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Sin and Redemption in Dr Faustus

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2805 words Published: 18th Jul 2017

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Marlowe’s play “The tragic story of Doctor Faustus” is an interpretations of a popular German legend, about a historical person, a man who called himself Dr. Johann Faust. Marlowe wrote a tragic story of the warlock, who sold his soul to the devil.

Keeping intact all the important episodes of the legend, as set out in the translation of the German popular book about Faust, the poet has given the legend a completely different meaning. Faust in the tragedy made by Marlow is much like his literary predecessor, but otherwise the playwright interprets three main problems in the image of Faust: the problem of choosing between “good” and “evil”, the problem of “honest” and “unfair” knowledge, and the problem of “saving souls”. (Hattaway 1970).

Marlowe in his play gives a new perspective on sin, redemption and faith. This play offers a new way of looking at sin, challenging traditional values of right and wrong, while during the play readers may wonder whether or not Faust’s “sins” are truly wrong.

The sin of Faustus and his reckoning for giving the soul to the devil.

At the beginning of the play the author shows that Faust was disappointed in philosophy and human thoughts; medicine also was not so powerful, because it could not give people immortality; Law was full of contradictions and was nonsensical. 

Could’st thou make men to live eternally,

Or being dead, raise them to life again,

Then this profession were to be esteemed.

Even the theology was not the answer to the Faustus questions, and only the magic of the books attracted him.

These metaphysics of magicians,

And necromantic books are heavenly;

Lines, circles, letters, characters.

Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.

A sound magician is a demi-god.

Here, tire my brains to get a Deity. Enter Wagner. (Marlowe , 1.1)

Good Angel persuades Faust to not read the damned books full of temptations, which bring upon Faust the wrath of the Lord.

Good Angel: O Faustus, lay that damned book aside,

And gaze not on it least it tempt thy soul,

And heap God’s heavy wrath upon thy head.

Read, read the scriptures: that is blasphemy.

But Evil Angel, by contrast, incites Faust to do magic and to understand all the secrets of nature:

Evil Angel: Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art

Wherein all nature’s treasure is contained.

Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,

Lord and Commander of these elements.

Then comes Mephistopheles, and Faustus wants Mephistopheles to serve him and perform all his desires, but Mephistopheles serves Lucifer only . So Faustus decided to recognize the supreme ruler of Lucifer – the lord of darkness and lord of spirits.

Faustus explains that he chooses black magic because of:

… a world of profit and delight,

Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,

[that] Is promised to the studious artisan!

All things that move between the quiet poles

Shall be at my command. Emperors and kings

Are but obeyed in their several provinces.

Nor can they raise the wind or rend the clouds.

But this dominion that exceeds in this

Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man:

A sound magician is a demi-god.

Here tire, my brains to beget a deity. (Marlowe, 1.1.)

When Faust hesitates, Good Angel tries to persuade him to leave evil magic, and return to God, but Evil angel gives him the idea of wealth and fame, and Faustus says:

Wealth? Why the signory of Embden shall be mine.

When Mephistophilis shall stand by me,

What power can hurt me? Faustus, thou art safe.

Cast no more doubts; Mephistophilis. (Marlowe, 2.1)

And bring glad tidings from great Lucifer

Stay, Mephistophilis, and tell me,

What good will my soul do thy Lord?

Good Angel advises Faustus to repent and trust in the mercy of the Lord. Evil Angel is confident that God will not take pity on such a great sinner, however, he is confident that Faust will not repent:

Evil Angel: Ay, but Faustus never shall repent.

Faustus: My heart is hardened; I cannot repent.

Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven.

To entertain Faust, Mephistopheles leads Devils to give Faust crown, rich clothes and dance in front of him, and then removed. Faust asks Mephistopheles about hell. Mephistopheles says:

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed,

In one self place, but where we are is hell,

And where hell is there must we ever be.

And to be short, when all the world dissolves,

And every creature shall be purified,

All places shall be hell that is not heaven…

Well, Faustus, thou shalt have a wife.

He fetches in a woman devil.

Later Faustus says:

When I behold the heavens then I repent

And curse thee wicked Mephistophilis,

Because thou hast deprived me of those joys…

If heaven was made for man, “twas made for me.

I will renounce this magic and repent.

Good Angel: Faustus, repent yet God will pity thee.

Evil Angel: Thou art a spirit; God cannot pity thee.

Faustus: Ay, go, accursed spirit, to ugly hell.

