Doctor Faustus Themes

Ambition and Power Points

•There is an initial presentation of Faustus as an ambitious man of learning, the audience first hears Faustus talk of his aspirations to gain knowledge.

•Faustus is filled with contradiction and so comes across as very human, especially in his ambition to better himself; to this extent Faustus is a mankind figure: representative of an everyman. However, Faustus’ attempts to transcend this status, and his ambition to be greater than human, is his ultimate downfall.

•Throughout the play, imagery of ascent and flight are used to describe Faustus’ desires and actions. Perhaps Marlowe is suggesting that ambition is a divine trait and will allow you to become closer to God, or perhaps are illustrative of the idea that, like in the story of Icarus, Faustus’ desires are too far out of reach.

•The emergence of Renaissance humanism, during the time of the Reformation, meant that people were becoming more inclined to challenge religious beliefs and embrace human dignity, which is shown through the character of Faustus.

•Robin and Rafe represent common humanity, but they also mirror Faustus's ambition, his persuadability, and his approach to women. Seeing these traits as obviously foolish in these low comedy scenes helps the audience to perceive Faustus's parallel foolishness.

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Ambition and Power Quotes

•“His waxen wings did mount above his reach” – Chorus, Prologue 

•“A sound magician is a mighty god.” – Faustus, Act I Scene i

•“All things that move between the quiet poles/ Shall be at my command.” – Faustus, Act I Scene I 

•“Faustus, these books, thy wit, and our experience/ Shall make all nations to canonize us.” – Valdes, Act I Scene i

•“Had I as many souls as there be stars,/ I'd give them all for Mephistopheles./ By him I'll be great emperor of the world” – Faustus, Act I Scene iii

•“Then be thou as great as Lucifer” – Mephistopheles, Act II Scene i

•“To practise more than heavenly power permits.” – Chorus, Epilogue

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Sin and Redemption Points 1

•Faustus’ journey can be seen in relation to the possible trajectory from temptation to sin to redemption; his ambition is tempted by the prospect of limitless knowledge and power, he sins in order to achieve it, and then he rejects possible redemption.

•The good and evil angels are representations of Faustus’ moral ambiguity; Marlowe uses allegory in order to symbolise Faustus’ struggle between acting sinfully and his hope of redemption.

•To an Anglican audience, the sinning of Faustus would appear particularly aberrant as it was their belief that no amount of good works could atone for our sins. 

•The sin of greed is continuously presented through the ambition of Faustus and his pursuit of knowledge, which links to the emergence of Renaissance humanism which appeared in Marlowe’s time.

•At the centre of the play is the struggle of a man torn between his sinful desires for power and his hope of redemption; the underlying conflict of the play appears to manifest itself as a struggle between Faustus’ aspirations and his guilty conscience.

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Sin and Redemption Points 2

•At times, Faustus represents the Calvinist view on predetermination. This is the religious belief that according to God’s plan, everyone on Earth is destined from birth to be saved or damned, and nothing can be done to change this fate.

•Act II Scene iii addresses the possibility of atonement in an arguably frustrating way for an Elizabethan audience. The Evil Angel informs him that “God cannot pity thee”. To a religious audience, Marlowe’s usage of the word “cannot” undermines either the concept of an omnipotent or a forgiving God.

•Medieval Morality Plays featured an Everyman figure who sinned but was eventually saved. Marlowe uses elements of this (such as the inclusion of the Seven Deadly Sins), but subverts the tradition as Faustus is damned.

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Sin and Redemption Quotes

•“Why, then, belike we must sin/ And so consequently die./ Ay, we must die an everlasting death.” – Faustus, Act I Scene ii

•“The danger of his soul would make me mourn./ But, come, let us go and inform the Rector.

•It may be his grave counsel may reclaim him.” “I fear me nothing will reclaim him now.” – Scholars, Act I Scene iii

•“Now, Faustus, must thou needs be damned?/ Canst thou not be saved?/ What boots it, then, to think on God or heaven?” – Faustus, Act II Scene i

•“The god thou serv'st is thine own appetite,/ Wherein is fixed the love of Beelzebub,/ To him I'll build an altar and a church” – Faustus, Act II Scene i

•“My heart is hardened; I cannot repent” – Faustus, Act II Scene iii

•“A surfeit of deadly sin that hath damned both body and soul.” – Faustus, Act V Scene ii

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Fate and Free Will Points

•Throughout the play, Faustus appears to be given the choice on numerous occasions to repent. However, according to Calvinist interpretation, such free will is an illusion, as these ‘choices’ are already predetermined by God. Some may argue that Faustus is an example of one of the reprobate, and is therefore unredeemable, regardless of his actions. 

