The Impression of Faustus and the Play as a Whole

Doctor Faustus is a complex play that demonstrates conflicting ideas with Marlowe’s main preoccupation being a moral one of sin and redemption. This is embodied through the characterization of Faustus. In this passage, we are given a piece of dramatic dialogue that helps to create our impression of Faustus’s character, and ultimately shapes our impression of the play as a whole.

The language that is used in this scene between Faustus and Mephistopheles is figuratively dark, with the predominant repetition of damned’, ‘Lucifer’ and ‘hell’.

When seen at a particular point in the play where Faustus has made his decision to make a deal with the Devil, this word choice highlights the contention that Faustus’s thirst for more knowledge and power has made him a vile and immoral character.

Marlowe has made further significant word choices in this particular scene that contribute to the characterization of Faustus. We have seen Faustus become increasingly greedy and arrogant throughout the play to the point that “This word damnation terrifies not him, For he confounds hell in Elysium.

” (Marlowe, 2008: i, iii, 60-61) Here we see that Faustus believes that the Christian hell is not to be feared, emphasizing his arrogance and foolishness.

Alternatively, a more ironic detail in the use of the word ‘confounds’ brings the audience back to the central theme of the play; that of a battle. Faustus uses the word ‘confounds’ to make no distinction between two spiritual worlds, but ‘confounds’ can also mean ‘confuses’. This lets the audience question whether Faustus is somewhat confused, allowing us to question his decisions and actions and, ultimately, his arrogant and foolhardy character. With all that surrounds him, Faustus may be less of an evil man and more of a desperate, naïve, and confused individual.

The ambivalent structure of the dialogue, with a question and answer scene between Faustus and Mephistopheles, helps to define Faustus’s character more clearly. The very fact that Faustus is defiantly asking all the questions with Mephistopheles answering them allows us to see Mephistopheles’s argument against, and almost reluctance for Faustus to seal the deal with the Devil. This is in comparison to the naïve Faustus we saw earlier in the passage, and once again emphasizes Faustus’s character as arrogant to the point that “such is his pride, his refusal to bow to external authority of any kind, he maintains his own opinion against that of one who has come directly from thence” (1987: 67-68).

Through a range of ironic, metaphorical, and lexical devices the majority of the passage depicts Faustus as arrogant, blind, and foolishly ambitious. However, as the entire play is a battle between different forces, so too do we see a battle of Faustus’s character.

Marlowe manipulatively uses language to influence the audience’s impression of Faustus; from arrogant and foolishly ambitious, to desperate, intelligent, yet naïve, all the way back again. We may never fully resolve or define the true character of Faustus as this “faithful revelation of a mind in transition between two concepts of the universe” (1967: 62) creates a battle of the conflicting sides of Faustus. This inevitably integrates with and highlights the more significant battles within the play and leaves the audience questioning Faustus’s true character and motives.


  1. Fermor, Ellis. Christopher Marlowe. (1967). Connecticut: Archon Books.
  2. Mangan, Micheal. (ed.)(1987). Doctor Faustus. Critical Studies. London: Penguin Group.
  3. Marlowe, C. (ed. O’Connor. J.) (2008) Doctor Faustus. The A Text. Dorchester: Pearson Longman.

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The Impression of Faustus and the Play as a Whole. (2022, Jun 14). Retrieved from

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