Prologue and Act One, Scenes 3-5:
Scene 1.3. Enter Lucifer and Four Devils. Faustus invokes them, performing the necessary incantations to make Mephostophilis appear. He commands Mephostopholis to depart, as his devilish form is too ugly to attend on Faustus. He is to return in the guise of a friar. When the devil departs to change his form, Faustus is delighted at the creature's obedience.
Mephostophilis asks Faustus' will; when Faustus demands that the devil serve him, Mephostophilis informs him that his master is Lucifer, and he cannot serve Faustus without his lord's leave. It was not Lucifer who charged Mephostophilis to appear. The devil came of his own will, when he heard Faustus' profane incantations. So do all devils make haste at the sound of sacrilegious magic, in hopes of winning the profaner's soul.
Faustus is all too eager to swear allegiance to Lucifer. He denies judgment after death, and he asks Mephostophilis a series of questions. The devil informs Faustus that Lucifer was once an angel, beloved of God, who by aspiring pride and insolence earned banishment from heaven. The devils with Lucifer in hell are those who conspired with him against God. When Faustus hears that they are banished to hell, he becomes curious: how can Mephostophilis be before him now, outside of hell? The devil informs him that he is always in hell, for true hell is separation from God. He begs Faustus to leave him alone with these questions, which "strike a terror to my [Mephostophilis's] fainting soul" (1.3.82).
Faustus chides the demon, telling him to take lessons from Faustus when it comes to manly fortitude. He bids Mephostopholis fly down to Lucifer to tell him that Faustus is ready to sell his soul. In exchange he wants twenty-four years of power and luxury, with Mephostophilis in complete obedience to his whims. Mephostophilis exits.
In soliloquy, Faustus exclaims that even if he had "as man souls as there be stars" (1.3.92), he'd sell them. He thrills at the power he'll soon have.
Scene 1.4. Wagner sees a poor Clown, and seems intent on making the Clown his servant. He jests that the Clown's poverty would compel him to sell his soul for a raw shoulder of mutton. The Clown replies that the mutton would have to be cooked and with good sauce. After some banter, during which the Clown refuses to serve, Wagner offers the clown some money. When the Clown takes the money, Wagner sees the acceptance as compliance to servitude, and begins to give orders. The Clown tries to give the money back. To break the Clown's resistance, Wagner summons two devils, Baliol and Belcher. The terrified Clown agrees to serve Wagner. Wagner take the devils away, and the impressed Clown follows him, asking if in exchange for service he can learn to summon devils. Wagner promises that he will teach the Clown how to change himself into an animal, and the clown bawdily says that he would like to be flea, so he can tickle the slits of women's skirts. Keeping alive the threat of summoning the demons again, Wagner bids the Clown to follow him, and the Clown obeys.
Scene 1.5. Faustus seems to be having second thoughts, unable to decide whether he should sell or keep. The Good Angel and Evil Angel appear again, the Good Angel telling him to think of heaven, and the Evil Angel telling him to think of wealth. The thought of wealth makes up Faustus' mind. Mephostophilis returns, exhorting Faustus to sign away his soul in a contract written in his own blood. Faustus asks Mephostophilis why the devils want his soul, and the heart of Mephostophilis' answer is this: "Solamen miseris, socios habuisse doloris" (1.5.42). ("Comfort in misery is to have companions in woe.")
When Faustus cuts his arm for the contract, the blood congeals too quickly to make good ink. While Mephostophilis is gone to fetch the fire to liquefy his blood again, Faustus wonders if his very blood is trying to stop him. But the devil returns, and Faustus signs. The deal is done.
On his arm, the inscription "Homo fuge" ("Fly, oh man") has appeared. The message disturbs Faustus, but Mephostophilis leaves and fetches devils to delight him. They crown Faustus, bedeck him in riches, dance, and then leave. Mephostophilis returns.
Faustus declares the terms of the agreement. Faustus can take spirit shape in "form and substance." Mephostophilis is subject completely to his whim, and must stay nearby, invisible. In exchange, after twenty-four years, the devils will have his soul.
