Study Guide

Doctor Faustus Sin

By Christopher Marlowe


Act 1, Scene 3

Was not that Lucifer an angel once?
Yes Faustus, and most dearly loved of God.
How comes it, then, that he is prince of devils?
O, by aspiring pride and insolence,
For which God threw him from the face of heaven. (1.3.61-66)

Hmmm. Pride and insolence? Those sins sound awfully familiar. In fact, they sound just like the traits Faustus has. So if those happen to be the sins that got the devil kicked out of heaven, shouldn't Faustus get the hint? This exchange should be a warning to Faustus about the wages of sin but, of course, he ignores it.

Act 2, Scene 1

The god thou serv'st is thine own appetite,
Wherein is fixed the love of Beelzebub,
To him I'll build an altar and a church
And offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes. (2.1.10-13)

What Faustus proposes to do here is exactly the opposite of the first commandment: to take other gods before God. These gods don't necessarily have to be Old Testament-type idols (which is what the ten commandments were warning against). They can be anything a person loves more than God, in this case, Faustus's own appetite. Yet Faustus expresses his worship in a very Old Testament way. He wants to build an altar and undergo human sacrifice. The point of this is probably to emphasize that despite how innovative Faustus thinks he's being by rejecting the old traditions in favor of magic, his sin is the very same Old Testament idol worship. In other words, Faustus, we've been there, done that.

Act 2, Scene 2

I am Pride. I disdain to have any parents. I am like to Ovid's flea. I can creep into every corner of a wench. (2.2.110-111)

Aside from this lovely image of a flea creeping into every corner of a wench (pause for gagging), there's something else going on here, too. Did you notice that Pride was first up in this sinful stroll? Pride probably begins the parade of the Seven Deadly Sins because folks thought it was the root of all sin. For example, many believed that at the beginning of creation, the devil fell from heaven because of his pride, because he didn't want God ruling over him. Our hunch is that Pride's refusal to "have any parents" is probably an allusion to that event.

Act 2, Scene 3

I am Covetousness, begotten of an old churl in a leather bag; and, might I now obtain my wish, this house, you, and all should turn to gold, that I might lock you safe into my chest. O my sweet gold! (2.3.120-123)

Meet Sin #2, everyone. Covetousness is another word for plain old-fashioned greed, so it makes sense that the embodiment of this sin would want to get its hands on, well, everything. And of course having everything isn't enough; Covetousness wants it all to turn to gold, too. We guess greed only creates more greed.

I am one that loves an inch of raw mutton better than an ell of fried stock-fish, and the first letter of my name begins with lechery. (2.3.156-158)

Lechery, or lust, tells a dirty joke here. The "inch of raw mutton" likely refers to an erect penis, whereas "fried stockfish" (a textual error for "dried stockfish") is a slang expression that refers to sexual impotence. You get the idea…

I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read and therefore wish all books burned. I am lean with seeing others eat. O, that there would come a famine over all the world, that all might die and I live alone. (2.3.126-129)

Chim Chim Cheree! We never thought the chimney-sweeper of Mary Poppins was a jealous guy, but maybe we missed… something.

I am Gluttony. My parents are all dead, and the devil a penny they have left me but a small pension, and that buys me thirty meals a day and ten bevers—a small trifle to suffice nature. (2.3.139-142)

Gluttony is the sin of eating and drinking in excess. Gluttony, for example, eats thirty meals a day and ten "bevers," or snacks, but is still ready for more. Here's hoping he's a Costco member.

I am Wrath. I had neither father nor mother. I leaped out of a lion's mouth when I was scarce an hour old and ever since have run up and down the world with this case of rapiers, wounding myself when I could get none to fight withal.(2.3.132-134)

The lesson to be learned from Wrath seems to be that it hurts the angry person as much as the person he's angry at, since Wrath wounds himself when he has no one to fight with. Whoops.

I am Sloth. I was begotten on a sunny bank. Heigh-ho! I'll not speak a word more for a king's ransom. (2.3.152-154)

True to his nature, Sloth, the product of lazy days lying in the sunshine on a hill, is too lazy to even describe himself as the other sins have done. He'd rather just sit… and sit.

Act 5, Scene 2

'Tis but a surfeit, sir; fear nothing.
A surfeit of deadly sin that hath damned both body and soul. (5.2.36-38)

When Faustus complains that he's sick, the Scholars, drawing upon their medical knowledge, conclude that Faustus probably has an excess of something in his body. Back then, they thought that an excess of something like blood or bile was the root cause of a disease. Faustus turns their idea on its head, though, by acknowledging that he possesses an excess—of deadly sin, that is.