Many of the themes of the play are embodied in a forthright manner in Doctor Faustus himself—indeed, the play reads even better as allegory than as a fictional history of the protagonist. To underline and add weight to his themes, Marlowe makes great use of classical and religious imagery ...
Many of the themes of the play are embodied in a forthright manner in Doctor Faustus himself—indeed, the play reads even better as allegory than as a fictional history of the protagonist. To underline and add weight to his themes, Marlowe makes great use of classical and religious imagery.
One of the most readily apparent uses of religious imagery is seen in the exhibition of the Seven Deadly Sins. Each one, made manifest by Lucifer, steps forward to provide a brief biography. Later, we can see how Faustus, drunk with power, enacts the sins through his various debaucheries: Wrath, with his furious punishment of the assassin knights; Covetousness, by eating the Carter’s entire load of hay for three farthings; and Lechery, in the summoning of Helen of Troy to be his own paramour, among other examples.
The overriding theme, of course, is that of pride leading to a fall. This is referenced explicitly when Mephistophilis tells Faustus, in response to the latter inquiring about the demon’s lord Lucifer, that the devil was thrown out of heaven for his pride. This reference to Christian theology re-emphasizes a previous scene, in which Faustus decides that all the careers his studies have prepared him for are beneath him. That scene, in turn, echoes the chorus at the beginning of the play, in which the Grecian legend of Icarus is alluded to. Icarus, of course, ignored warnings not to fly too close to the sun, which melted his wings and sent him tumbling to his death. So, too, does Faustus in his pride ignore all remonstrances—from his colleagues, from the Good Angel, from the Old Man—and proceed upon his destructive path.
Some of the allusions are more subtle. At least twice, a reference is made to The Golden Fleece: when referring to the Spanish treasure ships bringing yearly loads of gold to Philip of Spain and more obliquely in the opening Chorus, which references “learning’s golden gifts.” Though initially a triumph, Jason’s recovery of the Golden Fleece eventually doomed him to disappointment and an ignoble death; so, too, Faustus is initially rewarded with power and riches, only to have it all taken from him as his soul plunges into Hell.