Faust - Der Tragödie erster Teil

These notes refer to the Kaufmann translation of Faust. There is an 1808 translation by George Madison Priest online as one huge text file. The German original is available at http://www.geo.tu-freiberg.de/~kuehne/texte/faust/. There is also an edition of Christopher Marlowe's much easier play on the same subject, Doctor Faustus.

This work is rich in wonderful contradictions and conflicts. Faust: A Tragedy is the title given his masterpiece by Johann Wolfgang vonGoethe. Yet it might almost as easily be described as a musical comedy, inthat it has many comic passages, features many songs, and lacks a tragic ending. Faust himself is not a classic tragic figure either. In fact, hischaracteristic yearning for experience and knowledge created a type for theromantic age still known as the Faustian hero, though he can easily seem moreof a villain than a hero; and the purported villain--Mephistopheles--is one ofthe most likable characters in the play. His yearnings draw him toward theheavens, yet he is also powerfully attracted to the physical world. The bookwas designed to be read rather than performed, yet many scenes are wonderfullydesigned for effective stage presentation.

It is useless to try to figure out what the "real" point of Faust is, or which of the many views of life it presents is thecorrect one. It is par excellence the Romantic masterworkprecisely because it explores a wide variety of polar opposites withoutresolving them. Goethe has created a microcosm of life, trying to preserve itscomplexity, its ten sions, and its dynamism. Appreciating the work's complexityand enjoying it should be your goal.

One the most important tensions expressed in this work is between learning andexperience. Faust himself rejects scholarship for life, but it would be amistake to suppose that Goethe unequivocally endorses this view. Mephistophles,who is usually both truthful and wise, warns him against this enthusiasm forraw experience; and Goethe himself was a scholar and bureaucrat who greatlyvalued the learning of the past and aimed at joining the pantheon of classicwriters. Faust is a part of Goethe, but so is Mephistophles.

This is a work that can be hugely entertaining, but only if one understands itsreferences and ideas. These notes are meant to help you enjoy the work bypointing you to significant passages that need careful thought and providingcrucial information on some difficult references. They are meant not to handyou a simple interpretation, but to stimulate thought about the work that canlead to an interpretation.

There are several passages in the Bible which must be read in connection withspecific lines in the play. You can access one at http://tuna.uchicago.edu/homes/BIBLES.html.

None of them will take more than a few minutesto read.

(Wait until this page is completely downloaded before clicking.)

Prologue in Heaven, Night, Before the City Gate, Study, Study, Witch's Kitchen, Street, Evening, Promenade, Street, Garden, A Garden Bower, Wood and Cave, Martha's Garden, At the Well, City Wall, Night. Street in Front of Gretchen's Door, Cathedral, Walpurgis Night, Dismal Day, Charming Landscape, Open Country, Palace, Deep Night, Midnight, Large Outer Court of the Palace, Entombment, Mountain Gorges; Forest, Rock, and Desert

Prologue in Heaven

In this overture to his drama Goethe createsa quaint and slightly comic Heaven in which the encounter betweenGoethe and Mephistopheles is planned. What signs can you findthat Goethe does not intend this scene seriously to portray anorthodox Christian Heaven? To "intone" an "air"is to sing a song. A "tourney" is a tournament orconflict.

Raphael is describing a traditional conceptcalled "the harmony of the spheres" in which eachplanetary sphere in the solar system emits a tone which blendtogether into a sort of heavenly music. In what way does the conceptof a "tourney" conflict with this concept? What astronomicalsystem is represented by Raphael's description of the sunand its "brother spheres" moving around the earth?How does this system relate to that described by Gabriel, whodescribes the earth as revolving and fleeing through space? Whatreferences to motion can you find in the speeches of thethree archangels? Can you find any pattern in the order in whichthey describe various kinds of motion? (Hint: look at the scaleof things.) What contradiction is contained in the last line ofMichael's speech?

Mephistopheles' witty, ironic tonein addressing God is quite different from that of the sober debatein the book of Job (be sure to read today's brief assignmentin Job; any translation of the Bible will do). But what are thebasic similarities between the story in the Bible and this scene?After the angels have been praising God for his unfathomable splendor,how does Mephistopheles criticize God? Why is the Devil representedas being more interested in humanity than is God? What criticismdoes he make of humanity's gift of reason?

How effectively does The Lord answer Mephistopheles?What are the chief characteristics of Faust that Mephistophelesdescribes? The Lord seems to agree with Mephistopheles'description of Faust's greatest fault when he says "Manerrs as long as he will strive." But he seems to value strivingwhen he says "man's activity can easily abate,/Hesoon prefers uninterrupted rest;/To give him this companion henceseems best/Who roils and must as Devil help create." Whatreasons do you think Goethe might have had for having the Lordexpress two such opposite views of the roles of striving and activity?In what way does he say the Devil actually helps him to carryout his will?


Another translation of this scene, with a picture of Goethe.

