Most critics agree that the Renaissance marked the reemergence of and a revival of interest in classical learning. It generally characterizes the period between the fourteenth century and the end of the sixteenth century, though the dates often fluctuate depending on one's viewpoint. Much of the painting began to incorporate classical themes, rather than the purely Christian religious images characteristic of the Middle Ages. In literature, much of the emphasis placed on religious subject matter was set aside in favor of renewed interest in the philosophical thought of the Greeks and Romans, particularly Plato and, to a lesser extent, Aristotle.
Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus treats subject matter emerges from the time period of the sixteenth century; however, it represents an intellectual undercurrent that has much more in common with the Middle Ages than the classical world. Throughout the Middle Ages (and to a lesser degree the ancient world), interest in alchemy and astrology were not uncommon. Though authors did not agree on the value of this knowledge, the power it could convey on the holder of it was a serious matter of contention. Doctor Faustus certainly explores the relationship between "accepted" knowledge, which Faustus clearly indicates does not give him the power he seeks, and the "forbidden," magical knowledge that he believes will grant him the power for which he yearns.