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A: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe W: (1) 1773–1808; (2) 1800–31 Pf: (1) 1819, Berlin (private perf.); 1829, Braunschweig (public perf.); (2) 1854, Hamburg; (1 and 2) 1876, Weimar Pb: 1790 (as fragment); (1) 1808; (2) 1832 Tr: 1833 G: (1) Trag. in 25 scenes and 2 prologues; (2) Drama in 5 acts; German verse, mainly blank verse and ‘Knittelvers’ (doggerel of 3–4-stress rhymed lines) S: Heaven, Germany, and ancient Greece, 16th c. and mythical past C: (1) 18m, 4f, 4 choruses, many extras; (2) 55m, 25f, 12 choruses, many extrasPart 1. God is persuaded that, despite Faust's errant ways, Faust is worthy of salvation. So he strikes a bargain with Mephistopheles: if he can persuade Faust to abandon striving and seek rest, Mephistopheles may claim his soul. Faust is so weary of academic learning that he dabbles in magic. Rejected by the Earth-Spirit, he contemplates suicide but is called back to life by Easter bells. He takes a walk, during which he encounters a beautiful young virgin, Margarete (Gretchen), and then a black poodle, which he takes back to his study. The dog transforms into Mephistopheles, who signs a pact with Faust: if Faust should ever rest from striving, he will lose his soul. At first, Mephistopheles tries to delight Faust with japes and drunken gatherings. Faust's only desire, however, is to renew his acquaintance with the modest Gretchen. Mephistopheles organizes the rejuvenation of Faust and helps him seduce the young virgin. She becomes pregnant and disgraced, while Faust cavorts with witches at Walpurgis Night. Gretchen murders her child and is sentenced to death. Faust visits her in prison, but is dragged away by Mephistopheles. Part 2. Faust sleeps and awakes refreshed, his enthusiasm for life renewed. At the Emperor's court he solves the financial problems of the Empire by issuing paper money and then participates in a colourful court masque. Summoning Helen of Troy with some difficulty, he delights the men of the court, but she disappears when Faust tries to seize her. Mephistopheles returns to Faust's study and has a debate with a homunculus created by Faust's former pupil. Homunculus persuades Mephistopheles to take Faust to a classical Walpurgis Night. While Mephistopheles engages with classical monsters and Homunculus gains life through the four elements, Faust meets Helen again, seduces her, and they give birth to a beautiful son, Euphorion. Euphorion flies up so high that he falls dead at his parents' feet. Euphorion takes Helen with him back to the dead, leaving Faust alone with Mephistopheles. They help the ageing Emperor win a battle, and Faust is rewarded with a stretch of coastal land, which he plans to win from the sea. Though blinded by the allegorical figure of Care, Faust is so delighted by his new endeavour that he utters the fatal words that this moment should last for ever. He dies, and Mephistopheles is confident of having won his wager. However, female saints with Gretchen intervene to save him: ‘The Eternal-Womanly draws us upwards.’ Faust is taken up into heaven.


Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749—1832) German poet, dramatist, and scholar