Faust has studied all of the major subjectsin which a Renaissance scholar could receive a degree, so canbe understood to have exhausted traditional learning. What ishis attitude toward his education? In what way does he feel heis smarter than others? What activity has he turned to after rejectingformal education? At line 386, where is he looking? At line 398?What contrast does he draw between these two sights? Worms anddust traditionally symbolize death; look for this symbolism toreappear. What do the images of imprisonment and escape here conveyabout Faust's mood? Nostradamus was a Renaissance prophetand astrologer; which of his roles is relevant in this context(line 420)? In this context the macrocosm is the universe atlarge, depicted in the renaissance as a series of concentric circlessurrounding the earth marking the orbits of the moon, sun, planets,and stars. How does viewing it make Faust feel? In lines 446-453he envisions a dynamic version of the traditional Renaissanceimage of the "Great Chain of Being," seemingly influencedby Jacob's vision in Genesis 28:11-12). What is his reactionto it? Notice how Mephistopheles' preference for the Earthin the Prologue in Heaven foreshadowed Faust's preferencefor the Earth Spirit over the image of the macrocosm. Faust imperiouslyconjures the Earth Spirit to appear before him: what is his reactionwhen it actually appears? How does Faust react to its taunts?What does the Spirit mean when it says to him that he is a "Peerof the spirit that you comprehend/Not mine!"? Why does Faustcall himself "image of the godhead?" (See Genesis1:27)

Why is Faust so irritated when Wagner,his student, thinks that he has been reading classical literatureand practicing rhetoric? What are the main points of the two sidesof the debate between Faust and Wagner? What is Faust'sattitude toward classical study? What does this classical proverb,quoted by Wagner, mean: "art is forever,/and our life isbrief?" When Wagner claims that study of ancient writingsis valuable because it helps us enter into the spirit of the time,how does Faust answer him? Why is Wagner's final speechprobably intensely irritating to Faust? How does it relate towhat they have been discussing earlier? Which of the two do youagree more with? Why?

In line 808 Faust expresses his gratitudetoward Wagner for having rescued him from the despair into whichthe Earth Spirit's taunts had cast him; but he almost immediatelyplunges back into depression. He speaks to the absent Spirit,expressing his humiliation. The contrast he makes between fantasyand realism starting in line 640 is a typical romantic complaintabout the rationalist period from which he was emerging. He islooking back with nostalgia to the Middle Ages, when the imaginationwas allowed freer rein and is repelled by the narrow rationalismof the eighteenth century. How does Faust again use the imageryof worms and dust in lines 652-659? The skull he sees onhis shelf acts as a traditional memento mori: a reminderof death which some devout monks kept by their beside in the MiddleAges to remind them that they were mortal; but why might he realisticallyhave a skull on his shelf? The bottle which is the next objectto catch his eye almost certainly contains laudanum: opium dissolvedin alcohol. It was an extremely common drug and relatively cheap.Though it could not cure diseases, it made people feel better--unlessthey took too large a dose, in which case they would pleasantlydrop off to sleep and die. This quality made it not only the renaissanceequivalent of aspirin but the drug of choice for suicide. Howdoes he propose to prove "that mortals/Have as much dignityas any god"? In lines 712-719 Faust is contrasting himselfwith Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1 of the play (ll. 55-88). Note theChoir of Women. A similar group of women are going to appear atthe end of the play, linked to the theme of salvation. Why doesn'the drink? Does the song of the angels bring him to religious faith?What effect does it have on him?

Before the City Gate

What kinds of activities are people engagingin on this Easter morning? Are any of them religious? What isthe attitude of "Another Citizen" toward war? Canyou compare the attitudes of the young women toward love withthose of the soldiers? What does Faust seem to feel is the meaningof the Easter holiday? What is Wagner's reaction to Faust'senjoyment of the scene? The song sung by the peasants has thetypical folk theme of a young girl seduced and abandoned, andstrongly foreshadows the plot of the play. Why does Faust, whois normally completely skeptical about religion, tell the peasantswho praise him for his medical services that they should thankGod instead? Faust rather hysterically compares the medical effortsof his father and himself to the plague ("pest"),not because they really intended to murder anyone but because--asGoethe knew well--renaissance medicine was more harmfulthan helpful to patients. In using the image of flight to symbolizehis longing for transcendence and escape he imagines himself pursuingthe setting sun, personified as a god, as by the ancient Greeksand Romans. As the sun sinks into the west, he pursues it outover the billows (waves) of the Atlantic Ocean. This image ofeternal vain pursuit is central to Faust's ideas abouthimself, which will be reflected throughout the play in many forms.What is the basic contradiction in human nature that Faust describesin the last part of this speech? What is Wagner's reactionto it? In what two directions does Faust then say his soul istorn?

When the black dog appears (a large, shaggyanimal, not a French toy poodle), what does Faust see that Wagnercannot?


Note that at the beginning of this sceneFaust seems to be in a more nearly religious mood than at anyother point in the play. Night, which was celebrated by romanticwriters (in self-conscious contrast with the enlightenment), inspiresin him a "holy dread." What effect does the poodlehave on this mood? When we learn that the poodle is really Mephistopheles,what do we realize he has accomplished in disturbing Faust?

