Themes in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

Themes in Doctor Faustus

Themes are the universal and fundamental ideas presented in a literary work. There are lots of significant themes in Doctor Faustus.

Flesh and Spirit

The conflict between flash and spirit is strongly depicted in Doctor Faustus. Flash is related with human body lust and desires while spirit deals with religion and God. Flash consider worldly pleasures more important while spirit resistance against those desires. Faustus values flesh move them spirit.

 Good and Evil

Good and evil are the most important issue presented in Doctor Faustus. Conflict between Good and evil makes a man hesitant, he remains confused like Faustus that either he have to adopt good or evil what way is good for him and what way sis dangerous for him.

 Pride and Sin

Pride and sin is the most important factor in the downfall of Faustus. Pride belongs to the seven deadly sins, considering himself better from all, Faustus falls in pride and quickly adopt sin to fulfill his lusty desires which leads him towards hell.

 Salvation and Damnation

According to Christian religion salvation is necessary for a Christian to save from hell. It one’s fail to get salvation, he will be eternally damned. Salvation actually deals with the repentance, but the Faustus refuses to repent which causes his damnation and he is punished forever in the hell.

Knowledge and Wisdom

Faustus has a great lust for knowledge. He has studies all the branches of knowledge including divinity but he feels the himself still hungry about the knowledge that’s why he adopts the forbidden knowledge which is called black art. It was his failure of wisdom while adopting the forbidden knowledge. Faustus was not true towards life because he was valuing his knowledge on his wisdom.

 Man’s Lust and Limitations of Power

Man like Doctor Faustus has so many desires like lust for wealth, lust for beauty, lust for power etc. But when he adopts the wrong way to fulfill his desires he cannot be succeeded. Like Faustus sells him soul for fulfilling his desires but he comes to know about his limitations as a man when he used to just amuse and entertain dukes for showing his skill of black art. He cannot do something like God which shows the limitations of power.


Another theme in Doctor Faustus is that of greed like other heroes of Marlow’s heroes forget their responsibilities to God and other creatures instead they try to hid their weak character. Faustus was in a tragic cycle of   greed and despair.

Tragic Hero

A tragic is a character that the audience thinks with despite his / her action that would indicate the contrary. Faustus in the play not the mere shell of a man existing only represents the evil in the world. He is a human beings with full of emotions and thoughts. Although the Doctor Faustus himself does not care of humanity.

Doctor Faustus (film)
Doctor Faustus (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus Miracle, Mystery and Morality Play


Christopher Marlowe was the greatest dramatist of the medieval period. His career as a dramatist must have begun soon after his career as an actor. He wrote six splendid plays, all reflecting his essential spirit & nature. All were full of passion & poetry. He was also a member of university wits.

Marlowe has been undoubtedly called the most prominent figure of great Elizabethan period. It was Marlowe who raised the matter and manner of the English drama to a high level.

Some of the characteristics of medieval miracle & morality plays are quite evident in the plays of Marlowe. In this respect Marlowe maybe treated as a connecting link between the miracle &morality plays. Liturgical drama in the beginning had 3 forms mystery, miracle and morality. He used these terms in his outstanding masterpiece “Dr.Faustus”.


Word “Miracle” means “Unbelievable incident happens from extraordinary religious persons, who have the extra positive powers”


A Medieval drama portraying event in the lives of Saints and Martyrs. It based on a biblical story or the life of religious persons.

Miracle plays known as saint’s plays also. They specially re-enacted miraculous interventions by the Saints, particularly St.Nicholas or St.Mary, into the lives of ordinary people rather than biblical events.


Liturgical drama confined to the church and designed to embellish the Ecclesiastical rituals, thus gave way to plays in English, performed in the open and separated from the liturgy though still religious in subject matter. Such early plays are known as miracle and Mystery plays.


The main characteristics of these plays were.

  • he story revolved around the main character and the other characters were shortly valued.
  • Comic scenes were also a part of miracles plays.
  • Devil’s character was also presented in the miracle plays.
  • Lives of saints or the scenes from Bible were the subject matter of miracle plays.
  • The structure of miracle plays was generally loose.


