DramaEnglish Literature

Doctor faustus as a morality play


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Doctor Faustus represents the end of the English morality tradition. In terms of morality, it demonstrates faith, humility, and adherence to the laws of God. A renowned critic has described the play as the most precise Christian document of the entire field of Elizabethan drama. It is far from being a symbol of repression; this play is essentially typical in its Christian values and highlights and reinforces the most fundamental principles of Christianity. It is a recitation of the most fundamental Christian values, and therefore should be considered a moral play.

The beliefs of Christianity

The core principles of Christianity are a part of every word of the play Doctor Faustus as is the belief in damnation that runs through the play. Hell, and the Devil are everywhere in the play and represent terrifying reality. Faustus has a bargain with the Devil in exchange for education, power in the earth, and satisfaction on earth will be entangled in terrible and never-ending perdition.

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The “hero” is presented as a miserable creature who is a victim of lower values and gives up more noble ones. This is why the story is a morality-based play where heaven battles hell to save the soul of the Renaissance “Everyman” who loses because of his mental and moral failings. It is not right to think of Faustus as an innocent victim to a tyrannical Deity. God is exceedingly good at giving his blessings to the hero until the latter became the victim of his insatiable desire, and then God will accept forgiveness if he apologizes.

However, Faustus is adamantly against all help and is subsequently condemned to hell. There isn’t any ambiguity throughout the play concerning this crucial matter. Marlowe sets out the moral tenets of the play using a variety of methods: by the Chorus and by Faustus’s acknowledgment and the Good Angel as well as by the Old Man and the act in itself and even by Mephistopheles. To illustrate the overall Christian perspective, we see the degeneration and roughening of the character of Faustus and his enjoyment of cheap, sadistic entertainment.

The Prologue

The Prologue, also known as the first Chorus, lays Faustus and his life and fate before us in clear, concise terms. We are told that Faustus filled with pride at his accomplishments, comes tragically because of his pursuit of forbidden things in desire for salvation. At the beginning of Faustus’s deceit and temptation, the Good Angel beckons Faustus to abandon the sacrificial magical book and study the Scriptures. This Good Angel represents God’s voice and the conscience of Faustus.

However, Faustus will listen to the Evil Angel, who is the emissary of Lucifer and who incites Faustus to keep studying magic. The reward that Faustus hopes to earn by practicing the forbidden black magic is the realm of “profit and delight, of power, of honor, and omnipotence.

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However, he does not just gain knowledge and strength, but he also ponders fulfillment of physical cravings. The spirits will bring him “gold,” “orient pearl,” “pleasant fruits,” “princely delicates,” and “silk.” Faustus is a man of intellect to an extreme degree, yet he’s equally desirous of a more extravagant. He remembers the times he puzzled German priests through his clever explanations, and his dream is to learn the magic skills from Agrippa (who was a famous magician).

Faustus is entirely egocentric. He is a snarky critic of his enemies and enjoys the arrogant belief in his own capabilities. So, after Mephistopheles has gone off the stage to appear in the form of a friar, Faustus indulges in a delusion of self-importance.

However, Mephistopheles quickly disillusions him by saying that he did not appear solely to respond to the conjuring of Faustus, but the devils always are in seeking those who could be convinced to join the side of Lucifer. Faustus is willing to worship Beelzebub: “There is no chief, only Beelzebub“. He states that he’s not scared of being damnation and then proceeds to ask questions about Lucifer. Mephistopheles is in his answers anticipates the fall of Faustus in Lucifer’s case and states that Lucifer fell due to his “aspiring arrogance and insolence.” However, the foolish Faustus, even though warned by the Devil himself (Faustus is accused of pride and insolence), reprimands Mephistopheles for being cowardliness.

Trauma of Doctor Faustus

It is not right to view the self-deluded and foolishly boastful Faustus as a superhero. Also, we must not forget the things Faustus would like in exchange when he sells his soul to Satan. He wishes to live 24 years “in the most extravagant manner” as well as to enjoy having Mephistopheles keep watch over him all the time and bring him anything that is required, and to give him everything he needs to be aware of. Complete satisfaction of the will and total satisfaction with the senses is the things Faustus wants.

