The Damnation of Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus is a play whose textual structuring works as a form of technology and a science in itself… a magical science! Literature matters because it gives you a technology for producing an imaginative relationship to the world, and how we can change it!

More on Psychomachia

Psychomachia – was a poem by Prudentius. The poem describes the conflict of vices and virtues where Christian faith is attacked by and defeats pagan idolatry. It is a famous poem because it is one of the first to reference the seven sins and virtues!

His poem was laden with allegory –which is a reductive way of seeing the world. Like the duality aspect in Faustus (good and bad angels dueling–> good and bad combating each other) The play was structured as a conflict, and a battle over a spiritual outcome related to the soul, much like Prudentius.

Point of Focus: There is something that happens in people that necessitates some sort of strategy to cope with the bad and good in the world that is enacted through the individual who must deal with these forces effectively.

-Nature of evil – Doctor Faustus is connected to the vices as these are what he encounters. It has a very Christian framework – 7 deadly sins and virtues that countered them (faith, hope, charity à theological virtues) + 4 other virtues= temperance, prudence, fortitude, justice) – virtues were all things that Faustus was struggling with. Conveying a morality play (didactic!)

-Conceptions of sexual vice, gluttony, greed, selfish, acedia (sloth) –anticipates modernity. There is a direct relationship between the medieval break down of the seven sins, and existentialism -which focused on the condition of human existence.

-Faustus was trapped in a model of agency that disempowered him -ignorance.

-Faustus converted the energy of one of the 7 deadly sins (sloth) and modernizes it –situating it in a much more complex, and richer context. Setting the stage for imagining the essential problem of modernity –access to all this knowledge overwhelms people and changes them… a movement away from religion and towards science.


Allegory –struggle for meaning, a text embeds different meanings at once.

1st level of meaning – tries to find devil and dies.

2nd –Faustus learns about magical technologies –associated with literature, power of imagination (Sir Philip Sidney)

3rd –play is about psychomachias, inner struggle between good and evil.

My main allegorical inference from this play is that it is a moral allegory of universal significance. Despite people denouncing Marlowe and his play, I believe that it’s underlying meaning is that those who stray from the path of virtue and God, and who concede to the Devil in order to attain wealth and honour (power) will be damned forever.

Faustus’s Damnation

Calvinism -is a term created by John Calvin that asserts that all beings are absolutely pre-destined in the outcome of their lives to go to Heaven. Damnation and salvation are key words to Calvinism, but also Doctor Faustus.

The 5 Key Ideas Associated With Calvinism

1) Unconditional Election. Calvinists believe that God decided before the world began who will be saved and who will be lost. According to unconditional election, your eternal destination has been decided. Nothing you may do will change that destiny!

2) Limited Atonement. Calvin taught that Christ’s blood was shed for the elect only-those God planned to save or “elect” to salvation.

3) Total Depravity. That man can, in himself, do nothing to respond to God or to come to Him. According to this idea, faith is all on God’s part-not on man’s part. The Calvinist will tell you, “God does it all.”

4) Irresistible Grace. If God has decided to save you, He will do it regardless of what you do. You can’t resist the plan and power of God. His saving grace overpowers the free will of the elect.

5)Perseverance of the Saints. Anyone who is saved or “elected” by God can never fall away from or lose that salvation-once you’re saved you’re always saved!

Most plays during this era involved a debate/argument betwixt Protestants and Christians. However, Marlowe’s text was modernist and progressive because he did not take part in the debate, his text proves to be anti-Calvinist -with Doctor Faustus being doomed for damnation and hell from the very onset of his decision.

No wonder his play stirred up so much controversy!!!

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