‘Tis thou hast damned distressed Faustus” soul.

Is’t not too late?

Evil Angel: Too late.

Good Angel: Never too late, if Faustus will repent.

Faustus: My heart is hardened; I cannot repent.

Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven.

Swords, poison, halters, and envenomed steel,

Are laid before me to dispatch my self,

And long ere this, I should have done the deed,

Had not sweet pleasure conquered deep despair.

Faustus: O, Christ my Savior, my Savior,

Help to save distressed Faustus’ soul. (Marlowe, 2.2.)

Lucifer Faustus blames for the fact that Faustus violates the word and thinks about Christ, but Faustus vows that it will not happen again. Lucifer shows Faust seven deadly sins in their true guise: in front of him are Pride, Greed, Wrath, Envy, gluttony, laziness, and profligacy. Faust wants to see hell and back again and Lucifer promises to show him hell, and yet gives Faustus a book to read and learn how to take any look.

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Then after the journey Faust is on the verge of death and condemned to burn in hell forever. He was advised to remember God and ask him for clemency, but Faust realizes that he is no forgiveness, he sold his soul to the devil and the day of reckoning is near. Faust wants to have time to repent and be saved, but the clock strikes, thunder rumbles, lightning flashes, and the Devils led Faust away.

The idea of Faustus sin must show readers take a lesson from the tragic fate of Faust, and not to seek the knowledge of the protected areas of science, which tempt man and teach to do evil.

Well, gentlemen, though Faustus’ end be such

As every Christian heart laments to think on,

Yet for he was a scholar, once admired

For wondrous knowledge in our German schools,

We’ll give his mangled limbs due burial.

And all the students clothed in mourning black,

Shall wait upon his heavy funeral. (Marlowe, V)

The image of Faustus as a sinner

Marlow tells the story of Faustus, who sacrificed world pleasures for the sake of eternal salvation, in order to get knowledge of sciences, and offers a new way of looking at the idea of sin.

The play is written as a kind of tragedy, where Dr. Faustus is presented as a rebel against an oppressive morality: that is the traditional view of sin, which would condemn Faustus for his contract with the devil in exchange for knowledge. Marlowe with great sympathy showed disappointment of Faustus in contemporary science and philosophy, his desire to learn the deepest secrets of nature. He showed despair of the hero’s, who started an unequal fight with the indestructible divine authority, and the figure of Faust was lit with charm and tragic courage.

In a dramatic image created by Marlow, Faustus is idealized, more precisely he has those potentials, which were concluded in the legend and were reflection of significant progressive ideological movements of the Renaissance: the emancipation of the human mind from the medieval Church dogma and the human will and behavior of the medieval ascetic morality. 

In the first monologue Faustus expresses humanistic concept of the “indomitable spirit”: unlimited personal freedom, boundless possibilities of learning about the universe, man’s power over the world. Inspired by this ideal, Faust with a sense of frustration sums up the achievements of modern science: it has a small, insignificant aims, full of selfish spirit.

When Faustus turns to the Scriptures he sees dogmas that are incompatible with the humanistic ideal, as it belittles the man because of original sin. The ideal of the church is alien to Faustus as it contradicts with his belief in the value of personal rights.

Characteristically for Faust, a man of the XVI century, which sharply criticizes the Bible and Christian theology, he at the same time wants to become like God, draws his ideal in the Bible paints.

‘If you people could give immortality

Or the dead to life again appeal to (Marlowe 1.1.)

The hero of the play is presented to the audience not as a fairy tale hero, but as an ordinary man, whose extraordinary strength is in his mind and senses. The victory of freedom and person’s talents over a hostile world – is a dream of the scientist-humanist, but the playwright is not so much concentrated on Faust’s dream of itself, but on its impact on his entire spiritual life.

Excited monologues of Faustus (where he “does not saturated from school scholastic science turns to magic in search of unearthly wisdom”, which he “yearns with all his heart”, or speaks to the ancient image of Helen as the ultimate in sensual, earthy beauty) show personal experiences of the author and modern features of that time.

“Dr. Faustus” – is the philosophical and psychological drama, and the author the reaches greatest heights of artistry when portraying the hero in moments of intense meditation, in moments of ecstasy, despair, doubt. The image of Faustus lacerations are shown in a fantastic picture of conversation with the devil, with dramatic brilliance and significance of internal suppressions of Faustus:

Faustus: Where are you damned?

Mephostophilis: In hell.

Faustus: How comes it then that thou art out of Hell?