When Faust "translates" thefirst verse of the Gospel of John, how does his vocabulary choicereflect his character? Based on what you read later, why do thespirits in the corridor say "One has been caught inside"in line 1259? During the Renaissance the salamander was thoughtto live in fire, the undene in water, and the sylph in air, whilethe kobold is a Germanic spirit associated with the earth. Thuseach represents one of the traditional four elements of the naturalworld. Having exhausted the natural world, Faust will have tothe demonic ("Hell's progeny"). What is anincubus? (Look it up.)

Mephistopheles sets the tone for theirwhole relationship by greeting Faust sarcastically, belittlinghis prowess; but according to the traditions of the conjuringof spirits he is in real danger of being controlled if his intendedvictim can only identify his name. How does he distract him fromthat question? When Faust calls Mephistopheles "God ofFlies" he is alluding to another traditional Jewish namefor the Devil: Beelzebub. This passage is the source of the titleof William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies. Howdoes Mephistopheles' definition of himself in lines 1336-1337relate to what The Lord has to say about his role in the Prologuein Heaven? How does Mephistopheles argue that darkness is superiorto light in lines 1348-1368? In what sense did darknessgive birth to light? (See Genesis 1:1-5.) Why does Mephistophelessay that his favorite element is fire? Rather than portrayingMephistopheles as a force for evil against good, Faust understandshim as sterility against creativity. Which of these two forcesdo both of them seem to feel is the stronger?

Why could the magic pentagram (the witch'sfoot) in the doorway let Mephistopheles in though it now willnot let him out? Notice that it is Faust who first raises thepossibility of signing a contract with the Devil. Goethe repeatedlyemphasizes that Faust is not seduced into evil by Mephistopheles:he is already drawn to it, and tries to make the Devil his tool.Why do you think Mephistopheles is so anxious to leave insteadof immediately negotiating the contract? How does Mephistophelesmanage to escape?


Faust has to invite Mephistopheles intohis study three times to symbolize his willingness to become involvedin the evil the spirit represents. Why reasons does Faust givefor saying there is nothing Mephistopheles can give him that hewants? How does Mephistopheles humiliate him when he declaresthat he wants to die in line 1571? Faust is like a patient whoapproaches a doctor, saying "I want to avoid heart disease,but don't tell me to change my diet, exercise, or takedrugs." Perhaps because he is a bit nervous about the directionin which he is headed he is effectively ruling out just abouteverything that Mephistopheles could conceivably give him. WhenFaust gets into one of these melodramatic moods, Mephistophelesusually combats him with humor. Here it is his companion spiritswho mock his words by saying he has "shattered the world"with his curses. Their song means, in essence, "Hey, relax,enjoy life!"

Faust has clearly read stories of otherpeople who have signed contracts with the Devil and experienceddisaster, and Mephistopheles tells the doctor that he will beMephistopheles' servant in hell, so why does Faust proceedwith the negotiation? What examples does Faust give of the deceptiveand transitory gifts the Devil has been known to provide? Whydoes Faust say that he is willing to die if he ever experiencesa moment of complete satisfaction? Note these words: "Ifto the moment I should say:/Abide, you are so fair;" theyare important at the end of the play. Mephistopheles insists onthe signature being in blood to force Faust into taking a stereotypicallyself-damning step. He can hardly claim he didn't know whathe was getting into, since signing a contract with the Devil inblood is notoriously a damnable thing to do. Again and again Faustwill seek to gloss over the true nature of his relationship toevil, and again and again Mephistopheles will rub his nose init. Of the two longings Faust has spoken of before, which onedoes he say he now wants to pursue? Does he seek happiness? Whatwarnings does Mephistopheles make about the probable outcome oftheir contract? Which of the two longings does Mephistophelesurge Faust to pursue? Notice the last two lines before the entryof the student mean in which Mephistopheles confirms that it isnot he who is making Faust evil; Faust is evil already. Mephistophelesmay in fact be seen in this play as the embodiment of the evilimpulses within Faust. The fact that he is a lively and vividcharacter with a personality strikingly different from Faust'sown may obscure this symbolism, but Goethe repeatedly underlinesit. What career does Mephistopheles finally advise the studentto take up, and what typically devilish reason does he give fordoing so? People often wrote short poems or quotations in eachother's autograph books in Goethe's time. What isthe meaning of Mephistopheles' inscription ("Youshall be like God, knowing good and evil.")? (See Genesis3:1-5.)

Witch's Kitchen

What is Faust's attitude towardwitchcraft? As when he forced him to sign in blood, Mephistophelesis maneuvering Faust into participating in obviously Satanic ritualsso that he is forced to confront the evil nature of what he isdoing. What alternative to drinking the magic potion does Mephistophelesoffer Faust? Lines 2441-2442 sarcastically allude to the factthat in the Biblical account of creation God looks at each day'swork and sees that it is good (see Genesis 1). What does Mephistophelessuggest Faust should do with a beautiful woman should he findone? Compare this with what he actually does. In what ways doesMephistopheles say he has modernized his appearance? Line 2509reflects the state of European civilization in the wake of theenlightenment, shorn of its religious superstitions, but no closerto virtue. It is important to keep reminding yourself that neitherGoethe nor most of his readers believed in the traditional Devil.Mephistopheles is a symbol of evil--a very lively and vividone--but still ultimately a symbol. In lines 2526-2527 hesays that Faust can safely drink the potion because the latteris no novice at evil; he is sufficiently corrupted already tobe "inoculated" against its dangerous effects. WhenMephistopheles says that "Three in One and One in Three"is "illusion and not truth" he is of course mockingthe Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The belief that Godcan be simultaneously one and three persons is one of the mostcontroversial aspects of Christian belief, giving theologiansmuch exercise to explain this paradox in logical terms. Mephistophelesdelights in pointing out such sore spots in conventional religion.Besides making him thirty years younger, what other effect doesthe magic potion have on Faust?


