Introduction to Doctor Faustus

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is a 1592 play by Christopher Marlowe. Scholars often note that it is a quintessentially Elizabethan play, grounded in both the theological and philosophical considerations that plagued contemporary society. As a result of its theological questioning and depiction of what many found to be compellingly dark forces, the play has received much criticism since it was published. Its sociocultural impact was further expanded after some critics claimed that real demons partook in some of the performances.

The doctrine of Calvinism, which was a dominant strain of theology during Marlowe’s time, is central to the debates surrounding the play. Calvinism states that God preordains who will be saved and who will be damned, meaning that someone’s life on earth has little impact on whether or not they will be admitted to heaven. Both pro-Calvinists and anti-Calvinists claimed that the play was written in their favor, with proponents of Calvinism insisting that Faust was thrice damned, first by God, then by the devil, and finally by himself. Anti-Calvinists, however, claim that the play was indicative of the importance of choice and free will in determining human morality.

The play’s themes are primarily concerned with ambition, the nature of power, and the ultimate battle between good and evil. Faust’s abilities stem from his contract with the demon Mephistopheles, calling into question whether or not Faust can truly be considered powerful in his own right. This is reinforced by Faust’s apparent inability to enact the world-changing measures he claimed to want the powers for in the first place. Instead, Faust uses his demonic abilities to perform petty parlor tricks for the ruling elite, showcasing the folly inherent in humans who seek power beyond their control. In the end, despite his life of regrets and his lack of true accomplishments, Faust’s soul is taken away by Mephistopheles, emphasizing the punishment that befalls those who meddle in the dark arts and stray from the path of morality.

A Brief Biography of Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) was one of the most important dramatists of the English Renaissance. He led a short, tumultuous, and scantly documented life, and thus his biography remains fertile ground for speculation. What is clear is that he composed at least six plays and was the most important English playwright of the late 1580s and early 1590s, until Shakespeare rose to prominence. Marlowe's work brought blank verse to the fore as a standard form for English theater, and his plays are known for their lively, often irreverent narratives, which often draw on historical source material. His masterpiece is arguably Doctor Faustus, which crystallizes many of Marlowe's interests and techniques. The play features the legendary Docor Faustus, a man so ambitious that he gives his eternal soul to the devil in exchange for twenty-four years of unbridled power on earth. The play exhibits Marlowe's brilliant prosody, fascination with ambition, and dark humor. Other key works of his include Tamburlaine and The Jew of Malta.

Frequently Asked Questions about Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus

Morality plays were common in medieval Europe. They tended to focus on how the individual is tempted by sin, sustained by virtue, and saved through religious faith in the Roman Catholic Church....

Latest answer posted July 3, 2021, 12:07 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

In scene 6, Doctor Faustus finds himself very worried about the deal he made with Lucifer. He is starting to fear that damnation is a real possibility. Mephistophilis attempts to reassure Faustus...

Latest answer posted July 4, 2021, 6:06 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

God is always present in Doctor Faustus and often referenced, but Faustus himself persistently turns from his mercies. God's voice appears in the guise of the Good Angel, who speaks to Faustus at...

Latest answer posted July 4, 2021, 12:34 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

Although Faustus is convinced that what he has done is so bad he cannot repent and be saved, when his life comes to its last half hour, he tries to bargain with God. He pleads that his sentence of...

Latest answer posted July 4, 2021, 6:47 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

One of the points of the play is to show what a bad bargain Faustus has made with the devil. He gets far less power and glory than he had dreamed of, because Lucifer's powers are more limited than...

Latest answer posted July 4, 2021, 12:01 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

Mephistophilis makes Faustus invisible when they go to Rome so that he can visit the pope unseen. Faustus addresses the pope, who is confused about who is speaking to him. He then grabs a "dainty"...

Latest answer posted July 4, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

The five conditions Faustus lists are as follows. First, he wants to be a spirit in "form and substance." Second, he demands that Mephistophilis be his servant and obey his commands. Third, he...

Latest answer posted July 3, 2021, 4:31 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus is responsible for his own downfall. Although tricked and deceived by the devil, who is the prince of lies, Faustus always has the choice to turn back to God. This is represented by...

Latest answer posted July 3, 2021, 1:36 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

In Doctor Faustus, Beelzebub is the chief of the demons, ranking only below Lucifer, the devil himself. In the play, Faustus pits the Christian God against Beelzebub and openly pledges his loyalty...

Latest answer posted July 3, 2021, 2:27 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

After signing his pact with the devil, Faustus demands Mephistophilis bring him a wife. Mephistophilis can't provide one, as marriage is a holy sacrament, solely under the control of God. The best...

Latest answer posted July 3, 2021, 11:59 am (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

At the beginning of the play, the Chorus informs the audience that Faustus is "glutted ... with learning's golden gifts" and that he "surfeits upon cursed necromancy." In other words, Faustus has...

Latest answer posted July 2, 2021, 2:44 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

In Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, the title character claims to desire knowledge. He has studied everything from theology to medicine, logic to law, and he feels that he has exhausted what...

Latest answer posted July 2, 2021, 2:27 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus has a very notable tragic flaw in his character which eventually leads to his downfall: he is so blinded by ambition, greed, and vanity that he loses himself and forgets the true...

Latest answer posted July 1, 2021, 1:12 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

Faustus asks for "four and twenty years" of living in "all voluptuousness," with the demon Mephistophilis attending to him and giving him almost unlimited power. He does not say, exactly, why he...

Latest answer posted July 2, 2021, 2:16 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

In the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, the title character comes to a horrific end, and it is all due to his very own fault. Doctor Faustus is a scholar, but he isn't satisfied with the...

Latest answer posted July 1, 2021, 3:46 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

The message of Doctor Faustus is that a deal with the devil is an exercise in futility. When Faustus makes his bargain with Lucifer to have access to Mephistophilis's powers for twenty-four years...

Latest answer posted July 2, 2021, 11:53 am (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

The longer title of the play gives us a hint as to its content: Marlowe called it a "tragical history." In a tragedy, one or more characters dies or suffers a terrible fate. This play is tragic...

Latest answer posted July 1, 2021, 11:51 am (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

In his last hour of life, Doctor Faustus is in anguish, wanting to be spared eternity in hell. However, though he comes very close to forgiveness and salvation, Faustus cannot bring himself to...

Latest answer posted July 1, 2021, 1:20 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

What makes Faustus a compelling figure is that he is not an evil man but, like most humans, a mixture of good and evil impulses. He is filled with ambitions, wants fame and power, and thinks he can...

Latest answer posted July 2, 2021, 12:10 pm (UTC)

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Doctor Faustus

Faustus craves power and, though he has gained knowledge, feels that ordinary knowledge is not enough. He turns to black magic and conjures Mephistophilis. Faustus then sells his soul to Lucifer in...

Latest answer posted July 1, 2021, 12:13 pm (UTC)

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Summary