Faust Reading Guide - ENG 109, Spring 2007
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German, 1749-1832)
(pronunciation: YOH-hahn VOHLF-gahng fon GAY-tuh)
Faust (1808; 1832) in Davis et al. pp. 551-651 (ll. 243-1850)
One of the "Representative Texts" featured in:
Davis, Paul, and others, eds. Western Literature in a World Context. Volume 2:
The Enlightenment through the Present.
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Unless otherwise indicated, in-text citations & page references are to this Eng 109 required textbook.
Required Background Reading (See also ENG 109 Course Plan):
introduction to Goethe & Faust, in Davis and others, pp. 547-551.

Paul Brians (Washington State Univ.) calls Faust a Romantic masterwork "par excellence…precisely because it explores a wide variety of polar opposites ["warring contraries," in Blake’s terms] without resolving them. Goethe has created a microcosm of life, trying to preserve its complexity, its tensions, and its dynamism. Appreciating the work's complexity and enjoying it should be your goal. One the most important tensions expressed in this work is between learning and experience. Faust himself rejects scholarship for life, but it would be a mistake to suppose that Goethe unequivocally endorses this view. Mephistopheles, who is usually both truthful and wise, warns [Faust] against this enthusiasm for raw experience…." "Goethe himself was a scholar and bureaucrat who greatly valued the learning of the past and aimed at joining the pantheon of classic writers. Faust is a part of Goethe, but so is Mephistopheles."
Getting Started: While I use "p." and "pp." below to refer to page numbers in our textbook, also note that Faust is a drama numbered by lines and I use the abbreviations "l." or "ll." to refer to line numbers of specific speeches in the play. Every 10th line is numbered in our text of Faust along the right side of the page. When annotating, you too should note line number(s), as well as page number(s). Part I is divided into scenes, which are given scene titles: for example, the first scene in Part I is called "Night" (pp. 554-564). For ease of reference in finding your way through the scenes, note that in the upper right-hand corner of our text, the running heads include Part & Scene Title (e.g., "Goethe / Faust, Part I, Night" on p. 555).

Prologue in Heaven (Davis et al. 551-554)

In this overture to his drama, Goethe creates an unconventional Heaven in which the stage is set for Part I’s wager between Mephistopheles and Faust. How does Mephistopheles’ relationship with the Lord compare to that of the other angels?  In what ways does Goethe's depiction of Heaven seem unorthodox?

Contrast Mephistopheles’ views of humankind and of Faust (pp. 552-553), to the Lord’s views of humankind and of Faust (pp. 553-554).

What is the wager between the Lord (AKA: God) and Mephistopheles (AKA: Satan, the Devil)? (pp. 553-554)

Describe Mephistopheles’ role in the Lord’s divine scheme & the relationship between the Lord and Mephistopheles (pp. 553-554)

The First Part of the Tragedy (Davis et al. 554-651)

Night (Davis et al. 554-564)

What subjects has Faust studied? Consider Faust’s attitude toward his acquired knowledge: Why does he feel it is inadequate? (pp. 554-555). After rejecting formal education, where is Faust looking for answers? (e.g. ll. 386, 398). What do images of dust and worms, imprisonment and escape convey about Faust’s mood?

How does the sign of the macrocosm affect Faust?--What does he want? (p. 556)? How does Faust react to the sign of the Earth Spirit? Faust imperiously conjures the Earth Spirit to appear before him: How does he react when the Earth Spirit actually appears and taunts him? (pp. 557-558)

Contrast Faust to his student Wagner (pp. 558-560). What are the main points on the two sides of their debate? Why is Faust so irritated with Wagner?

Left alone in his study, what warring contraries rage within Faust? (pp. 560-561). "[I]mage of the godhead" (l. 614) or "more like the worm" (l. 651)--Why does Faust feel "so small and yet so great"? (l. 627). At one point on his emotional roller coaster ride, Faust cries out: "Who will instruct me? What must I not do?/Should I give every impulse play?" (ll. 630-631)—Consider what have we learned in the Prologue.

What so frustrates Faust about his "uncertain human fate" (l. 629) and the imperfect human condition (pp. 560-561)? The skull he sees on his shelf (l. 664) acts as a traditional memento mori: a reminder of death which some devout monks kept by their beside in the Middle Ages to remind them that they were mortal. What is Faust’s mood when his eye is drawn to the "small bottle"? (l. 687).

