store for him and wishes that he were a beast without a soul. The clock strikes twelve. In the midst of thunder and lightning, devils come and carry Faustus away to hell.