The original German legend that Doctor Faustus is based on is about a man name Faust who is depressed and bored. After a failed suicide attempt he makes a deal with Mephistopheles, the Devil’s representative, to have unlimited knowledge. After striking a deal Mephistopheles helps Faust seduce a girl. In some versions of the legend, Faust is saved from going to Hell by the girl and in other stories he is damned.
In Gertrude Stein’s version Faustus rejects Mephisto after selling him his soul. Faustus claims not to care about his damnation or salvation because he believes he doesn’t have a soul anyway. Later, after killing a young boy and a dog (to assure his passage to hell), he tries to convince Marguerite Ida and Helena Annabel to accompany him to hell.
There are many descriptions for Faustus in the many variations of the legend. Some of these descriptions include: ambitious, arrogant, dreamer, brilliant.
Mephisto, or Mephistopheles, is a demon that appears in every variation of the Faust legend. However, depending on what variation you are looking at Mephistopheles can play the role of a messenger, servant to Lucifer (who has been assigned to corrupt Faust), companion to Faust, or mediator. In Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Mephisto is a devious and smooth talking being that convinces Faustus to kill to assure his passage to Hell.
Mephistopheles is an interesting character outside of the Faust legend too. Some say that he was second to fall after Lucifer and others say that he was an angel who assisted God in the creation of the universe (known for the designing of ocean mammals). Interestingly enough, no matter where you look, Mephistopheles does not appear in the Bible as he was created around the Renaissance period. As elegantly put by Burton Russell, Mephistopheles is a “…purely modern invention of uncertain origins makes it an elegant symbol of the modern devil with his many novel and diverse forms.”
Marguerite Ida and Helena Annabel (MIHA)
Marguerite Ida and Helena Annabel, otherwise known as MIHA, is a character completely unique to Gertrude Stein’s version of the Faust legend. Over the years this character has been interpreted in many different ways. Some people see her as one person with multiple or split personalities (something akin to multiple personality disorder) others see MIHA as two seperate people with two names (like twins).
One of the interesting things about MIHA is the etymology of each of the names. One of the theories I found was from paper that dramaturg and critic Dr. Bert Cardullo wrote. He states:
“Half of the four-part name, Marguerite Ida, contains positive connotations of motherhood–Margaret the faithful wife and mother of multiple Faust legends, and Ida the mother of the gods–while the second half, Helena Annabel, suggests images of sexual temptation and demonic, anti-familial sentiment, aside from its possible (ironic?) reference to the mother of the Virgin Mary. (Annabel suggests the name Hannah, which in Hebrew refers to the Anna Perenna of Italian tradition and also to the mother of the Virgin Mary.)”
In popular culture vipers, serpents, and other types of snakes are often seen as evil, malevolent, beings: the Basilisk in Harry Potter, the serpent in Adam and Eve, and the representation of Jews in antisemitic propaganda. Additionally, due to their often poisonous nature, they can be seen as symbols of vengeance, vindictiveness, (the spread of) poison, and death.
Like the serpent in the story of Adam and Eve the viper in Doctor Faustus is the tempter and servant to the devil (Mephisto). A very sexual creature by nature, he is enticing and procreative. However, the Viper is also violent and treacherous. Some may even see him as the lynch pin that begins the problems for Doctor Faustus by biting MIHA, starting the first of many events that eventually lead to the Viper killing Son and Dog.
Man From Over the Sea
The Man From Over the Sea is a very suave and dashing character that is unique to Gertrude Stein’s version of the Faust story. Throughout the play his goal is to sweep MIHA away with him. In the end he does save MIHA from being dragged to Hell with Doctor Faustus. Though shallow and sex driven, in this way he is almost built as the knight in shining armor prototype: save the most beautiful maiden from danger and take her away to live happily ever after. His costume portrays him as a pirate–though a romanticized version of one–giving his character a unruly undertone.
Son and Dog
In the script Son* and Dog are never seen apart from each other and are the catalyst for sending Doctor Faustus to Hell. Son represents the very definition of innocence: full of energy, playing children’s games, and completely unaware of the sexual activities happening around him. When he is killed by the Viper, Boy’s death represents the death of innocence. Dog, on the other hand, is the loyal companion. Interesting enough, at some point in both Wagner and Goethe’s version of the Faust legend Mephisto disguises himself into a dog. However, there is no evidence that the Dog in Stein’s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights has malevolent intent towards any other character in the script.
*In the original script “Son” is actually known as “Boy” from “Boy and Dog.” We changed his title to Son so the actor wouldn’t mix up his lines with the other Boy in “Boy and Girl.”
Boy and Girl
In our interpretation of the script, Boy and Girl represent almost two different people at the beginning and the end of the show. In the beginning of the show Boy and Girl are flirty, playful, and confident. They are dressed in modern clothing and taking selfies on their phones like every other college student. They represent the modern era we are living in right now. By the end of the show they have changed into a more neutral, white outfit. No longer a representation of your “average college student” they symbolize the future.