Faust is an alchemical drama from beginning to end, claims C.G. Jung. Goethe worked for most of his life on this masterwork. The original figure in the Faust legend was a seeker of forbidden knowledge. His true identity is not known, but he claimed to be an astrologer, expert in magic, and an alchemist. This legend attracted Christopher Marlowe, who offered in his play a psychological study of the battle between good and evil. Marlowe's drama ends with the protagonist's damnation. Faust's lust for knowledge is limitless and he makes a contract with Mephistopheles. Faust wants to enjoy his highest moment in this life. In Goethe’s version the blind Faust is finally satisfied. However, Mephistopheles loses his victory, when angels take Faust to heaven.
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul; see where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.” (Marlowe)
One of the play's central themes is the clash between the medieval world and the world of the emerging Renaissance. The medieval world placed God at the center of existence and shunted aside man and the natural world. The Renaissance was a movement that began in Italy in the fifteenth century and soon spread throughout Europe, carrying with it a new emphasis on the individual, on classical learning, and on scientific inquiry into the nature of the world. In the medieval academy, theology was the queen of the sciences. In the Renaissance, though, secular matters took center stage. Faustus, despite being a magician rather than a scientist explicitly rejects the medieval model. He resolves, in full Renaissance spirit, to accept no limits, traditions, or authorities in his quest for knowledge, wealth, and power. It is tempting to see in Faustus—as many readers have—a hero of the new modern world, a world free of God, religion, and the limits that these imposed on humanity. Faustus may pay a medieval price, but his successors will go further than he and suffer less, as we have in modern times. On the other hand, the disappointment and mediocrity that follow Faustus's pact with the devil, as he descends from grand ambitions to petty conjuring tricks, might suggest a contrasting interpretation. Marlowe may be suggesting that the new, modern spirit, though ambitious and glittering, will lead only to a Faustian dead end.