Faustby Goethe (1749 – 1832)Type of Work:Allegorical poetic dramaSettingGermany; eighteenth centuryPrincipal CharactersFaust, a scholar who is offered knowledgeby the DevilMephistopheles (Mephisto, the Devil),the great Satanic tempterGretche (Margaret), a young woman whofalls in love with FaustMartha, Gretchen’s neighbor and friendPlay OverveiwIn heaven, while angels sang praises toGod and his grand creations, heaven and earth, Mephistopheles entered andbegan to complain about the lot of man on earth. The sinister Mephistochided God for having given man just enough reason to make him “more brutishthan any brute.
” God asked his adversary if there wasn’t anything worthwhileabout His creation. “No, Lord,” answered Mephistopheles. “I find it stilla sorry sight. ” They argued for some time, until they finally agreed toa wager: with God’s permission, Mephisto would attempt to lure the soulof a certain scholar-alchemist named Faust (“who serves you most peculiarly”)down with him to hell; God maintained that Faust would and could be saved,despite his proud reliance on reason and sorcery rather than faith.Order now
Meanwhile, on earth, Faust sat at the deskin his dusky den and lamented all of his learning: “I have studied philosophy,jurisprudence and medicine, and worst of all theology, and here I am, forall my lore, the wretched fool I was before. Hence I have yielded to magicto see whether the spirit’s mouth and might would bring some mysteriesto light. ” Little by little his melancholy grew. How horribly idle hislife had been; reading and thinking were all he had, never knowing thejoy of doing. One Easter morning, Wagner, one of Faust’sstudents, convinced the professor to travel with him to the city to joinin the festivities. As Faust and Wagner walked and talked, Faust expressedhis indescribable discontent: “Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,and one is striving to forsake his brother.
” Faust wept openly, beggingin prayer that a spirit to be sent to lead him to “distant lands. ” Then,even as Wagner cautioned his mentor not to call upon evil spirits, Faustnoticed a black dog following them. He picked up the skinny stray poodleand carried it home. Alone at his desk, Faust opened his Bibleand began his studies.
The dog, however, would not stop darting about thehouse, barking and growling . Eventually the poodle scurried behind thestove, and when he emerged, he had taken the form of Mephistopheles. The sly Mephisto would answer the scholar’sinquiries only through riddles, explaining that he was part of that forcewhich would do evil evermore, and yet creates the good; I am the spiritthat negates. ” Faust, though, finally divined that he was speaking withthe Devil. The two bantered back and forth until Faust could stay awakeno longer. As he drifted into sleep, the Devil left, promising to returnthe following day.
The tempter arrived at dawn, dressed asa nobleman. He implored Faust to don the same attire so that he too could”feel released and free,/ and you would find what life could be. ” But Faustwas too world-weary to even imagine happiness. “Death is desirable, andlife I hate,” he groaned. In an attempt to release Faust from thismelancholy, Mephisto now offered to be his slave.
Faust was wary: “Andfor my part, what is it you require? . . . Not safely is such servant takenon.
” Mephisto then presented a proposition: “. . . You shall be the Master,and I Bond,/ and at your nod I’ll work incessantly;/ but when we meet beyond,/then you shall do the same for me.
” Faust, whose “two souls” had finallytorn completely asunder, agreed to the bargain: . ,Beyond to me makes littlematter . . .
It is from out this earth my pleasures spring. . . “Off they flew on the evil one’s magic cloak. Their first stop was a tavern, where Mephisto intended to teach his newMaster “how to live. ” He performed miracles for the drinking men (causingwine to flow from the barroom tables) – miracles that ultimately turnedto torment them (the sweet wine turned to a fiery, “hellish brew.
“) Butold Faust was unmoved: “Will this absurd swill-cookery / Charm thirty wintersoff my back?”Their next stop was a witch’s kitchen,where Faust caught sight of the image of a comely woman in a mirror. “Isso much beauty found on earth?” he raved. Mephisto, pouncing on this firstspark of energy and interest, promised Faust that the woman would soonbecome his wife. He ordered the mischievious hag of the house to mix upa potion; then, while she recited incantations, Faust downed the brew. From that moment, he knew he would never escape the love he felt for thewoman in the mirror.
The next day, while wandering the streets,Faust encountered Gretchen, the very beauty whose mirror image had enslavedhim. “Get me that girl!” he commanded Mephisto. And, as promised, the servant-Devilarranged for Faust to win Gretchen’s virtuous heart with the gift of aluxurious necklace. Soon thereafter, the trusting girl found that she waspregnant with Faust’s child.
Now, Gretchen’s brother, a soldier namedValentine, vowed revenge against the lover who had dishonored his sister. Inside Gretchen’s doorway he waited for the rogue to appear. When Faustarrived and began once again to woo Gretchen, Valentine stepped from theshadows and challeged him with a sword. Only with Mephisto’s aid did Faust’ssword hit home.
