This Non-African play Dr. Faustus is a medieval play. It presented
allegorical characters to represent the life of man, the experiences of
temptation, the sins and the struggle for salvation and death. Dr
Faustus contends with the forces of good and evil in the form of
personified ab stractions including the Good and Bad Angels, the
seven deadly sins and the Devil. The play is didactic in purpose
intended to instruct the audience in Christian virtues and to warn
against vices. Also in the play, one is taken beyond the frontiers of
mental world into the region of space and the supernatural.
1.1 Purpose of study
The aim of this study is to explain the themes and styles employed in the play Dr. Faustusby Christopher Marlowe. There exists a detailed study of styles in the text in relation to the themes.
1.2 Scope of Study
This essay examines the themes and styles in the play, Dr Faustus by
Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe uses these elements to realize the subject
matter of the work. My choice of Marlowe as a literary artist is
informed by his specialty in portraying the essence of man in the light
of gaining all but losing his soul. The themes and styles appeal to my
literary judgment between renaissance and medieval values, the divided
nature of man, power as a corruptive influence which is the focus of
This is a quantitative research. The primary source of information for this long essay is the text Dr Faustus. Others includes; M.H Abrams’ A
Glossary of Literary Terms, Anthology: An introduction to literature,
Mc Cullen ,J.T., “Dr. Faustus and renaissance learning”, Collier’s
Encyclopedia and Comprehensive Literature by Martins Amechi.
1.4 Theoretical Background
The play, Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe,
has the background of Moralistic approach. This approach is concern
with: values, lessons, messages that can help readers improve their
lives and understand the world better. This play reinvents the Christian
dictum: What shall it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?
Doctor Faustus sells his soul to the devil and is sent to
hell. Marlowe explains Dr. Faustus religious beliefs: in Acts 1, in
Faustus is given the chance to ask Mephistopheles questions about hell.
He could be thought of as an atheist because he denies that there is God
and thinks of religions as a false ritual.
He states: “My heart is hardened, I cannot
repent. Scarce can I name salvation, faith or heaven, swords, poisons,
halters and envenomed my steel
Aare land before me to dispatch myself… I am resolved, Faustus shall not repent” (45).
When he finally asks for forgiveness and wants to repent to God, he is denied and is forced to spend eternity in hell.
The theme of moralistic play is good conduct this play
resonates with a wealth of themes that teaches ethical values and
lessons to the readers.
1.5 Life and works of the Author
Christopher Marlowe was born in 1564 to John Marlowe, a
shoemaker. He had two sister named Dorothy and Ann. He attended king’s
school, Canterbury and proceeded to Benet College of Corpus Christi’
Cambridge. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1583. In 1587 he proceeded
to a master’s degree program which did not pull through as the
university had threatened to withhold his final degree. He later
completed the program, after which he preceded to London.
His first play Tamburlaine was acted in 1587 or
1588. The story is drawn from the Spanish life of Timur by Pedro Mexia.
This won him immediate popularity. It was followed in 1604 by Doctor Faustus, a great advance upon Tamburlaine.
Others include The Jew of Malta, Edward 11, the massacre of Paris and the Tragedy of Dido. In addition to these he wrote short poems such as: come live with me and be my love translated from Oxid’s Amores and Lucani’s pharsalia and a glowing paraphrase of Musaeus’ Hero and leanoler, a poem completed by Chapman.
Marlowe was reputed to be an atheist who held dangerous
implication of being an enemy of God. Often he has been described as a
spy, a brawler and a heretic, as well as a “magician”, “tobacco- user”,
J.A. Donnie and Constance Koriyama have argued against these
speculations but J.B Steane remarked: “it seems absurd to dismiss all of
these Elizabethan rumors and accusations as the Marlowe myth. Worthy of
note is that Marlowe was murdered in prison and died at the age of
1.6 Review of Criticism
Available literature shows that works have been done on Dr Faustus, themes
and styles. However, my research reveals these facts about the text.