Why does Faust contemplate suicide and nearly drink the poison? (pp. 560-562) What prevents Faust from committing suicide as Easter morn dawns? (pp. 563-564) The song of the angels affects Faust, but he declares he "lack[s] for faith" (l. 765). What then has summoned him "back to life once more" (l. 770) and kept him "from this final step of all" (l. 782)?

Outside the City Gate (Davis et al. 564-573)

In this scene, Goethe presents a view of common life going about its business on Easter Day outside Faust’s isolated study (pp. 564-567). People are going about their normal human lives from which Faust feels his years of study and quest for knowledge has alienated him. Contrast Faust’s and Wagner’s attitudes toward common folk and toward Nature/nature expressed in this scene (pp. 567-571).

Faust is tormented by warring contraries within him: "Two souls abide, alas, within my breast" (l. 1112). What does he mean? (pp. 570-571)

What is Faust’s reaction to the black dog that appears? What does Wagner see? Why does Faust alone intuit that the dog may be more than it appears to be? (pp. 572-573): (Note: Mephistopheles is a shape changer and can appear in many forms.)

Study Room (Davis et al. 573-581)

Re-entering his study with the black poodle, Faust experiences mixed feelings: what are they? (pp. 573-574). He considers a passage from the Bible (John 1:1), then amends Word, to Mind, then to Power, and finally writes "confidently": "In the beginning was the Deed!" (l. 1238) What does this final revision suggest about the path that Faust’s quest will take?
*Consider critic Stuart Atkins’ view that the main action of Faust "is the thematic illustration of the rightness of the premise of its ‘Prologue in Heaven,’ that anyone truly human intuitively knows what course of conduct is properly to be followed": do you agree?

Faust casts a spell that catches the dog and forces it to reveals it true identity (pp. 574-576) How does Mephistopheles answer Faust’s question: "…who are you then?" (l. 1335). How does Mephistopheles identify himself? What are his goals on Earth and why can’t he realize them? What are his limitations? What is his current "bold" plan? (pp. 576-579)

Mephistopheles must use his spirit assistants to lull Faust to sleep so Mephistopheles can escape the holding spell (pp. 579-580).

Study Room II (Davis et al. 581-593)

Mephistopheles knocks, insists Faust call him three times, and then enters Faust’s study again, this time in the guise of an urbane squire "come here to dispel/Your moods" (ll. 1534-1535). How does Faust summarize his condition (pp. 581-582).

The wager between Faust and Mephistopheles is struck in this scene. What does Mephistopheles promise to do for Faust? (pp. 583-584). What is Faust’s initial response?—note that Faust does not sell his soul to the Devil outright for the usual terms of wealth and power. What are Faust’s terms—the "bet" he offers the Devil? (pp. 583-584)

Faust also rejects "Knowledge" & "All treasures of the human mind (pp. 586, 587). What does Faust want now? Where now will Faust seek satisfaction, with Mephistopheles as his servant and slave? (pp. 585-587)

Consider Paul Brians' assessment: Faust "will go on to reject with scorn the magical pleasures and powers soon proffered him by Mephistopheles, authorized by the Prologue's Lord to test [Faust’s] intrinsic worth." Instead, Faust challenges Mephistopheles, the "`Spirit of Negation,' ever to provide him, in exchange for his life, any moment of lasting satisfaction." But Goethe transforms the traditional scenario of man exchanging his immortal soul for wealth and power in a pact with the Devil. Instead we are given Faust, a man of unlimited Romanticist aspiration and Promethean discontent, who defies Mephistopheles to ever see him permanently satisfied with any pleasure or achievement."

Witch's Kitchen (Davis et al. 593-601)
After Faust resists the temptations of cheap debauchery, but in the Witch's Kitchen, Faust will drink a magic dram that restores his youth and makes him vulnerable to Mephistopheles' next test: love for a woman (pp. 600-601, ll. 2580-2604). 

A Street & etc.  (Davis et al. 601-618)

A pure young maiden, Gretchen (AKA: Margaret), is presented to Faust, and Faust is overcome with desire for her:  "You must get me that girl, you hear?" he says to Mephistopheles (p. 601, l. 2619).

Faust has second thoughts about seducing Margaret/Gretchen when he sees her in her own innocent home (p. 604, ll. 2717-2728).  But Mephistopheles initiates a successful plot to woo the girl with caskets of jewels that she thinks come from Faust.  Mephistopheles induces the neighbor Martha to aid in the seduction (p. 612, ll. 3025).  Even as he protests that his burning love for Gretchen is a deep and true feeling, Faust goes along with Mephistopheles' cynical plan (p. 613, ll. 3050-3072), and ultimately Margaret/Gretchen gives herself to Faust (see scenes "A Garden" & "A Summer House," pp. 613-618).