A properly brought up young woman of thistime would never allow herself to be picked up on the street.She is correct in saying she is not a "lady" (a termreserved for the nobility at this time): she belongs to the lowermiddle class. She is, however, naive in thinking that she is not"fair" (beautiful); her difficult life has not exposedher to public admiration before and is genuinely unaware of herbeauty until she catches sight of herself bedecked in jewels later,in a mirror. What is Faust's reaction to her virtuous rejectionof him? Why does Mephistopheles say he cannot deliver her to himimmediately? What devilish reason does he give to justify thedelay?


How could Gretchen--the nicknamefor Margaret by which she is known in the play--recognizethat Faust belonged to the upper classes (besides the shape ofhis forehead)? Faust is so moved by Gretchen's obviousinnocence that he wants to abandon the planned seduction. Howdoes Mephistopheles shame him into proceeding with the seduction?Note how cleverly he provides a virtuous motive for doing evil.Gretchen is made both innocent and erotic at the same time asshe slowly removes her clothes while singing a romantic songabout the king of Thule (a mythical far-northern kingdom)? Theaudience becomes voyeurs while Gretchen remains an innocent younggirl getting ready for bed. What effect does putting on the jewelshave on Gretchen?


How does Mephistopheles satirize the Church at the beginning of this scene?

The Neighbor's House

How can you tell that Martha is not genuinelygrieving for her missing husband? Why is she so eager for newsof him? Mephistopheles' clever compliments echo Faust'saddresses to her earlier. Whereas she had then denied being eithera lady or beautiful, now she can deny only the former. Noticehow cleverly Mephistopheles works Martha up into a rage againsther missing husband by alternately telling her things that makeher eager to be reunited with him and others that make her furiouswith him. She is angry that he left behind a request to have threehundred masses sung for the repose of his soul because such masseswere very expensive. Supposedly he has spent all his wealth onanother woman and then tried to impose an enormous debt on hiswife." How does Gretchen respond to Mephistopheles'suggestion that she should get married? What is improper aboutthe manner of mourning suggested by Mephistopheles in lines 2990-2991?How do you think Mephistopheles' question on line 3006affects her? Does her answer reveal blissful innocence or a guiltyconscience? Watch for a speech by Gretchen later that impliesthe latter is the truth. Why is Martha so eager to meet the magistrateMephistopheles says he will bring to her?


Faust is eager to seduce Gretchen, whichwill ruin her; but he is reluctant to tell a lie. What argumentdoes Mephistopheles use to demonstrate that this is an absurddistinction? Again we see that he is cleverly maneuvering Faustinto doing something obviously evil and distasteful in order togain his ends. What argument does Faust use to maintain that hispromises of eternal love for Gretchen will not be a lie? Whatis the logical flaw in his argument? What attitude toward hissituation does Faust express in his last line in this scene, andis it justified?


How does Faust kissing Gretchen'shand remind her of her poverty? What does Martha seem to be aimingat in her conversation with Mephistopheles? Gretchen suffers froman acute case of low self-esteem. In what ways does this makeher more vulnerable to Faust's seduction? What hint isthere in Gretchen's long speech about her family that sheis not entirely pleased with her mother? Can you describe howthe relationship between them has developed between this passageand line 2163, when Faust and Gretchen reappear together as theystroll around the garden? The technique used here is not unlikea scene change in a film, where matters have progressed much fartherthan one would have expected in the brief moments they have beenout of earshot, but because we could not hear what they were saying,we are not bothered by this fact. What does Gretchen say her reactionwas when Faust first spoke to her? Against whom was her angerultimately directed? Why? Have you ever encountered this sortof emotional reaction in real life? Gretchen's sound moralinstincts make her shudder when Faust first clasps her hands.Watch for that reaction to return later in the play. Notice howFaust's inelegant but passionate "No, no end! Noend! seems to be less directed toward Gretchen than toward themocking voice of Mephistopheles within him pointing out that byswearing eternal life he is lying. Faust had insisted he wouldbe sincere, and now he is trying to whip himself up into a frenziedpassion that will make his declarations sincere; but Mephistopheles'intervention has prevented this self-delusion from working. Thevery next words (uttered by Martha) ominously foreshadow the very"end" which Faust is trying to deny.

A Garden Bower

Gretchen says "I love you;"but the closest Faust comes to saying it is during the daisy-petal-pluckingscene when he says "he loves you." What doesthis difference reveal about each of them? Gretchen is mystifiedas to what Faust sees in her. She is a classic victim of sexualaggression: too young and naive to realize that the erotic attractionsof her body more than compensate for her lack of sophistication.She is still so impressed by Faust's social superioritythat she cannot grasp that he is drawn to her for purely sexualreasons.

