Doctor Faustus Themes

Doctor Faustus key themes:

  • Doctor Faustus reflects the Renaissance emphasis on the individual and the negative consequences of furthering one’s own power and success.

  • Faustus mistakenly believes that God will not forgive him for his transgressions when he makes his pacts with the devil.

  • Marlowe opposes Faustus' desire for knowledge with his ignorance of God and morality.

  • Faustus makes the choice to sell his soul to the devil and not to repent for his sins, and he suffers the consequences.

  • Doctor Faustus plays with the contrast between illusion and reality through Faustus’ use of magic.

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has been called Renaissance England’s “last avowedly religious drama.” While that assertion might be contested, it is certainly true that the play supplies the clearest and most emphatic representation of the psychomachia—the struggle between God and the devil for the fate of an individual human soul—that was available to English playgoers since the equally straightforward morality plays of the Middle Ages (with which Doctor Faustus bears many similarities.)

It is not that Faustus is unaware of this war between good and evil, between flesh and spirit, that is going on all around and within him. “Oh, I’ll leap up to my God!—Who pulls me down?” Faustus cries out at play’s end. What pulls him down is his obdurate pride, the habitual pattern of sins from which he cannot or will not release himself, and his condition of despair. Essentially, Faustus is convinced (wrongly, according to orthodox Christian thought) that his sins are so manifold and serious that they are beyond even God’s redress and forgiveness; accordingly, he cannot truly repent. To many Renaissance minds, such conscious embracing of despair constitutes the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” warned of in Scripture that alone resides outside the circumference of God’s mercy.

Faustus finally understands that he has long suspected on some level—namely, that “for the vain pleasure of four and twenty years,” he has “lost eternal joy and felicity” in the presence of God’s glory. He had dreamed of world conquest but ends up as little more than a court clown, fetching grapes for a bored and dissipated duchess. He had thought to acquire all knowledge but is at last left praying for the sublime oblivion of the bestial and even mineral worlds. This alarming declension—this devolution—of a human soul receives a powerful dramatic treatment in Marlowe’s famous play.


(Drama for Students)

As might be expected, a play in which the main character makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for earthly power, raises many...

(The entire section is 1580 words.)