When people hear the word “magician,” they often associate it with the image of an old

man stroking his long white beard, who although a little absentminded is always trying to help

people. This magician is often the great Merlin from King Arthur’s court or Professor

Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series. On the other hand, the term “witch” conjures up a

completely different image. It is often associated with an old hag dressed all in black with a cat, a

broom, and warts. These witches are typically evil and only looking to cause trouble. Probably

the most recognized witch is the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. What these

stereotypes mean for a modern reader of the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe is that

their opinion of this great scholar will be very different if he is a witch or a magician, but for a

the Renaissance audience these stereotypes did not yet exist.

For those who watched the play in the Renaissance, some would have found the

distinction between witch and magician just as indicative of Faustus’s personality as modern

readers, but for others it was not as clear. This is because during the sixteenth-century the

stereotypes of witches and magicians that we are familiar with were being formed and their

definitions were complicated by a belief that witches existed and were a threat to society.

Generally speaking, the basis for our understanding of magicians can be found in the writings of

a group of Renaissance men mostly from the elite classes who believed they could wield a form

of magic that was aided and sanctioned by heaven. Others believed, however, that any type of

magic was a direct communication with demons or Satan; therefore, the men who practiced

“benevolent” magic were actually witches. Our understanding of witches is mostly derived from

the massive and popular witch-hunts that often ended with an execution of an elderly woman, but