Wood and Cave

The "exalted spirit" to whomFaust is addressing his remarks is clearly not Mephistophelessince he alludes to the latter in ll. 3243-3245 as someone distinctlyseparate, so the spirit addressed has to be the Earth Spirit whichFaust conjured up earlier in the play. This may seem inconsistentsince we have no reason to think that Faust has maintained anyrelationship with this spirit, and in fact it is partly a remnantof a plan by Goethe to have the Earth Spirit play a much largerrole in the story than he finally did. However, we may also interpretthis as a typical piece of self-delusion on Faust's part:he declines to accept that Gretchen is a gift of the Devil andinstead tries to credit a less obviously evil source. What ishe trying to achieve out here in the wilderness? Why does he sayhe has not succeeded? In ll. 3282-3292 Faust's romanticclaims to be "communing with nature" are crudelydismissed by Mephistopheles as a form of masturbation, one ofmany instances of sexual frankness that would be avoided by writerslater in the nineteenth century. How does he tempt Faust to continuehis affair with Gretchen? What clues are there in their dialoguethat Faust has already made love with her repeatedly? In lines3334-3335 Faust blasphemously proclaims that he is jealous whenGretchen goes to Mass and consumes the wafer which Catholics believeis transformed into the body of Christ. Mephistopheles answershim with a clever erotic blasphemy of his own, based on Song ofSongs (known in some translations as "The Song of Solomon")7:3 in which breasts are compared to twin deer. Mephistophelesis saying that he is jealous of Faust when the latter enjoys Gretchenwith her blouse off. Readers who don't know their Biblethoroughly will miss this clear statement that Gretchen and Fausthave already been making love. In fact, she is almost certainlypregnant at this point, as we will discover later. Faust is reducedto spluttering protests by this sly remark, which Mephistophlesanswers with yet another sexually-toned blasphemy, arguing thatsince God made women to be the partners of men, he was the firstpimp. What evidence is there in Faust's last speech inthis scene that he knows perfectly well that he is destroyingGretchen? How does he rationalize completing her destruction?

Gretchen's Room

What feelings does Gretchen express inher spinning wheel song? This song has been set to music severaltimes, most famously by Franz Schubert, as "Gretchenam Spinnrad." Compare her feelings to what Mephistophelessaid she was feeling in the previous scene.

Martha's Garden

How does Faust respond to Gretchen'spointed questions about his religious beliefs? How does he manageto change this troublesome subject back to his love for her? Whatimportant error does Gretchen make in this debate which preventsher from understanding that Faust is evil? Why should the audiencebecome alarmed when Faust suggests using a sleeping potion todrug Gretchen's mother, based what we have seen earlierin the play? Why, although it is made clear a little later thatGretchen is no longer a virgin and is in fact probably pregnantat this point, does Goethe seem to evade that point by using ambiguouslanguage here which could be misread to mean that they have neverhad sex together when in fact it is only that they have neverslept in her bedroom all night before? How would you feel abouta real girl who was willing to give her mother a dangerous drugso that she could have sex with her lover in the same bedroom?What is there about the portrait of Gretchen that tends to makeus more forgiving of her than of her real-life equivalent? Whateffect does it have on our feelings about Gretchen that her mothernever appears on stage? What cynical reason does Mephistophelesoffer for Gretchen's curiosity about Faust's religiousbeliefs? Mephistopheles does not really take pleasure in sexualdesire for its own sake--only for the evil it may lead to. He anticipates inhis last line the disasters to come.

At the Well

What is your reaction to the characterof Lieschen? How does she cause us to side emotionally with Gretchen?What techniques does Goethe use in this scene and elsewhere toavoid presenting Gretchen as a wicked sinner? How does this sceneindirectly make us aware that Gretchen is pregnant?

City Wall

The Mater Dolorosa is the image of theVirgin Mary grieving for the sufferings of her son Jesus. Is Gretchen'sprayer to her a prayer of repentance? Explain.

Night. Street in Front of Gretchen's Door

What is ironic about the name of Gretchen'sbrother? What are his feelings about her? Does he really careabout her for her own sake? How many days away is Walpurgis Night(April 30)? What is the subject of Mephistopheles' serenade?Why does Mephistopheles insist on parrying Valentine'sthrusts while Faust thrusts at him? How does Valentine'sdying speech make us more sympathetic with Gretchen? Martha iscorrect in calling his self-righteous words blasphemous sincehe is presuming to be more judgmental than God, whereas it canbe argued that Jesus taught that humans should be more forgivingthan God, who is the only one who can send sinners to eternaldamnation without hope of forgiveness (see Matthew 18:22-35).