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In the end, this man shivers and shakes at the thought of his death is now eloquent about the possibility of what he wants to attain, although he will eventually be punished. If we encounter Faustus, his intellectual and emotional insanity is clearly visible. He is a schism between God and Satan, and he is initially afflicted with a conscience. “Now, Faustus, must thou need be damned, and canst thou not be saved.”

The Dilemma of a Man

The battle between Faustus’s uncontrollable desires and the power of heaven goes on. There are two angels: The Good Angel and the Evil Angel re-appear; the former urging him to stop using magic, while the latter encouraging him to “go forward in this renowned art.”

Faustus is a free man with freedom of choice and can deny or affirm God. He can’t blame anyone except himself for his conduct and the consequences. This is clear from Faustus. When, after his blood had coagulated so that he can’t sign the document, he declares that his soul is his own and, consequently, he has every right to give it to the Satan. When he signs the document, Faustus says: “Consummatum est” (this is finished) that was the last words spoken by Christ on earth as per Gospel of St. John.

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Marlowe gives a fascinating insight into the insane imagination of the magician by placing these words that are blasphemous in Faustus’s mouth. Jesus sacrificed his life so that Faustus’s soul would live; Faustus flings away this precious gift to gain certain advantages and pleasures. However, the verses are also true in the literal sense: the good life, the possibility of going to heaven, are accomplished for Faustus. In the next moment, God’s message “Homo fuge” is seen on Faustus’s arms as Faustus declares his faith in the God whom he recently denied and enters an ensuing conflict of opposing impulses. Thus, Faustus willfully and consciously sets his desires against God’s.

However, while he’s in that state, Mephistopheles is summoned by a couple of demons to offer Faustus extravagant crowns and lavish clothes. In other words, Mephistopheles provides Faustus sensual satisfaction to distract him from the spiritual concerns (which could, in turn, result in repentance from his side). Whenever there is a danger from the perspective of Satan that Faustus will seek God’s mercy, the powers of hell will numb their victim’s conscience and provide him with some satisfaction of the senses. However, sometimes Faustus will ask for the opiate himself.

Related Symbolic importance of the character of Mephistopheles

When Faustus declares that hell is a mere story, Mephistopheles contradicts him by affirming that hell exists. Faustus seeks an opiate to soothe his sour conscience, by asking for a wife, “the fairest maid in Germany,” and claiming that he cannot live without an adoring wife. In lieu of giving him a suitable wife, Mephistopheles promises to satisfy the desires of Faustus with gorgeous courtesans.

Conflict between Repentance and Non-repentance

In the scene (II, ii.) that follows, Faustus and Mephistopheles are again together. Faustus experiences another struggle between repentance and non-repentance. He is adamant about Mephistopheles for his suffering and says that “renounce this magic and repent.” Thus, Faustus recognizes the possibility of repentance is still possible and the Good Angel affirms the feeling of Faustus by declaring: “Faustus, repent; yet, God will pity thee.”

However, the continual practice of the sin of committing a crime deprives Faustus of his will-power. He says: “My heart is hardened, and I cannot repent.” This too, must be seen as a egocentric conclusion. He says that the moment he starts thinking of the holy, then all kind of instruments of death are laid before him. He also says that it would have been his intention to make use of these tools-swords and knives and poison, guns, etc. and even kill himself if “sweet pleasure had not conquered deep despair.”

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As was stated, pleasure is always the remedy Faustus uses to overcome spiritual despair. Now the idea of these pleasures numbs his mind: “Why should I die or basely despair? I’m resolved; Faustus shall never repent.“

In the later part of the same scene Mephistopheles tells Faustus: “Think thou on hell, Faustus for thou art damned.” And Faustus again, in a typical way, blames Mephistopheles for his deplorable condition: “Tis thou hast damned in distress Faustus’ soul.” Then again, Faustus is suffering from spiritual affliction. The Good Angel assures him that there’s still time to turn from his sins.

However, the Evil Angel gives him the threat that if he repents, devils will tear him apart. Lucifer reminds his of his promise, and the irresolute hedonist one mare vows “never to call God or to pray to God.” The Devil again snares Faustus out of his melancholy by giving him pleasure for the senses. This time it’s the display of the Seven Deadly Sins.

