The macabre, and especially the theme of selling one’s soul to the Devil, has been a very popular theme in Western literature since the 1580s. Many movies, plays, and songs feature this theme, and all trace their origins to a book that centered around the story of Dr. Faustus. The tale tells of a man who conjured up a demon, named Mephistopheles, and eventually made a bargain to have 24 years of good fortune, knowledge, and worldly pleasure. At the end of the 24 years Faustus would have to give up his soul to Satan and face eternal suffering, but he was deceived by Mephistopheles into thinking that his payment would not be so painful. This tale is the origin of the recurring theme of bargains with the Devil in Western literature.
Dr. Faustus was deceived by Mephistopheles, a fact to which he admitted later on in chapter nine. He was granted the ability to foresee events and to create accurate almanacs and horoscopes concerning them. He visited hell, traveled through the stars, and went on a world tour to visit many countries. Faustus was also able to conjure up long dead people, but these were not the actual spirits of the dead people, just demons imitating them. Charles V wanted to catch a glimpse of Alexander the Great, so Dr. Faustus arranged it so he could. Many things of this type did Faustus do with the unseen assistance of Mephistopheles.
As his days wore out, Dr. Faustus became increasingly distressed. He realized that he had been deceived and blinded by the promise of great power. In the final days Mephistopheles deceived him once more, saying that Satan would give Faustus a body that would be totally insensitive to the tortures of hell. On his last night he called together his friends to tell them of what he had done, and to convince them to never follow his path. He realized what he had done was wrong, but he was totally unable to bring himself to repent. In the end he was horribly killed and thrown onto a dung-heap, his body twitching. The demon had lied, and Satan had his due.
This theme of selling one’s soul for worldly benefits has come down through the ages. Many examples of modern entertainment exhibit this trend, including the play that this book was made into, the many adaptations of the short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, the 1986 film Crossroads, the well-known song The Devil Went Down to Georgia, among many others. It seems as though the story of Dr. Faustus started a trend that has persisted to this day, and has tapped into a desire among some for the dark side of things.