Gretchen is at the funeral of her mother,killed by the sleeping potion, and of Valentine, killed by Faust.She is crazed with guilt and terror for her role in this catastrophe.When the evil spirit which acts as her guilty conscience refersto a foreboding presence which frightens her ("underneathyour heart"), what is he talking about? The choir singsthe famous opening lines from the Dies Irae, the traditionalchant describing the Day of Judgment which is sung during themass for the dead. How are their words related to Gretchen? [Diesiræ, dies illa,/Solvet sæclum in favila; Day ofwrath, on that day when the world shall dissolve in ashes; Judexergo cum sedebit,/Quidquid latet adparebit,/Nil inultum remanebit;So when the judge takes his seat, whatever has been hidden willappear, nothing shall remain unpunished; Quid sum miser tuncdicturus?/Quem patronum rogaturus?/Cum vix justus sit securus;What shall I, a wretch, say? Who shall I ask to plead forme, when scarcely the righteous shall be safe?]

Walpurgis Night

The eve of May Day is here observed asa kind of Halloween, filled with Devil worship in the Harz mountains,where Goethe had spent a memorable night after hiking up the famoussite of this scene. Much of the opening is sung, and Goethe usesa variety of devices to create the illusion of climbing on a staticstage. What references to motion of various kinds can you findin this part of the scene? Note how even the trees are broughtto life. Will o' the wisps were spirits (actually phosphorescentswamp gas) that were believed to lead the unwary traveler deeperand deeper into the wilderness until he or she was lost and destroyed.Why is such a guide chosen to lead them up the mountain? How isthe theme of striving which pervades the play reflected in theHalf-Witch? What is Mephistopheles' reply to Goethe'shope that he will finally achieve the answers to many riddlesat the Walpurgis Night celebration? In traditional witchcraft,some ceremonies were performed nude. How does Goethe do a satiricalvariation on this theme? Why does Mephistopheles speak as if hewere losing his power in lines 4092-4094? Is he really commentingon the impending Last Judgment or on the decline of religion inthe age of Enlightenment? Keeping in mind the latter interpretation,notice how he ridicules the Huckster-Witch (a huckster is a sleazy,dishonest merchant). Lilith is rarely (and unclearly) alludedto in the Bible, but Jewish tradition makes her the first, rebelliouswife of Adam, and later a symbol for everything evil about women.The impudently erotic song Faust sings as he dances with the youngwitch is modelled on the Song of Songs 7:7-8, in which a woman'sbreasts are compared to fruit growing on a tree which man mayclimb up to gather. Note that Mephistopheles and the old witchuse much more obviously obscene metaphors in the following exchange.What effect does the enlightenment rationalism of the Proktophantasmisthave on the Walpurgis Night celebration? In mythology, Perseusrescued Andromeda by cutting off the head of Medusa, whose gazecould turn a person to stone. Goethe here blends that story witha traditional tale of a young woman who persisted in wearing avelvet band around her neck night and day. When her new husbandremoved it while she slept, her head fell off. She had earlierbeen executed, but kept alive by the witchcraft of the band. Onetheory has it that the story was inspired by the red thread whichwas tied around the necks of those intended for the guillotineduring the French Revolution, to make the place where the bladeshould fall. The American author Washington Irving retold a versionof this story in "The Adventure of the German Student"(1824). This blending of northern European and Greco-Roman mythologyis very typical of Goethe. This imagery also foreshadows the factthat Gretchen has been condemned to the executioner's ax.How in this scene does Faust make it unequivocally clear thathe had made love with Gretchen before this time?

Dismal Day

This is the only scene in the play whichGoethe left in the original prose. Perhaps he thought its depressingsubject was better suited to prose than poetry. Faust, feelingat last some qualms of conscience, has fled Gretchen again tocommune with nature in the countryside. Evidently quite a whilehas passed since Walpurgis Night, for Gretchen has despaired afterthe night in which her mother and brother both died, feeling thatshe is to blame. Abandoned, she has killed the infant fatheredby Faust by drowning it in a forest pool; but she has been caught,tried, and condemned to death. Infanticide by guilt-ridden youngmothers was quite common at this time, and is hardly unknown today,though it has always been strongly outlawed in Europe since theadvent of Christianity. Mephistophles has just informed Faustof all this as the scene begins, and we must infer what has happenedfrom his reaction and from what follows. Faust again tries toappeal to the Earth Spirit (addressing him as "infinitespirit") to try to undo his relationship to Mephistopheles.How does Mephistopheles answer his hysterical accusations andturn the blame back around onto Faust? Mephistopheles proposesto stand guard, but Faust must be the one to actually help herescape from prison, just as in the duel with her brother Mephistophelesparried while Faust was forced to strike. The decisions involvingmoral responsibility must be Faust's alone, despite hisconstant efforts to shift responsibility to Mephistopheles.


The character of Gretchen was inspiredin the first place by a real-life story Goethe had heard of ayoung woman who was seduced and abandoned, who killed her illegitimatechild, was condemned to death, and whose repentant lover joinedher in prison to share her fate. In what important way does thisscene differ from the original incident? Having been either directlyor indirectly responsible for the death of her mother, brother,and baby, Gretchen has gone insane with guilt. As she sings madlyin her prison cell, she blends the classical myth of Tereus andProcne (which involves cannibalism and rape) with a similar Germanictale in which the victim is turned into a bird. In whose voiceis she singing?