  • In “Dr. Faustus” we can easily find the whole characteristics of miracle plays.
  • The play was all about the story of a main character named “Dr. Faustus” and other characters were not given importance.
  • Structure of the play was loose.
  • Devil and spirits were also there in the play. Supernatural elements were presented in miracle plays.


Mystery is from “Misterium” and its meaning is craft, a play performed by craft guilds is called mystery plays.


The play originated as simple tropes, verbal flourish of liturgical texts, and slowly became more elaborate. As these liturgical dramas increased in popularity as traveling companies of actors and theatrical productions organized by local and communities became more common in the later middle ages.


The basic difference between the Miracle and Mystery plays is that Miracle plays deal with “The life history of a saint” on the other hand mystery plays are “The scenes from the Bible”. Miracle plays are the old form and Mystery play came later.


Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personification of various moral attributes, who try to prompt him to choose a godly life over one of evil.

In morality plays the hero represents “Mankind” OR “Every man”. It Shows The Difference Between Good & Evil.


It developed at the end of 14th Century and gained more popularity in the 15th Century. •The Morality play developed during the medieval period. The morality plays attempted to educate via entertainment.

  • Christian monks developed the Morality play in the 13th Century by adding actors and theatrical elements. By doing so the masses could more easily learn the basics of Christianity through dramatic spoken words.
  • By personifying Vices, Virtues, the Devil and the Good Angel, stories of Temptation were made accessible to those who were unable to read them themselves.

11. THEME:

  • The Main Theme Of The Morality Play Is This: Man Begins In Innocence Man Falls into temptation, man repents and is saved or killed.
  • The central action is the struggle of man against the seven deadly sins that are personified into real characters.
  • Morality plays help the audience understand the greater concepts of Sin & Virtue.


Some of the elements of morality plays were.

  • In these plays character were personified abstractions of vice & virtues such as good & evil and faith & anger.
  • Theme was dividing in terms of general and main.
  • General: this theme was theological. Main: the struggle between good and bad powers for capturing man’s soul.
  • Seven sins were also the part of these plays.
  • Comic scenes were also included in morality plays.
  • Concept of Damnation/Salvation was also there.


There were various Elements that we can easily Trace out a prove that the “DR.FAUSTAS” was A Morality Play Extent.


  • General theme of morality was theological and in drama of “Dr.Faustas” this theme was presented Dr.Faustas was a religious scholar who was a famous religious figure. He surrenders his soul to desire for having worldly pleasure for few years.


  • In “DR.FAUSTAS” There Is A Hard Struggle In His Soul Between Good Deeds And Evil Desires. The Good And Evil Angles Also Appear In The Play With Their Own Symbolic Significance Personifying The Two Aspects Of “FAUSTAS’S” character.


  • We Know That Comic Scenes were also a part of morality plays; we can see comic scenes in “DR.FAUSTAS”. For Example: “FAUSTAS” Played Vile Tricks on Pop, Horse Course was totally Befooled.


  • It had mentioned that in morality plays the characters were allegorical and they were personified abstractions of vice or virtues. So in “Dr.Faustas” also we find the Good and Evil angels the former stands for the path of Virtues and the later for Sin and Damnation.


  • We find seven deadly sins in the 6th and 2nd scenes of act 2. This spectacle also shows that Marlowe in his “DR.FUSTAS” Adopted some of the Conventions of the Old Miracle and Morality Plays. So the Deadly Sins are given below:


  1. PRIDE= Arrogance, Complex of Superiority
  2. COVETOUSNESS= Materialism, Greed for Something
  3. WRATH= Temper, Anger
  4. ENVY=Jealousy
  5. GLUTTONY=Excess,Capacity
  6. SLOTH=Idleness, Laziness
  7. LECHERY= Lust for Something


Over Eating Then Evil Spirits Are Also A Part Of “Dr.Fautus”. In The Drama the Character OF “Mephistopheles” and “Lucifer” are the Devil Spirits.


We have talked about the significance of miracle, mystery and morality plays. They belong to 14th century and 15th century plays. “Dr Faustus” can never be treated wholly a miracle, Mystery and Morality play. It is also a greatest heroic tragedy before Shakespeare with its enormous stress on characterizations and Inner conflict in the Soul of towering
personality. No Doubted it represented the Humility, Faith, obedience of the law of god, also it represented the power, Beauty, Riches and Knowledge.