What are some themes of Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many of the key themes of Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus are announced explicitly by the Chorus at the very beginning of the work.  These themes include the following:

  • The fluctuation of Faustus’ “fortunes” (“The form of Faustus’ fortunes, good or bad”).
  • Social mobility, as in the reference to Faustus’ rise from poverty to prominence.
  • Learning, including the abuses of learning.
  • Pride or arrogance (a very crucial theme), as in the reference to Faustus being

Swol[e]n with cunning of a self-conceit . . .

  • The self-destruction that often results from pride and from over-reaching (as in the allusion to Ixion flying too near the sun and being destroyed as a result).
  • Black magic (as in the reference to “necromancy”).
  • Foolish choices (as in the reference to Faustus preferring black magic over spiritual salvation).

At the end of the play, the Chorus returns and explicitly spells out the lessons of the work, which include the following themes:

  • Faustus’ corruption and destruction of his originally strong potential, as the following lines suggest:

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,

And burned is Apollo's laurel-bough . . .

  • The importance of learning, from the example of Faustus, not to make the same mistakes he made.
  • The dangers in engaging in intellectual presumption (of “wonder[ing] at unlawful things”).
  • The extreme danger of trying

To practice more than heavenly power permits.