Who does she think is coming when she hearsFaust and Mephistopheles enter? How does she speak differentlythan she might have if her madness did not prevent her from recognizingFaust, and how does that create a powerful effect on him? Whathas she learned that she did not understand earlier that explainswhy he seduced her? European brides wear wreaths of flowers ontheir wedding day to symbolize their unbroken virginity, so thetorn wreath symbolizes her fall from virtue. Gretchen imaginesthat someone else has stolen and killed her baby, and complainsof the sensational street ballads that are being composed abouther crime. What evidence is there that Gretchen, though mad, hasrecovered much of her sensitivity to evil? In what way does line4490 say more than Gretchen intends? At what point does she seemto emerge from her madness into relative sanity? When she imaginesthat she can still see Valentine's blood on Faust'shand Goethe is of course alluding to the famous scene in whichShakespeare's Lady Macbeth, guiltily sleepwalking, imaginesthat Duncan's blood is still staining her hands (Macbeth,Act V, Scene 1, ll. 39-59). Why does she feel that she has tobe buried "a little aside" from her mother and brother?How are you affected by her mad vision of seeing her baby stillstruggling in the pond? Although Faust never proposed to her,he has obviously been dreaming of wedlock since she fantasizesthat the next day is to be her wedding day. The theme of the tragicyoung woman wed to death is a very old motif, going back at leastto the ancient Greeks, with Sophocles' Antigone being aclassic example. Where the translation says "My veil!"(line 4583), she actually says "My [bridal] wreath!"See the above explanation of bridal wreaths to understand whatshe means. As she imagines her own execution, she is finally saved--why?What is her final reaction toward Faust? What is the meaning ofher last cry as she ascends into Heaven? How many different interpretationscan you give it?

Charming Landscape

This scene's setting in the ElysianFields is similar to setting of the Prologue in Heaven, sinceboth are antiquated, unbelievable versions of heaven used fortheir symbolic rather than their religious value. This part ofthe play was written under the powerful influence of Goethe'sconversion to classicism at the very time when many romanticswere turning away from it. He divided Part II of Faustinto five acts like a classical drama (Part I had been modelledon Shakespeare's looser structure) and introduced intoit many figures from Greek and Roman antiquity. What does it meanthat both a Christian and a pagan heaven can exist in the sameplay? Accompanied by the mythical Aeolian harps of antiquity (carvedstones which produced music when the wind blew through them),Ariel--a spirit from Shakespeare's The Tempest--helpsto revive Faust after his traumatic experience of Part I. Sincehe has done nothing to deserve this, such as repenting his evildeeds, why do you suppose it happens? What does it tell us aboutGoethe's beliefs? His dramatic intentions? The river Lethein classical mythology was the boundary between life and Hades,the land of the dead. Here its function is quite different, influencedby Dante Alighieri's use of it in the opening of the Purgatorio,where saved souls wash away their sins in a sort of post-mortembaptism. The racketing sound of Phoebus Apollo's chariot,drawing the sun over the horizon, is as old-fashioned, creaky,and implausible as the cosmological opening of the Prologue inHeaven. Rather than repenting, what does Faust vow to do whenhe reawakens? Compare the passage on the rising sun in lines 4695-4714with the earlier passage on the setting sun in lines 1074-1099.What are the major differences? What are the similarities?

Open Country

Our translation now skips a vast portionof Part II. Be sure to read the "Synopsis of omitted portions"on pp. 32-44. Much of this part of the play wanders farafield from the central narrative of the old Faust legend; andalthough it was highly thought of by German romantic scholars,it has seldom caught the imaginations of other readers. Fausthas been given a seaside kingdom by the Emperor, which he hasenlarged by diking and draining the swampland--a commonpractice from the Middle Ages onward in Holland and southwesternGermany. The wanderer who appears in this scene is playing therole played by the gods in Ovid's Metamorphoses,when they test the hospitality of villagers by appearing in theguise of wandering beggars. Only an old couple named Baucis (thewoman) and Philemon (the man) are willing to open their housesand cupboards to them, and only they are preserved when the restof the village is drowned in a flood. Goethe expects his readersto know their Ovid well enough to recognize the names and makethe proper associations. The wanderer is amazed to find the formerseacoast where he was washed up years ago has become part of Faust'skingdom. How does Philemon's attitude toward this factdiffer from Baucis? What is Goethe implying about the relativemoral sensitivities of men and women?


How does Faust's reaction to theringing of Baucis and Philemon's chapel bell compare withhis reaction to the bells of Easter Morning in Part I? What doesthe difference tell us about the development of his character?Lynceus, the palace lookout (another classical figure), sees Faust'smerchant fleet returning? What evidence is there that he is usingillicit means to conduct this trade? In line 11188 Mephistophelesalludes ironically to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, discussedabove. Why is Faust's line "One would as soon nomore be just" ironic? As you would find it you followedup the reference to I Kings 21, King Ahab envied the vineyardof his subject Naboth. His wicked wife arranged for Naboth tobe killed so that Ahab could seize it. Thus Mephistopheles isclearly preparing us to expect the deaths of Baucis and Philemonas Faust plays the role of Ahab.

