List three themes from Doctor Faustus and say what his actions reveal about his character.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Dr. Faustus we find: Ambition extended to greed, sin extended to infernal and eternal damnation, and the wicked nature of man under the effects of power.

His actions denote a man who is too big for himself but, at the same time, too small for the whole wide world. Although he is superbly intelligent, he cannot use common sense to fix his problems. Although he is a professor and an academic leader, he lacks the gumption and creativity to make his natural gifts be worth anything. He is the typical man who is so insolent, petulant, and full of himself that he even trades his soul to the devil for absolutely no real reason but that of obtaining a power which he is not ready for. That shows you the measure of his character as a man, and as a genius which is very small and minimalistic compared to what he can actually accomplish.

bettykirkers | Student


One theme in Faustus is 'limits'. The exploration of this theme allows for a discussion surrounding the capabilities of man, as well as an evaluation of 'transgressing' - to what extent does Faustus go where man should not? Marlowe's play can be read as a criticism of untrammelled ambition and compares nicely with other texts such as Frankenstein, which sees its protagonist push scientific boundaries to devastating effects. 

The idea that Faustus goes too far in his pursuit for knowledge is expressed through the allegory to Icarus in the Prologue: “his waxen wings did mount about his reach”. The character of Icarus is overambitious, and equally arrogant, subsequently the natural orders challenge him “heavens conspired his overthrow”. The same way that Faustus is arrogant, wanting to go beyond the limits of his fellow brothers: "Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man" This ambition sets him up to be a fallen man, a traditional feature of the gothic genre.


The bad angel and the good angel appear, as a physical symbol to the audience of Faustus’ internal struggle. Typically the good angel triumphs over the bad in morality plays, but Marlowe’s play sees Faustus “glutted with the conceit of this”; too consumed by the idea of power and glory to heed the advice of the good angel. The good angel tells Faustus (in turn the audience) that the “damned book” may “heap God’s heavy wrath upon thy head”.

The Bad Angel triumphs over the Good’s promise of “heavenly and heavenly things” by making Faustus think of “honour and wealth”. These sway his judgement, which show the hypocritical nature of man as in Act One Scene One, Faustus criticised lawyers who seek “external trash” (money). This suggests that throughout the play, Faustus will listen more to the ‘bad’ angel and incur God’s ‘wrath’ as a result.


Shortly after Faustus signs his soul away to the devil, Mephostophilis begins to fall short of Faustus’ expectations. He cannot offer Faustus a wife, as marriage is a divine institution, a Christian ceremony. He can instead offer “the fairest courtesans” (prostitutes) as this indulgent debauchery is the Devil’s playground.

Furthermore, Mephostophilis’ refusal, or inability, to answer Faustus’ question as to who made the world “move me not, Faustus” suggests that the Devil cannot meet Faustus’ needs in the way that the doctor initially thought that he could. This foreshadows further disappointment over the course of the play and suggests that Faustus has been deceived by those he signed his soul to.

Faustus believed Mephostophilis would be submissive to him – “How pliant is this Mephostophilis!” – which highlights his arrogance, but really Faustus has been deceived by the Devil and his agent into thinking he was dominating. This becomes apparent to the audience and Faustus himself when Mephostophilis reveals his true allegiance, arresting Faustus’ soul for “disobedience to my sovereign lord”.

But the greatest deception of all is Faustus’ self-deception, for it is not that god has damned Fasutus so much that Fausts has damned himself through his repeated ignorance of the good angel and the Old Man’s promise of redemption lest he only turn back to heaven. 

nusratfarah | Student

Three themes from Doctor Faustus: 1) Ambition,

2) Fate vs Freewill,

3) Renaissance vs Medieval.


Doctor Faustus's actions reveal the ambitious side of his character, his inner favoritism towards Classic beauty, his fascination for the Evil and, above all, his internal conflict between good and bad.

The tragic hero gets engulfed by power which is given by knowledge, and like Paradise Lost's Adam and Eve, he has to face an ultimate downfall.

Throughout the play, Faustus is in a dilemma where he has to choose between the good and the bad. The gradual appearance of the two angels and the old man and, the warning of Mephistopheles- all are like alarms for him. Marlowe thus shows that his Faustus has his own choice, like Shakespeare's Macbeth or Sophocles' Oedipus. Yet he pays heed to his own greed and ambition. But at the end, he is seen to remorse and repent, and willing to return to God's path; and this is an indication that a medieval belief prevails inside the Renaissance age's Faustus. It also shows that, Faustus is not a flat character, he's rather a round character.  And one more thing is necessary to add, which is that, his charm and fascination to Helen indicates to his liking of Classics.

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Doctor Faustus

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