What is the theme of Dr Faustus?
A major theme of the play is the sin of excessive ambition. Faustus, a clever scholar, wants too much; he seeks to gain knowledge and power beyond normal human limits. In the end, he cannot be allowed to do this; although he enjoys a brief ascendancy, he is ultimately consigned to hell and everlasting punishment, literally dragged offstage by devils. His final words, at the end of a long and despairing soliloquy, rise to sheer agony:
My God, my god, look not so fierce on me!
Adders and serpents, let me breath awhile!
Ugly hell, gape not! Come not, Lucifer!
I’ll burn my books!
Faustus thus vainly entreats the dark powers not to claim him, and attempts to renounce his sin – 'I’ll burn my books!' It was his overweening desire for knowledge that has brought him to this pitiable and tragic end. Now he repents of it – but only when it is far too late. He has to pay for daring 'to practise more than heavenly power permits,' as the Chorus solemnly pronounces in the very last lines of the play.
In his vaunting ambition, Faustus resembles other Marlovian protagonists such as Tamburlaine, the historical conqueror who built a great empire, and Barnabas, the title figure of The Jew of Malta, who aspires to unlimited wealth.