Deep Night

Faust rages at Mephistopheles for his killing of Baucis and Philemon; but whymight one see him as responsible for their deaths anyway?


As in a Medieval morality play like Everyman,allegorical figures enter who symbolize the approach of death.They also parallel the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: death,war, famine, and plague (see Revelations 6:1-8). In this context"Want" and "Need" mean "poverty."Why is Faust not threatened by them? What does it tell us thatGuilt cannot reach Faust? "Care" is used here inthe sense of "worries, troubles." Why is she theonly one of the sisters to reach Faust? Does Faust's wishto abandon witchcraft in lines 11404-11407 mark a changefrom his earlier attitudes? What philosophical conclusions doesFaust draw from his life experience in lines 11433-11452?In what ways are these different from his earlier attitudes? Inwhat ways the same? How does Care's next speech hint thatMephistopheles may not win his end of the bet with The Lord, thoughin line 11485 he says he will send Faust to Hell? Since it ispitch black and Faust can see nothing anyway (he never realizeshe's been blinded), and since the effect cannot possiblybe shown in the play, what is the point of having Faust be blindedat the end of this scene?

Large Outer Court of the Palace

As Mephistopheles has the Lemures (zombiespatched together out of dead body parts) dig Faust's grave,the former meditates on the absurdity of death, which is a frequenttheme in his speeches. What does Faust think the digging outsideis accomplishing? How does Mephistopheles sarcastically prophesythat all his hopes are in vain, and how does this comment connectwith the Baucis and Philemon story in Ovid? Many readers havefelt that Faust's final speeches are meant to show a benignattitude that justifies his salvation; but has he actually changed?He does say, "Abide, you are so fair," so why aren'tthe terms of the contract fulfilled? What in Mephistopheles'speech following his death hints that he realizes this fact?


As Kaufmann points out in the introduction,this was the last scene Goethe wrote, a wildly comic, blasphemousaccount of how Faust is saved, as if he wanted to underline thatthe final scene must not be taken seriously as a scene of orthodoxredemption. It has utterly failed to achieve that goal with mostscholarly readers, partly because they are too embarrassed byits obscenities even to discuss it. The Hell's Mouth, likethe heavens depicted earlier, is an obsolete bit of stage apparatus.During the Middle Ages and Renaissance such a prop was often usedin religious dramas depicting Christ delivering the holy patriarchsfrom Limbo after his Crucifixion (there was such a prop listedin the inventory of Shakespeare's theater). What in Mephistopheles'speech indicates that it is not to be taken seriously? Psycheis the Greek mythological name for the human soul. How is theeffort to capture the soul made grossly physical in this scene?Why does Mephistopheles call the angels "devils in disguise?"How is the Devil traditionally related to angels? What sight ultimatelydistracts Mephistopheles so that the angels are able to make offwith the soul? Is he attracted by their virtue?

Mountain Gorges; Forest, Rock, and Desert

An "anchorite" is a religioushermit, usually living in the wilderness. They are given Latinnames: Pater Ecstaticus, The Ecstatic Father; PaterProfundus, The Father of the Deeps; and Pater Seraphicus,The Seraphic (angelic) Father. How does Faust's salvationin this Neoplatonic Heaven differ from that preached by conventionalChristianity? In what ways is it similar to his rebirth at theopening of Part I? How does his journey through the levels ofHeaven relate to the main themes of the play? According to thebeliefs of Faust's time, the souls of unbaptized infantswent to Limbo in Hell. Here they are given the more Romantic roleof guiding the soul to Heaven. Since The Lord said at the beginningof the play that "Man errs as long as he will strive"why do the angels here seem to quote him as stating that "Whoever strives with all his power,/We are allowed to save"?A "chrysalis" is the cocoon out of which a butterflyhatches. What seems to be the ultimate power that draws Faustinto Heaven? The Doctor Marianus is a theologian (not amedical doctor) specializing in the veneration of the Virgin Mary,"heaven's queen." Why is he presented as beingin the "highest, cleanest cell?" What is the significanceof the Magna Peccatrix (woman who has sinned greatly)?See Luke 7: 36-50. She has been traditionally confusedwith Mary Magdalene, who is discussed elsewhere; and Goethe probablymeant her to be identified as such; but which of her characteristicsis particularly relevant here? What is relevant in the story ofthe Mulier Samaritana (Samaritan woman) in John 4:1-30?Maria Aegyptica, whose story of sin and repentance istold in the Medieval Acts of the Saints, is the third ofthese women. How does Gretchen (Una Poenitentium, A Penitent)fit in with them? Her role her is clearly modelled on that ofDante's Beatrice in The Divine Comedy, in whichthe poet's human beloved is transformed into an agent ofsalvation. In what way are the defeat Mephistopheles and the salvationof Faust caused by the same force? The final lines of the playare mistranslated. They actually say, "Eternal womanhooddraws us onward." Considering the themes of therest of the play, why is this a fitting ending? Since Goethe wasclearly not a Christian, why do you suppose he wrote this scenein Heaven? Since Faust never repented his sins and did no notablyvirtuous deeds and never expressed any religious faith, why doyou think he is saved?

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