The “be careful what you wish for” adage has been used to tell frightening stories for centuries. One of the best to scare people off of the easy path, and a solid choice to read during Halloween, is The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. Also known simply as Doctor Faustus, the Elizabethan tragic play was written by Christopher Marlowe, between 1589 and 1592.

The play opens with the chorus introducing Doctor Faustus a man who has mastered every subject he has studied. Because of his acquired knowledge, he has fairly prideful philosophies about logic, medicine, and divinity. A Good Angel and Bad Angel appear to him to offer their perspectives on the subject of necromancy – something with which he is fascinated. Unfortunately, the Bad Angel persuades Faustus to his way of thinking.

Through an incantation, he is able to summon the demon Mephistophilis, who introduces the history of Lucifer and other devils. Mephistophilis then helps Faustus to make a deal with Lucifer – he’ll be given 24 years of life on Earth with Mephistophilis as his personal servant and have the ability to use magic. But, at the end of that period, Lucifer will get his body and soul as payment and he’ll be damned to Hell.

Faustus proceeds to ask Mephistophilis for answers to the questions he’s always wondered, many of which are based on science. The cagey demon is somewhat evasive, giving the audience the impression that he can’t be trusted. When Faustus asks who created the world he refuses to answer since he knows that God made the world, but Mephistophilis serves Lucifer.

Faustus, starting to show concern for his choice, announces that he will no longer practice magic and wants to repent. As Mephistophilis storms off, the Good Angel and Evil Angel return to encourage and mock him, respectively. Mephistophilis returns with Lucifer and Beelzebub to scare Faustus into obeying and following their agreement. In a show of perverse entertainment, and to continue intimidating Faustus, Lucifer brings to life the personification of the seven deadly sins.

Faustus goes on to gain incredible fame without actually doing anything noteworthy, rather he does silly things like practical jokes. Coming to the realization that he gave up his soul for no reason, he starts warning fellow scholars that he is damned and appears repentant. In a horrifying scene, Mephistophilis returns at the end of the play to claim Faustus’ soul, dragging him off stage to Hell, while the doctor begs for mercy.

For obvious reasons, the play has been the subject of controversy regarding its content and message. What it is for certain, is a very frightening story to read at Halloween time.