•The conflicting ideas as to whether or not Faustus is a redeemable character appear to be personified by the Good and Evil Angels; as the angels continue to argue with one another, Faustus’ internal conflict over whether or not to repent grows stronger.

•The doctrinal contradictions concerning repentance that can be found within and throughout the play are perhaps Marlowe’s attempt at appealing to a multi-religious Elizabethan audience. Alternatively, it could be argued that Marlowe has purposefully made apparent the division between the Christian views in order to negatively reflect the conflicting opinions of predestination and repentance that the audience, and society as a whole, held during this time.

•The play never answers the fate versus free will debate, sometimes portraying Faustus' fall as his own choice, at other times blaming the malignity of God. In the end though, Faustus's fall is caused by his own choice to believe that he's damned. This causes him to refuse to repent, and refusing to repent is the one sin that's truly unforgiveable.

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Fate and Free Will Quotes

•“Why, then, belike we must sin/ And so consequently die./ Ay, we must die an everlasting death.” – Faustus, Act I Scene ii

•“Why waverest thou? O, something soundeth in mine ears: ‘Abjure this magic, turn to God again!’” – Faustus, Act II Scene i

•“Now, Faustus, must thou needs be damned?/ Canst thou not be saved?/ What boots it, then, to think on God or heaven?” – Faustus, Act II Scene i

•“But fearful echoes thunder in mine ears,/ ‘Faustus, thou are damn’d!’” – Faustus, Act II Scene iii

•“My heart's so harden'd, I cannot repent” – Faustus, Act II Scene iii

•“Damned art thou, Faustus, damned! Despair and die!” – Faustus, Act V Scene i

•“My God, my God, look not so fierce on me.” – Faustus, Act V Scene ii

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Knowledge and Power Points 1

•The Elizabethan Chain of Being taught that there exists a divine order in which humans occupied the middle position; Faustus potentially attempts to disrupt this hierarchy in his attempts to expand the limits of human knowledge.

•During the time the play was performed, the emergence of Renaissance humanism was encouraging people to pursue and embrace reason and human dignity. Faustus does this by challenging the existence of Hell and questioning religious beliefs.

•There is an initial presentation of Faustus as a man of learning, the audience first hears Faustus talk of study and gaining knowledge.

•Marlowe explores the associations of formal education with power and social hierarchy; it appears that in the play, education helps people position themselves in higher social classes. 

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Knowledge and Power Points 2

•Faustus appears to recognise that the desire for knowledge is not inherently bad, but that he goes too far in his pursuits. His final line in the play contains a promise to burn his books and renounce his ambition for learning.

•He represents the spirit of the Renaissance, with its rejection of the medieval, god-centred universe, and its embrace of human possibility. Faustus, at least early on in his acquisition of magic, is the personification of possibility.

•Faustus' quest for knowledge transforms into a need to learn the "secrets of all foreign kings," suggesting how much Faustus' desire for knowledge is tied up with his equally strong need to obtain power.

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Knowledge and Power Quotes

•“O, what a world of profit and delight,/ Of power, of honor and omnipotence,/ Is promised to the studious artisan!” – Faustus, Act I Scene i

•“Is to dispute well logic's chiefest end?/ Affords this art no greater miracle?” – Faustus, Act I Scene i

•“I'll have them read me strange philosophy/ And tell the secrets of all foreign kings.” – Faustus, Act I Scene i

•“Faustus, these books, thy wit, and our experience/ Shall make all nations to canonize us./ As Indian moors obey their Spanish lords,/ So shall the spirits of every element/ Be always serviceable to us three.” – Valdes, Act I Scene i

•“his wings did part the subtle air,/ He now is gone to prove cosmography,/ That measures coasts and kingdoms of the earth.” – Chorus, Act III

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