Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (Honours)


School of Liberal Arts


Marlowe’s play Dr. Faustus has been the subject of widely differing interpretations, most of them focused on the justice or otherwise of God. Is it a conventional morality play in which, having turned his back on God and salvation, Faustus is rightly condemned to hell? Or is Faustus a tragic hero, unfairly condemned simply for pursuing the Renaissance dream of reaching for heaven through knowledge and learning?

This thesis suggests that, in contrast to these two main streams of interpretation which both see the play as essentially theological in nature, Dr. Faustus is primarily a psychological study of a man trying to obtain certainty and meaning in his life but failing dramatically on both counts, and the consequences of that failure in the form of his growing mental anguish. At the centre of his angst is the issue of free will: do we have any control over our own salvation? And if not then how should we live our life so as to give it meaning? Faustus’ unsuccessful attempts to answer these questions are closely examined using some philosophical concepts and theories relating to free will. This close analysis of the text suggests that the dismal failure of Faustus’ attempt to resolve all theological uncertainties concerning free will and salvation by denying the existence of both is the major cause of his psychological breakdown. This failure, along with Faustus’ failure to obtain agency and control in his life through the unconstrained pursuit of his passions following his pact with the devil, point to the main focus of the play: the portrayal of a man at war with himself, torn apart by metaphysical uncertainties and the inherent limitations of what it means to be “but Faustus, and a man.”



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.