Faust by Goethe (1749 – 1832) Type of Work: Allegorical poetic drama Setting Germany; eighteenth century Principal Characters Faust, a scholar who is offered knowledge by the Devil Mephistopheles (Mephisto, the Devil), the great Satanic tempter Gretche (Margaret), a young woman who falls in love with Faust Martha, Gretchen’s neighbor and friend Play Overveiw In heaven, while angels sang praises to God and his grand creations, heaven and earth, Mephistopheles entered and began to complain about the lot of man on earth. The sinister Mephisto chided God for having given man just enough reason to make him “more brutish than any brute.” God asked his adversary if there wasn’t anything worthwhile about His creation. “No, Lord,” answered Mephistopheles. “I find it still a sorry sight.” They argued for some time, until they finally agreed to a wager: with God’s permission, Mephisto would attempt to lure the soul of 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. Meanwhile, on earth, Faust sat at the desk in 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, for all my lore, the wretched fool I was before. Hence I have yielded to magic to see whether the spirit’s mouth and might would bring some mysteries to light.” Little by little his melancholy grew.
How horribly idle his life had been; reading and thinking were all he had, never knowing the joy of doing. One Easter morning, Wagner, one of Faust’s students, convinced the professor to travel with him to the city to join in the festivities. As Faust and Wagner walked and talked, Faust expressed his indescribable discontent: “Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, and one is striving to forsake his brother.” Faust wept openly, begging in 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, Faust noticed a black dog following them. He picked up the skinny stray poodle and carried it home. Alone at his desk, Faust opened his Bible and began his studies.
The dog, however, would not stop darting about the house, barking and growling . Eventually the poodle scurried behind the stove, and when he emerged, he had taken the form of Mephistopheles. The sly Mephisto would answer the scholar’s inquiries only through riddles, explaining that he was part of that force which would do evil evermore, and yet creates the good; I am the spirit that negates.” Faust, though, finally divined that he was speaking with the Devil. The two bantered back and forth until Faust could stay awake no longer. As he drifted into sleep, the Devil left, promising to return the following day. The tempter arrived at dawn, dressed as a 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 Faust was too world-weary to even imagine happiness. “Death is desirable, and life I hate,” he groaned. In an attempt to release Faust from this melancholy, Mephisto now offered to be his slave. Faust was wary: “And for my part, what is it you require? … Not safely is such servant taken on.” 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 finally torn completely asunder, agreed to the bargain: .,Beyond to me makes little matter … 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 new Master “how to live.” He performed miracles for the drinking men (causing wine to flow from the barroom tables) – miracles that ultimately turned to torment them (the sweet wine turned to a fiery, “hellish brew.”) But old Faust was unmoved: “Will this absurd swill-cookery / Charm thirty winters off my back?” Their next stop was a witch’s kitchen, where Faust caught sight of the image of a comely woman in a mirror. “Is so much beauty found on earth?” he raved.
Mephisto, pouncing on this first spark of energy and interest, promised Faust that the woman would soon become his wife. He ordered the mischievious hag of the house to mix up a potion; then, while she recited incantations, Faust downed the brew. From that moment, he knew he would never escape the love he felt for the woman in the mirror. The next day, while wandering the streets, Faust encountered Gretchen, the very beauty whose mirror image had enslaved him. “Get me that girl!” he commanded Mephisto. And, as promised, the servant-Devil arranged for Faust to win Gretchen’s virtuous heart with the gift of a luxurious necklace.
Soon thereafter, the trusting girl found that she was pregnant with Faust’s child. Now, Gretchen’s brother, a soldier named Valentine, vowed revenge against the lover who had dishonored his sister. Inside Gretchen’s doorway he waited for the rogue to appear. When Faust arrived and began once again to woo Gretchen, Valentine stepped from the shadows and challeged him with a sword.
Only with Mephisto’s aid did Faust’s sword 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 Mephisto partook of wild ribaldry and pleasurably summoned up wicked spirits with their sorcery, Gretchen was suffering scorn, ridicule, and imprisonment. But when Faust came to the knowledge that his beloved had been locked up in 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’s cell, but she refused to leave with them. She confessed that the prison guards had taken her baby from her, “to give me pain.” “My peace is gone I/ My heart is sore;/ Can find it never/ And never more,” she cried, and threw herself on the mercy and justice of God.
Soon the prison authorities arrived. Mephisto and Faust were forced to flee to avoid capture. As they did, they heard a voice from heaven declare that Gretchen’s enduring faith had saved her. The years went by.
Faust was now a great lord, with vast and rich land-holdings, which land he had himself “redeemed from 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 spreading far into the distance – only to find that he was yet discontent. Even when Mephisto returned from a voyage with much new wealth for Faust, he could not smile. “You spurn good fortune without joy . .
. ” the Devil observed. “The whole world is in your embrace.” No, Faust told his servant; one cottage remained 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 returned with the news that the deed was done. “Forgive,” they told Faust, “but we had to use force. It burns, you see, a pretty pyre.” Faust, now twisting against the pangs of his own guilt, angrily shifted the blame: “Did you not hear me that I bade not robbery but simple trade?” He retired to his garden. There he was seized upon by something hovering above him in the air. 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 never faced?” she taunted. Haughtily, Faust replied, “Whatever I might crave, I laid my hands on …. I stormed through life.” But still he had to admit that some inexplicable inner hunger had never been satisfied; and thus Care alone, of the four sister spirits, was able to gain entry into his soul. “The human being is, his life long, blind,” she said.
“Thus, Faustus, you shall meet your end.” But as precious sight was being drawn from his 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 work of draining the remaining tidal swamps, so that he might give all the reclaimed lands to his people. “This is the highest wisdom that I own, / the best that 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 existence Who must reconquer them each day. Then, in joy, Faust died.
Mephisto rose up, and gloated at his former master’s ultimate, inevitable defeat – and at the wretched fate that awaited all 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 the prize he had won, a host of angels descended and distracted him while Faust’s soul escaped; it was the Devil who would taste defeat. Though Faust had sinned, even so he had struggled towards growth, knowledge, and transcendence. “Whoever strives in ceaseless toil/ Him we may grant redemption. the seraphs sang.
Then, with the Devil still raging, the angelic chorus flew into heaven, “bearing off Faust’s immortal part.” Commentary The legend of Faust is older than Goethe’s version, dating back to the early years of Christianity. The English poet Christopher Marlowe wrote his own version of the play several centuries before Goethe’s “Faust” appeared. Later, Wagner would use Goethe’s lengthy yet brilliantly written poetic production as the text for an opera. One idea animates Goethe’s “Faust.
” All human 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 they stumble 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 might come 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 fellow To play the Deuce, to stir, and to entice.