Key Theme: Bargaining
Deals in the play;
Faustus' bargain with Lucifer Just as Lucifer cheats Faustus in their deal,
Faustus cheats the horse-courser
Wagner gets a clown to agree to be his servant in return for learning some magic.
These deals might be taken to suggest that bargains are often simply occasions for one individual to exploit another.
Thus, one could see the play as ultimately about good and bad deals. And through this profusion of deals and exchanges, Marlowe is able to raise questions of value: What is worth more, power in this world or salvation in the next? How much is a soul worth?
As a tragic hero, Faustus is done in by his excessive ambition and pride, but he is also doomed by his tendency to under-value the things he bargains with and over-value the things he bargains for.
Key Theme: Sin & Redemption
Deeply immersed in Christianity, Marlowe's play explores the temptation of sin, its consequences, and possibility of redemption for a sinner like Doctor Faustus.
Faustus's journey can be seen in relation to the possible trajectory from temptation to sin to redemption:
Faustus' ambition is tempted by the prospect of limitless knowledge and power, he sins in order to achieve it, and then he rejects possible redemption.
He is so caught up in his desire for power that he neglects the consequences of his deal with Lucifer - He gives into his temptations, rejects God in favor of Lucifer and Mephistopheles.
The Good & Bad angels can be seen as the opposing pulls of redemption and temptation to sin and Faustus' consciousness. Faustus listens to the Evil Angel for the most of the play - The question of whether Faustus repents at the end of the tragedy is debatable and questions if it is too late for a sinner like Faustus.
Key Theme: Fate VS Free Will
One overarching question in Marlowe's play is whether Faustus' fall from grace is his own fault or whether he is fated to be damned.Faustus seems to choose his own path, voluntarily agreeing to his deal with Lucifer.
He appears to have the choice to repent at any moment in the play. But, according to a Calvinist interpretation, such free will is an illusion, as these “choices” are already predetermined by God.
According to Calvinism (a branch of protestant Christianity), people are predestined to be either saved in heaven or damned in hell. In other words, they are born fated to go to one or the other and there's nothing they can do to change that.
Regardless, that the play engages in this kind of questioning at all suggests that there may be limits to and constraints upon free will.
Key Theme: Knowledge & Power
Marlowe also explores the associations of formal education with power and social hierarchy. Education helps people position themselves in higher social classes.
It is through knowledge that Faustus rises from his humble origins and the play's scholars differentiate themselves from lowly clowns. - When Wagner promises to teach a clown magic, he uses his superior knowledge as a way to gain power over the clown, getting him to agree to be his servant.
For the over ambitious Faustus, knowledge means power. He desires limitless knowledge largely because of the massive riches and power that come with it.
Marlowe's play suggests that there are limits to knowledge.
The desire to learn is not inherently bad, but Faustus overreaches. He recognises this, as his last line in the play contains a promise to burn his books to remove his ambition for learning.
But even if this moral is clear-cut, where is the line between appropriate subjects of study and “unlawful things” that we shouldn't seek to know is unclear. Knowledge is power, but how much is too much?
Mephastopheles is very clear that Lucifer will only make a deal with Faustus if he signs a formal deed of gift signed with his own blood. - Faustus' blood thus symbolizes some true essence of himself, which Lucifer desires as a sign of his commitment.
When Faustus tries to sign the agreement, the blood congeals, and Faustus interprets this as a sign that his own body is reluctant to make the bargain with Lucifer and a sign from God.
As Faustus' death draws near and he considers repenting, he says that a single drop of Christ's blood would save him. Christ's blood also serves as a symbolic guarantee of a bargain, though a holy one in contrast to that between Lucifer and Faustus. Christ's blood is shed through his crucifixion, the sacrifce by which Jesus redeemed mankind's sins.
While the imagery of blood is an important symbol throughout the play, there is also a tension between blood as a physical part of Faustus' body, of which he is aware (he fears devils tearing his flesh and causing him pain), and blood as a symbol of someone's inner essence or soul, which Faustus entirely neglects.
Act 1 Scene 1
"necromantic books are heavenly!" - Faustus
Act 2 Scene 1
"write a deed of gift with thine own blood," - Mephistopheles
Act 2 Scene 1
"But fearful echoes thunder in mine ears, 'Faustus, thou are damned.'” - Faustus
Act 5 Scene 1
"I do repent, and yet I do despair:" - Faustus
Act 5 Scene 2
"My God, my God, look not so fierce on me." - Faustus
Act 5 Scene 2
"One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah my Christ." - Faustus
Act 5 Scene 4
"I'll burn my books"