A state of spiritual distress

In Act V Scene IV (the horse-courser scene), Faustus is again shown in an emotional state. However, he is still capable of a rapid self-delusion “What art thou, Faustus, but a man condemned to death? Despair doth drives distrust into my thoughts.”

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He consoles himself and then falls asleep. In Act V scene I, we learn from Wagner that Faustus has decided to do what he wants and “means to die soon.” However, according to the puzzled serviceman, if death were close, Faustus would not eat or drink nor make amusement with his students like they are doing. In other words, Faustus is still the irresistible Hedonist. The Scholars ask him to show them the Helen of Troy. Mephistopheles brings in the gorgeous woman and the Scholars are amazed by her stunning beauty. The Scholars depart, and then an old man enters.

The Old Man begs Faustus in moving words to give up his sinful ways. This implies that Faustus can still be a candidate for repentance because, if he doesn’t, there is no value for the old man’s admonition. However, Faustus currently has no way out and says: “Damned art thou, Faustus damned, despair and die.” Faustus totally misses the essence that the Old man’s words convey in that no man’s sins are too great for God to forgive.

Faustus is planning to commit suicide using the dagger of Mephistopheles. However, The Old Man stops him, telling him that if he avoids despair and seeks God’s forgiveness, he will be able to hope for divine mercy. Faustus acknowledges the Old Man for his comforting words and wishes to be left on his own “to ponder on my sins.” The Old Man, knowing how weak-minded Faustus is, walks away with a sorrowful heart, “fearing the ruin of thy (Faustus’s) hopeless soul.“

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Hell struggles against heaven, and despair fights against repentance. But when Mephistopheles threatens to tear Faustus’s flesh for disobedience to Lucifer, the weak-willed voluptuary quickly surrenders. Faustus asks for the Devil’s forgiveness and offers to ratify with blood his former vow. Blaming the Old Man of the town for his treason, he brutally pleads Mephistopheles to torture the Old Man “with the most severe torture that hell can provide“.

Doctor Faustus desire for sensual pleasure

Faustus is now (in this same scene) asking Mephistopheles to take Helen to him so that, by expressing his love for her, he can remove all thoughts of rebellion against Lucifer. Faustus gives up the final chance of redemption. In addition, he makes his sin more severe by falling in love with the Devil (the Devil in female guise).

Protest against Christianity

However, there are silenced protests against that official Christianity of the drama. Theologically speaking, Helen of Troy is simply a spirit that lures Faustus away from contemplations of repentance. Yet Faustus’s love for her is reflected in the best of Marlowe’s poetry. she is a symbol for the concept of beauty from ancient pagan Greece which Marlowe loved so much. In the same way, all the meditations, the unhappiness, and the high-soaring ambitions in the story of Faustus within Act I are judged by us as a sin because they result in the fall of Faustus.

But the poetry is filled with joy. The ideas and emotions are similar to those that inspire Marlowe’s other heroes and are likely to have been felt by Marlowe himself.

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However, it is incorrect to think that the most poetical part of the play is limited to the passages that express revolt against Christianity. It is certain that there has never been a more powerful expression of the feeling of loss and the agony of everlasting damnation than the pleading of Mephistopheles at the end of Act 1, Scene 3. the lines between 78 and 84: “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it,” etc. Equally eloquent are Mephistopheles’s later words, in Act II, Scene I, Lines 122-24: “He’ll hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self-place,” etc.

In other words, when considering Marlowe’s antichristian beliefs, we should never fail to think about the possibility that thoughts of hell (meaning everlasting banishment from God) can cause Marlowe a lot of spiritual turmoil.


Doctor Faustus epitomizes the English moral tradition. As a morality, it upholds modesty, confidence, and submission to God’s rule. A morality play’s primary trait is the struggle between good and bad. A morality play contains a powerful didactic aspect and serves as a vehicle for preaching. The Good Angels, the Evil Angels, the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Old Man are all based on characters from the traditional morality play. Doctor Faustus may also be classified as a morality play due to its subject matter. Inevitably, man’s guilt results in damnation. As it preaches fundamental Christian ideals, it should be viewed as a morality play.

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