Political and social themes

Religion and politics

Although the religious themes of Doctor Faustus are dealt with under a separate heading, it is important to remember that in the late sixteenth century religion and politics were frequently indivisible. The conflict between Catholics and Protestants concerned not only doctrinal differences: it was also about political power. The religious loyalties of the monarch were of central importance, since they affected both internal policy and external politics. Spain was seen as an enemy that threatened the still precarious Protestant hegemony. Anxiety about who would succeed the childless Elizabeth I was focused on the possibility of the return of a Catholic monarchy. (See Social / political background > The Tudor monarchy; Separating from the Catholic Church; Protestant versus Catholic and The situation in Marlowe's day).

Political satire

The play's main political satire is directed at another representative of Catholicism, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Faustus and Mephastophilis visit his court in Scene 9 of the play, which reveals his excessive family pride and his obsession with his ancestors. He is not accorded any sense of dignity or especial wisdom in his role as emperor, and he and his courtiers prove easy targets for Faustus' and Mephastophilis' tricks. Similarly, the Duke and Duchess of Vanholt could be seen as representative of an idle, self-regarding and self-indulgent aristocracy.

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