Valentine dropped, mortally wounded. “Do not cry for me,”were his last words to his anguished sister. “When you threw honor overboard,/ you pierced my heart more than the sword. “Months passed. While Faust and Mephistopartook of wild ribaldry and pleasurably summoned up wicked spirits withtheir sorcery, Gretchen was suffering scorn, ridicule, and imprisonment. But when Faust came to the knowledge that his beloved had been locked upin a dungeon, to be judged by mere mortals, he cursed his devilish companion:”Treacherous, despicable Spirit! Dog! Abominable monster! Save her! .
. . Take me there! She shall be freed!”The two easily gained entrance into Gretchen’scell, but she refused to leave with them. She confessed that the prisonguards had taken her baby from her, “to give me pain. ” “My peace is goneI/ My heart is sore;/ Can find it never/ And never more,” she cried, andthrew herself on the mercy and justice of God.
Soon the prison authorities arrived. Mephistoand Faust were forced to flee to avoid capture. As they did, they hearda voice from heaven declare that Gretchen’s enduring faith had saved her. The years went by. Faust was now a greatlord, with vast and rich land-holdings, which land he had himself “redeemedfrom the sea” by building a system of dikes.
Nearing the end of his life,he gazed out from his huge palace at the gardens and orchards spreadingfar into the distance – only to find that he was yet discontent. Even whenMephisto returned from a voyage with much new wealth for Faust, he couldnot smile. “You spurn good fortune without joy . . . ” the Devil observed.
“The whole world is in your embrace. ” No, Faust told his servant; one cottageremained that he did not own – a small lot, within sight of the castle,that belonged to an elderly couple. “Go then, get them out of the way!”he ordered Mephisto. That night, the Devil and his cohorts returnedwith the news that the deed was done. “Forgive,” they told Faust, “butwe had to use force. It burns, you see, a pretty pyre.
” Faust, now twistingagainst the pangs of his own guilt, angrily shifted the blame: “Did younot hear me that I bade not robbery but simple trade?” He retired to hisgarden. There he was seized upon by something hovering above him in theair. Then, out of the midnight blackness came four elderly women – Want,Debt, Care, and Need. Their brother, Death, was also nearby, they explained.
Faust inquired of Care what it was she wanted. “Is Care a force you neverfaced?” she taunted. Haughtily, Faust replied, “Whatever I might crave,I laid my hands on . . . .
I stormed through life. ” But still he had to admitthat some inexplicable inner hunger had never been satisfied; and thusCare alone, of the four sister spirits, was able to gain entry into hissoul. “The human being is, his life long, blind,” she said. “Thus, Faustus,you shall meet your end.
“But as precious sight was being drawn fromhis dying eyes, suddenly it was as though Faust could finally truly see. He called in excitement to his laborers to set forth and complete the workof draining the remaining tidal swamps, so that he might give all the reclaimedlands to his people. “This is the highest wisdom that I own, / the bestthat mankind ever knew,” he cried, as he raced about blindly. Yes – this I hold to with devout insistence,Wisdom’s last verdict goes to say:He only earns both freedom and existenceWho must reconquer them each day.
Then, in joy, Faust died. Mephisto rose up, and gloated at his formermaster’s ultimate, inevitable defeat – and at the wretched fate that awaitedall men: “Why have eternal creation, / when all is subject to annihilation?/Now it is over. What meaning can one see?. . .
“But just as Mephisto reached to take theprize he had won, a host of angels descended and distracted him while Faust’ssoul escaped; it was the Devil who would taste defeat. Though Faust hadsinned, even so he had struggled towards growth, knowledge, and transcendence. “Whoever strives in ceaseless toil/ Him we may grant redemption. the seraphssang. Then, with the Devil still raging, theangelic chorus flew into heaven, “bearing off Faust’s immortal part.
“CommentaryThe legend of Faust is older than Goethe’sversion, dating back to the early years of Christianity. The English poetChristopher Marlowe wrote his own version of the play several centuriesbefore Goethe’s “Faust” appeared. Later, Wagner would use Goethe’s lengthyyet brilliantly written poetic production as the text for an opera. One idea animates Goethe’s “Faust. ” Allhuman souls are called to exist and struggle within a constant state of”becoming,” a lifelong striving towards greater and greater realms of knowledge,action and feeling; and those who stay true to this call, even when theystumble into excesses and error will not go unrewarded by God.
In fact,it is by right the Devil’s place to blind man, to the end that man mightcome unto God:Man all too easily grows lax and mellow,He soon elects repose at any price,And so I like to pair him with a fellowTo play the Deuce, to stir, and toentice.