In the end, he is unable to break the bondage of his immorality, and dies permanently as a result. Death is therefore viewed in terms of the Christian duality of redemption and eternal damnation. The symbol of blood is prominently connected to this duality. Faustus uses his blood as a seal for his deal with the devil, and the blood of Jesus exemplifies the redemption that is available to him throughout the play.
The possibility of life after death is a theme that Hamlet only touches upon in his considerations. He addresses this theme as the possibility of dreaming: “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, theres the rub; / for in that sleep of death what dreams may come” (Act III: sc.i). These are however only speculations and differ widely from the certainty of Marlowes world. For Shakespeare, morality is grounded in the physical reality, whereas Marlowes morality lies in the world of the spiritual.
The supernatural is another prominent theme in both plays. For Hamlet, the supernatural is focused upon the image of the ghost and its impact upon his life throughout the play. Although the ghost only appears at the beginning, it impacts all of Hamlets actions. His indecision, his apparent madness, and finally his movement towards revenge are all the result of the apparition. The apparition is therefore symbolic of the moral theme: Hamlet is to avenge his fathers death in order to prevent the killer and his conspirators from profit.
In Dr. Faustus, the theme of the supernatural is more concrete. The play is filled with elements such as magical spells, dragons, demons, and angels. Although these are spectacular, and Faustus goes as far as exploring the universe on the back of a dragon, they leave something to be desired in terms of substance. Faustus is unable to accomplish anything significant with his magic, and does not progress much beyond common trickery, despite the fact that the beginning of the play shows him busily at work in his study to find ways of becoming a more powerful magician:
sound magician is a mighty god: Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.
Ironically, what Faustus does gain is a debilitating demon that disables him even from making a simple decision towards his own redemption.
As a moral point, this illustrates the illusive and deceptive nature of the devils promises. Furthermore, Faustus is not only unable to mobilize himself to do something world-changing with his powers despite having the ability to do so; he is particularly unable to make the right decision towards his own redemption. Knowing that his soul is bound for eternal damnation does not motivate him beyond his lethargy. Indeed, it appears that Faustuss lethargy progresses with the progression of time. Eventually his lethargy proves fatal.
This progression is directly opposite to that of Hamlet. Hamlets lethargy occurs at the beginning of Shakespeares play, but progresses towards action as Hamlets mental disposition grows towards certainty. Although he makes mistakes that result in the deaths of Ophelia and Polonius, Hamlet nevertheless continues relentlessly towards his goal, and finds a type of redemption in the physical death that he contemplates and fear throughout the play. In contrast to Faustus, Hamlet dies a heroes death, as indicated by his friend Horatio (Act V, sc.ii): “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: / and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
Faustus and Hamlet are both required to act according to the moral paradigms of the context in which their stories take place. While Hamlet succeeds, Faustus fails as a result of his progressive lethargy. Hamlet emerges victorious but tragically as the victim of the various conspiracies that reach their climax at the end of the play. Faustus emerges defeated in death.
Marlowe, Christopher. Dr. Faustus. Available online:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. Available online: