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Themes and motives

One theme in Doctor Faustus is sin. Throughout the play, Faustus is continuously making
wrong choices when it comes to his lifestyle. His first sin was greed. Faustus began his
downfall by making a pact with the devil. Doctor Faustus is a German scholar who is
well known for his accomplishments. He grows sick of the limitations on human
knowledge, which leads him to his interest with magic.[10] Faustus summons a demon,
Mephistophilis, ordering him to go to Lucifer with the offer of Faustus’ soul in return for
twenty-four years of servitude from Mephistophilis. At the news of acceptance from
Lucifer, Faustus begins his years filled with sinful nature. Faustus feeds sin with his need
for power, praise, and trickery.[11] He becomes absorbed in the way people look up to
him, believing him to be a sort of ‘hero’. In the end, Faustus realizes his mistake in
believing the knowledge power will bring him happiness. At the end of his twenty-four
years, fear filled Faustus and he became incredibly sorrowful for what he had done, but it
was too late. When fellow scholars found Faustus the next morning, he was torn limb
from limb, with his soul carried off to hell.

Satanism and death are also prevalent themes. Marlowe sets the story in Wittenburg,
Germany with Faustus selling his soul to the devil and declaring his servitude to Satan, “I
am a servant to great Lucipher and may not follow thee without his leave. No more than
he commands we must perform” (p 13 line 39-41). Marlowe shows throughout the play
that his vow to forever be a servant of Satan negatively affects his life and how had he
known what he was getting into, then he would never have made a deal with the devil.

Magic is also a motif that plays a major role in Dr. Faustus. Faustus’ downfall began with
his love of knowledge, which leads for his need to use magic. Faustus loves the praise
that he gets when people view him as a ‘genius’, which supports his need to have ‘special
powers’.[12] Faustus enjoys playing tricks on people by using his powers, and even goes
so far as to use his powers on a dragon. He summons demons with magic, and later
brings Helen of Troy to comfort him in his final hours. The use of magic is a show of
Faustus’ ‘demoralization’. He no longer wants to be a mere mortal...he wants to be as
powerful as the devil himself[13].

One of the most apparent themes in Doctor Faustus is the battle between good and evil.
At the beginning of the play, Faustus finds himself torn between good and evil, knowing
the distinction and consequences of the two, but overwhelmed by his desire for worldly
pleasures. Faustus’s desire for mortal satisfaction is personified through the seven deadly
sins who all speak to him and tempt him. Nicholas Kiessling explains how Faustus’s sins
brings about his own damnation, saying: “Faustus’ indulgence in sensual diversions, for,
once being committed to the pact with Satan, Faustus partakes of the sop of sensuality to
blot out his fears of impending damnation”[14] Another illustration of Faustus’s battle
between good and evil is shown through the good and evil angels which try to influence
his decisions and behavior. Kiessling says, “Although Faustus does not heed the plea,
Marlowe very evidently implies that the chance for redemption still exists”[15]. Although
Faustus recognizes the consequences of choosing to listen to the evil spirit over the good
spirit, he cannot resist the temptations of the devil and the worldly and mortal pleasures
he offers.