Doctor Faustus, a talented German scholar who decries the limits of human knowledge, believes that he has learned all that can be learned by conventional means. What is left for him, he thinks, but magic? He is offered a choice of Christian conscience by a good angel, and the path to damnation by an evil angel.
Two fellow scholars, Valdes and Cornelius, teach him the fundamentals of black magic. Eventually, Faustus summons the devil Mephistopheles and the terms of their pact are agreed upon. In return for his immortal soul, Faustus will be granted twenty-four years of power, with Mephistopheles as his servant.
Faustus begins to have second thoughts, but he rationalizes them away and signs away his soul in his own blood. He receives a warning and is nearly overcome by fear. Mephistopheles distracts him with a dance of devils and gives him a book filled with knowledge.
Faustus, after some time, curses Mephistopheles for causing him to lose any prospect of heaven. He finds he can torment the devil by mentioning the name of deity. The good angel and the evil angel arrive again, one advising him to repent, the other telling him to hold to the course of wickedness. Beelzebub and Mephistopheles return to intimidate him, and he agrees to think of God no more. Meanwhile, Robin the Clown has found one of Faustus's magic books.
Riding in a chariot drawn by dragons, Faustus has explored the heavens and earth and flies to Rome where the feast honoring St. Peter is to be celebrated. Faustus and Mephistopheles make themselves invisible and play a number of tricks before leaving. Faustus returns home where his ill-gotten knowledge and abilities gain him renown. Meanwhile, Robin the Clown has learned some magic of his own.
At the court of Charles V, Faustus delights the emperor with illusions and humiliates a knight, whose attempts to get even result in more humiliation for him.
Faustus continues to use his powers to swindle and humiliate anyone he pleases. Several of his victims, together with Robin the Clown, go to the court of the duke in order to get some justice done, if possible. Faustus wins over the duke and duchess with petty illusions, and toys with Robin.
Time is running out for Faustus. We learn from Wagner that his master is probably preparing for death. Even so, there is no repentance evident as Faustus feasts and drinks the time away with other scholars. He summons a spirit to take the appearance of Helen of Troy and asks Mephistopheles to bring Helen to him so she can give him comfort and love during his remaining time.
Finally, Faustus reveals to his friends that he is a damned soul and that his powers came at a high price. They leave him to his fate.
Mephistopheles taunts Faustus, and Faustus blames him for his damnation. The devil gladly takes credit, as the good and evil angels arrive for the last time. The clock strikes eleven, and Faustus's final monologue reveals his regret. At midnight, the devils enter as Faustus begs God and the devil for mercy, but there is no mercy as Faustus is dragged down to hell.
In the epilogue, the Chorus reveals that Faustus is gone, and all his great potential has been wasted. We are warned to remember his fall and the lessons it affords.