He questions Mephostophilis about hell, asking where it is. Mephostophilis tells him that hell is not so much a set place: "Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed / In one self place" (1.5.124-5). Furthermore, ". . . when all the world dissolves / And every creature shall be purified, / All places shall be hell that is not heaven" (1.5.127-129). Faustus doesn't seem to understand, and dismisses hell as a fable. Mephostophilis' reply is chilling: "Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind" (1.5.131). They continue to talk, but Faustus can't seem to grasp what the devil is saying about the nature of hell.
He demands that Mephostophilis bring him a wife. Mephostophilis brings him a devil dressed as a woman, and tells him that rather than bring him a wife, he'll bring him many different women, one for every moment of desire.
Faustus asks for knowledge: he demands books on all manner of incantations, astrology, and botany, and Mephostophilis provides all of this on demand.
Marlowe makes the summoning scene more effective by placing the devils onstage from the start. When Faustus addresses the invisible beings of hell, the audience sees those creatures there in the flesh. Their presence emphasizes what Mephostophilis tells Faustus moments later: devils eagerly wait for people to call on them, hoping to win souls. Faustus believes he's the one in control. When he forces Mephostophilis to leave and re-enter in a Franciscan monk's garb (a little jab at Catholics that the Protestant audience would have found gratifying), he revels in the power he thinks he has: "Now, Faustus, thou art conjuror laureate: / Thou canst command great Mephostophilis" (1.3.32-3). He doesn't seem to understand the implications of what Mephostophilis tells him. The devil does not come because the incantations have power over him. He comes because the sorcerer is ripe prey.
Throughout the whole scene, Faustus seems unable to understand the forces with which he deals. When he questions Mephostophilis about hell, he does not understand that hell is primarily a state of the spirit. Mephostophilis is always in hell, even when he appears on earth, because true hell is separation from God. The devil is actually hurt by Faustus' questions, and cannot bear to think of his state: "Oh Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, / Which strike a terror to my fainting soul" (1.3.81-2). The "frivolous demands" are the curious questions about hell's nature. Like an amateur scholar who collects facts but cannot penetrate his subject deeply, Faustus seeks knowledge about hell; when the devil tells him about it, he doesn't understand it. He has knowledge, but no wisdom, and prizing the first over the latter is a grave mistake, and a theme of the play. For Mephostophilis, the experience of hell is painful and continuous, and not some scholar's trivia.
Sandwiched between two rather disturbing scenes, scene 1.4 is a bit of comic relief. Summoning demons becomes comic rather than serious (one of the demons is named "Belcher." These comic scenes are ambiguous. They have been criticized as irrelevant to the action and in poor taste; other audience members feel them to be a welcome relief from the serious subject of damnation. This scene also serves to juxtapose Wagner's petty ends to Faustus' overreaching ambition. As the play progress and Faustus sinks into debauchery, Faustus will come to seem as loutish and uninspiring as Wagner.
The final scene of the act shows Faustus having last doubts. But the Evil Angel's advice is taken over the Good, and Faustus seems ready for hell. Even the writing on his arm ("Fly, oh man," presumably to God) is quickly forgotten, when Mephostophilis distracts Faustus with a dance of devils. The need for distraction suggests that Faustus can still repent, and save himself from hell; alternately, it might suggest that Mephostophilis feels an odd sympathy for Faustus, and wishes to distract him, just this moment, from anxiety.
He asks Mephostophilis again about hell, and still can't grasp what the devil says. "And to be short, when all the world dissolves / And every creature shall be purified, / All places shall be hell that is not heaven" (1.5.127-9). Faustus responds that he thinks hell is a "fable." Mephostophilis' reply: "Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind" (1.5.131). The devil knows how this story will end. He understands his answers, even if Faustus does not. The theme of mistaking knowledge for wisdom continues at the end of the scene, when Faustus is delighted by the tomes of knowledge Mephostophilis provides. He craves information on astrology and botany, but cannot grasp the spiritual truth of what hell is.
Mephostophilis' presentation of the devil dressed in woman's garb is more than a moment of black humor. It also suggests that already, the devil is calling the shots even in the meager details. Faustus' wish for a wife isn't granted, and even now with the twenty-four year term just started, Mephostophilis is willing to deceive him.