Introduction: Doctor Faustus is the only one of Marlowe’s plays in which the pivotal issue is strictly religious and the whole design rests upon protestant doctrines. This issue, stated simply, is whether Doctor Faustus shall choose God or the evil delights of witchcraft and we witness his bargain with the witchcraft. Thus the drama is not primarily one of external action but of spiritual combat within the soul of man, waged according to the laws of Christian world order. Here Marlowe, through Faustus, utters strictures on prayer, hell and the Christian religion, but he never lets these iconoclastic sallies overthrow the Christian dogma.
Depiction of the Devil in the Moralities: Miracle and Moralities offered two versions of the devil. One heroic – the definite Lucifer contesting the throne of God or claiming over the world. ; the other unheroic and comic – Satan down on his luck and trying to get his own back somehow.
Marlowe’s Audacity: Marlowe himself enjoyed a reputation as ‘Atheist and Epicure’ condemner and mocker of religions. Thomas Kyd and Richard Bains under pressure of authorities brought against him many charges of blasphemy, heresy and atheism. He was accused for instance, of saying that the first beginning of Religions was only to keep man in awe and that Moses as a juggler and Aaron a cosoner the one for his miracles to Pharaoh to prove there was a god, and the other for taking the earrings of the children of Israel to make a golden calf. It seems that Marlowe even delivered a lecture on atheism. We admit these charges against him as true because he had no serious reverence for Christianity.
Christian Context: According to Irvin Ribner: “ The only one of Marlowe’s plays which is cast in a deliberately Christian context is Doctor Faustus.” Kocher has argued that much of his dramatic activity may be explained as a struggle the theological training of his youth: “ However desperate his desire to be free, he was bound to Christianity by the surest of chains – hatred mingled with reluctant longing and fascination much akin to fear.”
Doctor Faustus and Christianity: Marlowe’s may well have known Nathaniel Woods’s morality play, The Conflict of Conscience. But Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is not Christian morality play, for it contains no affirmation of the goodness or justice of the religious system it depicts with such accuracy of detail. It is rather a protest against this system, which it reveals as imposing a limitation upon the aspiration of man, holding him in subjection and bondage, denying him at last even the comfort of Christ’s blood, and dooming him to the most terrible destruction. The religion of the play is Christianity from which, as Michael Poirier has pointed out, Christ is strangely missing.
Faustus’s Spiritual Condition: Faustus’s state of mind in the early scenes is that of a man apt for reprobation. Most dangerously is he “swollen with cunning, of self-conceit” to use the authoritative words of the Prologue. His search for knowledge knows no boundaries. He wants to gain the deity and rule the whole universe.
Failure in repentance: In becoming a witch, Faustus formally renounces God and gives himself over to the ownership of the devil. Short story …. The trouble with Faustus is not that God withhold from him the grace necessary to repentance but that he himself refuses to take a real effort to accept it when it is offered. He lets himself be lured away by the embraces of Helen and by the threats of physical torments from the demons. Therefore, he earns the rebuke of the old man.
Conclusion: There is a terrible warning for humanity in the final chorus:
Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose friendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To praise more than heavenly powers permit
The price of aspiration, of seeking to probe beyond the ordinary limits of man, is death in its most terrible form. If the progress of Faustus is, as Miss Garner has written “From a proud philosopher, master of all human knowledge, to a slave of phantoms, this is not to say that the order of things which decrees such as human deterioration as the price of aspiration.” In this play Marlowe is using a Christian view of Heaven and Hell in a vehicle of protest which is essentially anti-Christian.
In so far as Marlowe’s anti-Christian is concerned the play allows us to draw some further conclusions of great interest. The powerful speeches about Christianity from Mephistopheles and Lucifer show that however, scornfully Marlowe rejected the system intellectually; it still has a powerful impact on his imagination and emotions.