Marlowe's Doctor Faustus Analysis - Predetermination And Free Will

Modified: 24th May 2017
Wordcount: 1566 words

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Sinfield has discussed about Calvinism, underpinning the Elizabethan orthodoxy which would regard Faustus not as damned because he makes a pact with the Devil, but as making a pact with the Devil because he is already damned.(353) He very well portrays the idea that because Faustus got involved in a sin, he was bound to be damned. At another instance his claim, “If Faustus doesn’t have it, there is nothing he can do.” (355) nullifies any possibility of justifying his wrong conduct.

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At times it cannot be called a Calvinist play as God is exceedingly good in gifts, until the Faustus becomes a victim of his insatiable desire even when God is willing to forgive, if he repents. But Faustus intentionally refuses all the aid and goes down to damnation. Doctrine of Calvinism was on rise in England and under the direction of Puritan theologian. Calvinism means theological first promoted by John Calvin in (150 9-1564 ).He was one of leaders of Protestant reformation. It laid the foundation for reformed theology. Calvinism is contrasted with Lutheranism with which it divided the heritage of the Reformation. Calvinism and Lutheranism both discussed the principles of predestination and justification by faith. Calvinism sees God in all life activity and also in salvation.

In first place predestination is not formative principle of Calvinism, it has only logical implications. It is not the root from which Calvinism springs out, but acts as branch of Calvinism.

By the end of Act 1, Faustus appears to have made up his mind to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for twenty-four years in which he will ‘live in all voluptuousness’ (1.3.94). Act 2, Scene 1 opens with another soliloquy in a long soliloquy, Faustus reflects on the most rewarding type of scholarships. He considers law, quoting the Byzantine emperor Justinian, but dismisses the law as too petty, dealing with trivial matters rather than larger ones. Divinity, the study of religion and theology, seems to offer wider vistas, but he quotes from St. Jerome’s Bible that all men sin and finds the Bible’s assertion that “[t]he reward of sin is death” an unacceptable doctrine. He then dismisses religion and fixes his mind on magic, which, when properly pursued, he believes will make him “a mighty god” (1.62).

In Act1 Scene1, the lines “Thinks’ 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?”, establish the fact the Faustus had given up on his fate and believed that he is the master of his own destiny. While the predestination involved a complete dependency on God and advocated for supremacy of God’s free will, Faustus wanted to challenge the sovereignty of God and experiment his own free will. He took a different route in principles other than the natural logic of salvation process professed by his friends and other scholars. He relied on the strength of human effort alone.

Faustus had mastered all the subjects he read. This play emphasizes the fact that knowledge when misutilized can lead to destruction. Faustus wanted to study magic instead metaphysics. He gained knowledge through evil. Faustus possessed insatiable thirst for knowledge and fanaticism and showed deep interest in necromancy. Faustus rejected traditional study and turned towards magic and wanted to practice necromancy.

He looked forward to the advantages which he would gain as a magician. He was a Renaissance man and experienced inner conflict, when the good angel dissuades him from practicing magic. The evil angel wanted that he should go forward and practice magic. Doctor Faustus is a Christian tragedy as Marlowe has depicted human soul as a battle field.

Doctor Faustus is a victim of his conceptions and misconception. As is true throughout the play, however, Marlowe uses Faustus’s own words to expose Faustus’s blind spots. In his initial speech, for example, Faustus establishes a hierarchy of disciplines by showing which are nobler than others. He does not want merely to protect men’s bodies through medicine, nor does he want to protect their property through law. He wants higher things, and so he proceeds on to religion. There, he quotes selectively from the New Testament, picking out only those passages that make Christianity appear in a negative light. He reads that “[t]he reward of sin is death,” and that “[I]f we say we that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us” (1.40-43). The second of these lines comes from the first book of John, but Faustus neglects to read the very next line, which states, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thus, through selective quoting, Faustus makes it seem as though religion promises only death and not forgiveness and so he easily rejects religion with a fatalistic “What will be, shall be! Divinity, adieu!” (1.48). Meanwhile, he uses religious language-as he does throughout the play-to describe the dark world of necromancy that he enters. “These metaphysics of magicians / and necromantic books are heavenly” (1.49-50), he declares without a trace of irony. Having gone upward from medicine and law to theology, he envisions magic and necromancy as the crowning discipline.

Sinfiled as a critic has argued that God is silent on this occasion as he writes, “If Faustus’s heart is hardened and he cannot repent, who has hardened it?” (356). Besides this Faustus’s repentance is insincere, and that he consistently fails to repent not because he is suffering from theologically-induced despair, but because he is afraid of the devils and constantly distracted by the frivolous entertainments they stage for him, like the pageant of the seven deadly sins which follows this episode. One could argue as well that the play does represent the Christian God as loving and merciful, and shows human beings to be free to shape their own spiritual destinies. The Good and Evil Angels, after all, seem to give dramatic form to Faustus’s freedom to choose: he has a choice between good and evil, and he chooses evil in full knowledge of what the consequences will be.

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As late as Act 5, Scene 1, the Old Man appears on stage to drive home the availability of God’s mercy if only Faustus will sincerely repent his sins. Looked at from this perspective, it is Faustus and not God who is responsible for the terrible fate that greets him at the close of the play. Conclusively, Marlowe has planned the demise of Faustus in such a way that the argument, “There are two traps in the play. One is set by God for Dr.Faustus; the other is set by Marlowe, for God.” (361) holds true.

Doctor Faustus is an Elizabethan tragedy. The play deals with the will of God and the hero defies it. The main focus is on human will. Faustus brings tragedy for himself. Faustus decides to follow the path as told by Valdes and Cornelius and practices black magic. Faustus himself calls Mephistopheles. This can be inferred as a fact supporting predestination from the lines, “Mephistopheles’s intervention would be part of Faustus’s punishment within the divine predestination.”(354)Out of pride Faustus seeks world of profit, delight and power. Faustus signs pact with Mephistopheles to enjoy worldly pleasure. In the Prologue and through the first chorus his doom is before us in clear and emphatic terms. “We are that swollen with pride in his attainments , he forgets about salvation.” (354)

Mephistopheles by responding to Faustus demands, gives answers on Hell, makes him invisible so that he can irritate Pope who was at a feast in the company of the Cardinal of Lorraine. So it was destined by God to put Mephistopheles to make full use of pride and bringing damnation and ultimately death of Faustus. This is evident from Sinfield’s discussion on point of having a Good Angel as, “The role of the Good Angel is to tell Faustus what he ought to do but cannot, so that he will be unable to claim ignorance when God taxes him with wickedness.”

Sinfield raises the possibility that the play was written “to embarrass Protestant doctrine.”(358) He also wrote “If Faustus was guided by Mephistopheles, the decision was God’s. For Protestant thought could not tolerate devils wandering around the world at whim: God does not just allow their activities, he contracts out tasks to them.”

There exists many contradictions in the play but eventually one may feel as imperfections exist in human so why not in a character of a play. The ultimate authority to decide lies in the hands of the readers. Last not the least Sinfield’s thought “substantial texts are in principle likely to be written across ideological faultlines because that is the most interesting kind of writing; they may well not be susceptible to any decisive reading.” (359) is more convincing.


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