Faust by Goethe (1749 - 1832)

by Goethe (1749 - 1832)

Type of Work:

Allegorical poetic drama


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