Doctor Faustus


Christopher Marlowe

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Themes and Colors
Temptation, Sin, and Redemption Theme Icon
The Bargain Theme Icon
The Renaissance Individual Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Education, Knowledge, and Power Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Doctor Faustus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Temptation, Sin, and Redemption

Deeply immersed in Christianity, Marlowe's play explores the alluring temptation of sin, its consequences, and the 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…

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The Bargain

Faustus' bargain with Lucifer is the most famous part of Doctor Faustus. The so-called “Faustian bargain” has become a standard way of referring to some kind of “deal with the devil,” a motif that recurs throughout Western literary and cultural traditions (from a version of the Faust story by the German poet Goethe to the blues musician Robert Johnson, who legend says sold his soul to Satan for his skill on the guitar). But the…

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The Renaissance Individual

Marlowe lived and wrote during the English Renaissance, and his play has much to say about the transition from a more medieval society to the Renaissance. Greatly simplified, this means a shift in a variety of ways from reliance on some kind of authority figure to reliance on one's own individual self. Humanist scholars of the Renaissance refocused their studies on the individual human subject, while the Protestant reformation affirmed the individual's prerogative to interpret…

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Fate vs. Free Will

In addition to the Renaissance more generally, the Protestant reformation and questions surrounding the changing nature of European Christianity in Marlowe's time have a profound influence on Doctor Faustus. One such question that the play tackles is the issue of predestination. According to Calvinism (a branch of protestant Christianity started by John Calvin), people are predestined to be either saved in heaven or damned in hell. In other words, they are born fated to go…

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Education, Knowledge, and Power

Faustus is identified as a character by his status as a doctor (that is, someone with a doctoral degree), and the backdrop of much of the play is the university environment in which Doctor Faustus lives. It is thus no surprise that issues of formal education are of great importance to the play, in which even magic spells are learned from a kind of text-book. Systems of education obviously exist to help people learn, but…

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