Mephostophilis: Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it.

Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God

And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,

Am not tormented with ten thousand hells

In being deprived of everlasting bliss?

O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,

Which strikes a terror to my fainting soul. (Marlowe, 1.2.)

Faustus wants to have the opportunity to repeat the biblical miracles, and by signing a contract with the devil, Faustus compares himself to Christ. In the tragedy of Faust’s journey into the “demonic” the author shows the stages of psychological development of the hero, and is not a true story. When the ‘black magic’ passes into the real life, romantic pathos of narrative disappears, giving place to the irony, farce playfulness, where the only magic is a trick. Faustus spells do not have any intrinsic magical power, and “miracles” that Faust makes, after he sold his soul to the devil, are depicted with deliberate irony.

Faustus: What art thou, Faustus, but a man condemn’d to die?

Thy fatal time draws to a final end;

Despair doth drive distrust into my thoughts:

Confound these passions with a quiet sleep:

Tush, Christ did call the thief upon the Cross;

Then rest thee, Faustus, quiet in conceit.

Regardless of magic, spells and curses, even before meeting with Mephistopheles Faustus was shown as a rebel, the enemy of God. Curses, the struggle of good and evil angels for the soul of Faust’s, contract with Lucifer and meeting with Mephistopheles – all this is a psychological drama of Faust, the gradual realization of the depth of the discontinuity of his ideals to the prevailing “divine” authority, to the consecrated religious moral code, and so with society, where religion was considered a ground of state and was deeply rooted in the minds of the vast majority of people.

The attitude towards sin in the play

The main claim of the author is that seeking knowledge is not a sin.

The author shows a new morality, and the idea of sin in this morality does not coincide with efforts to attain the knowledge. (Davidson, 1996)

This new morality is that a man does and should search for knowledge, but without sacrifices and sin. Faustus can search for new knowledge over the limits of traditional values and assumptions, but should not be seen as a sinner. But when Faustus reaches the end of intellectual thought and don’t know where to go next.

It is important to note the fact that Faustus struggles with the idea of being a metaphysical being: “if men cannot become as God, cannot have the superior knowledge that God has, so how can God forgive the sins of such wicked people”?

Faustus was warned and asked to confess:

O, gentle Faustus, leave this damned art,

This magic, that will charm thy soul to hell,

And quite bereave thee of salvation.

Though thou hast now offended like a man,

Do not persever in it like a devil.

Yet, yet, thou hast an amiable soul,

If sin by custom grow not into nature;

Then, Faustus, will repentance come too late,

Then thou art banished from the sight of heaven;

No mortal can express the pains of hell.

There is a view that a sin can only be redeemed with confession and penance, and by asking God for his mercy, every man will find the forgiveness he needs in order to be redeemed. As Redemption is a deliverance from one’s sins, mercy and forgiveness can be achieved through Confession and Penance. But Faustus believes his soul belongs to him, and he sells it, having sinned against God, that is why he is not unredeemable as he himself believes. He says:

“If we say that we have no sin

We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.

Why then, belike, we must sin,

And consequently die.

Ay, we must die an everlasting death.”

Faustus understands that he cannot be saved as he does not believe in God as a God of love; rather, he views God as a Deity of power. He cannot comprehend the power of God’s forgiveness and mercy:

O, if my soul must suffer for my sin,

Impose some end to my incessant pain.

Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,

A hundred thousand, and at last be saved.

No end is limited to damned souls…

Redemption in the play follows the Renaissance belief that salvation comes through faith. Faustus retains the God’s offer of forgiveness until the very end, and every time he considers repenting, he is stopped either by himself or by the devil, convinced his sin was too great. (Davidson, 1996)

The lesson of the importance of faith is simple: for the redeem Faustus needs faith, and belief that God will forgive him of his sin then he can be saved. But Faustus does not repent, so he does go to hell, and joins the other lost souls in Hell.

The conclusion is that because Faustus has lack of faith in God, it keeps him from being redeemed and going to Heaven.


“The Tragedy of Dr. Faustus” challenges the traditional idea of sin and shows that redemption comes only through faith. The image of Faustus as a sinner is an example of the process search for the truth, that each person goes through, as readers see in Faustus’ struggle to accept God, or to reject God.

Marlow shows the readers two important ideas: the first is that going over the limits of an authoritarian society and searching for knowledge is not sinful; and the second is a view that redemption is attained through faith , so it is important never to lose faith in God.


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