Arian Sachs, who interprets the play as an exploration of protestant
theology with an orthodox moral, asserts that: in general, the scheme of
values in which the action of Doctor Faustus takes place is
the fundamental Christian outlook which prevailed in the Western world
from the decline of Roman secularism to the disintegration of the
dogmatic tradition long after the play was written. For Sachs, any
interpretation of the play which considers Faustus as a figure to be
admired by the audience simply overlooks the religious- historical
context in which the play was produced.
Robert Ornstein similarly dismisses the idea of Faustus as an admirable humanist.
Joseph T. McMullen argues that Faustus’ down fall comes about as a
direct result of his “culpable ignorance”. As Mike Pincombe states “for
all Faustus’ learning, he is still a dilettante when it comes to
wisdom. “This argument is not without evidence; Faustus knowingly signs
away his soul, despite Mephistopheles’ words of experience which warn
him to “leave these frivolous demands, which strike a terror to my
fainting soul!” (Acts3.83-84). He takes his academic skepticism to an
absurd degree, challenging the description of hell offered by
Mephistopheles. He offers himself visible proof of its inexistence, with
the retort “come, I think hell’s a fable”. (Acts1.1.130). despite his
reputation in the academic world, one can question Faustus abilities as a
scholar; the syllogism that he constructs in the first soliloquy
provides an example:
Jerome’s Bible, Faustus, view it well. (He reads) Stipendium peccatimors est.
The reward of sin is death. That’s hard.
(He reads) Sipecass negamus, fallimum
Et nulla est in mobis veritas if we say that we have no sin We decisive ourselves and there’s no truth in us.
Why then be like we must sin and so consequently (Acts1.1.38-48)
From the evidence that Faustus provides his assertion is logically
sound, but, through either ineptitude or negligence, the biblical
quotations upon which it is built are taken entirely out of context, a
fact observed by David Belington: “For the wages of sin is death but the
gift of God’s is eternal life through Jesus Christ our lord” (Romans
6:23); the second, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive our selves, and
truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just
to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. (1
In his Poetics, Aristotle postulated the constituents of tragedy. He states that:
Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is admirable, complete and
possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species
separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through
narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such
Nearly two thousand years later in Marlowe’s life
time-echoes of Aristotle’s definition of the genre can be heard in
Philip Sidney’s An Apology for Poetry. He invests tragedy with a more didactic and utilitarian purpose than does Aristotle.
J.C. Maxwell presupposes that: Faustus is everyman and his sin is a re-enactment of the sin of Adam-pride”.
Marlowe Dr. Faustus as a tragedy set in 18th Century
Elizabethan Era is an example of the definition of tragedy postulated by
Aristotle. According to his definition, tragedy or tragic situations
can only happen to a man born of high reputes, rise so high or achieve
so high to become master over all his surveys. Such a man must have a
basic flaw in his nature or character that would make him fall from that
pinnacle and in most cases, that flaw must be of hubris proportion.
Pride against the gods.
According to Laura Reis Mayer, Dr Faustus is a morality
play, a historical allegory, the tale of a hero gone bad due to the
dilemma presented by an ever changing world. (3)
The Greek playwright Sophocles explored the basic themes in Dr Faustus in
Oedipus when the fallibility of the protagonist was attributed to his
harsh and rash temper. Shakespeare also employs this basic theme in
tragedy Julius Creaser, King Lear and Macbeths.
Arthur Miler the 20th Century American playwright
contrasted Aristotle’s definition of tragedy in his classic play of Death of a Sales Man when he explains the tragedy of the common man as opposed to tragedy relating to a man of high birth.
Looking at the above reviews, it becomes obvious that works have been done on Dr Faustus.
My research is different from all these because it centers on the
themes and styles. I chose the topic because it has ethical values that
are realistic and relevant to modern societies. The situation in the
text depicts life and human experiences in modern day society and this
is what the topic of this essay examines.
1.8 Thesis Statement
essay resonates with a wealth of themes such as the conflict between
medieval values and renaissance, power as a corruptive influence, the
divided nature of man and the styles in the text.