Forest and Cavern (Davis et al. 618-622)
After he has seduced Margaret/Gretchen, Faust castigates himself for his weakness and imperfection (pp. 618-619, ll. 3217-3250).  Faust is racked with guilt and anguish for ruining Gretchen and destroying her peace (pp. 621-622):  "Let her fate crash in ruins over me, / Together let us come to grief" (ll. 3364-3365).

Gretchen's Room (Davis et al. 622-623)
Meanwhile, in "Gretchen's Room," Gretchen/Margaret bemoans her fate:  "My peace is gone," she laments repeatedly (p. 622).

Martha's Garden (Davis et al. 623-626)
When Gretchen next sees Henry Faust in "Martha's Garden," she charges Faust for lacking faith in God, charges him with having "no Christianity," and declares that she abhors his companion [Mephistopheles] (pp. 623-625)  In response, Faust declares his faith in unnameable "Feeling [which] is everything" (l. 3456), and praises Margaret as an "intuitive angel" for hating Mephistopheles (l. 3494).  But for all Faust's fine protestations, he induces Margaret to drug her mother (p. 625) so that he may come to her again, but the sleeping draught turns out to be deadly to Margaret's mother.

At the Well (Davis et al. 626-628)
Gretchen/Margaret's shame is foreshadowed when she learns the fate of another young woman, Barbie, who has been seduced and becomes pregnant.

Zwinger (Davis et al. 628)
Gretchen takes flowers to the statue of Mater dolorosa (see note 24, p. 628), in "Zwinger," and prays for "Help! Rescue me from shame and death!" (l. 3615). 

Night (Davis et al. 629-633)
"Gretchen's brother [Valentine] convinced her that her act was a shameful one in the eyes of society" (Magill, "Faust" 308).  Valentine attacks his sister's seducer, and Faust, aided by Mephistopheles, kills Valentine (Davis et al. 630-633).

Cathedral (Davis et al. 633-634)
Gretchen seeks refuge at a church service, but an Evil Spirit follows and goads her, charging Gretchen with guilt for her mother's death and her illicit pregnancy (ll. 3786-3790, p. 633). Gretchen at last feels the full burden of her sin and falls into a faint (p. 634).

Walpurgis Night (Davis et al. 634-644)
Mephistopheles tries to tempt Faust by showing him more scenes of debauchery in "Walpurgis Night," but Faust’s spirit is elevated by the thought of Gretchen and he is able to overcome the evil influence of the devil. Mephistopheles had hoped that Faust would desire the moment of his fulfillment of love to endure. However, Faust's questing spirit cannot be satisfied even by enduring human love.

Gloomy Day (Davis et al. 644-645)
Seeing Gretchen's fate in a vision, Faust feels his responsibility for her state of misery, is racked with guilt and demands that Mephistopheles take him to her. 

Night , Open Country (Davis et al. 645)
Faust and Mephistopheles rush on black horses to Gretchen.

Dungeon (Davis et al. 645-651)
In the last scene ("Dungeon," pp. 646-651) of Part I, Gretchen/Margaret is imprisoned, condemned to death for murdering her illegitimate child, half mad in an anguish of guilt and repentance, when Faust visits her in the dungeon intending to save her. Faust offers her an escape from her fate, through the agency of his "servant," Mephistopheles. Her anguish torments Faust: "If you are human, feel my misery" (l. 4425), Margaret cries as she throws herself at Faust’s feet. Faust is devastated: his lust for experience has resulted in this terrible calamity. The full weight of his responsibility for her downfall forces itself upon Faust—his egoistic, restless Romanticist quest for raw experience has exacted a terrible human price. Feeling fully the depths of guilt and loss, Faust wishes he had never been born. But Gretchen/Margaret refuses to let her lover and his demonic companion save her from to the death to which she has been condemned.  And, in refusing to be rescued by Faust and Mephistopheles, Margaret/Gretchen reaffirms the moral authority of her faith, and is liberated by her acceptance of guilt and responsibility. Even as Mephistopheles judges her "condemned," "A Voice [from above]" affirms that she "Is saved!" (l. 4611).   Faust leaves the tragic scene at Mephistopheles’ urging, but Faust has truly begun to change. Gretchen/Margaret is an important agent of Faust’s development in this quest-drama.

Part II: Plot Summary & Faust Commentary
Source [MLA-Style Works Cited entry]:
Magill, Frank N., ed.
"Faust." Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.  307-310.

Part II Plot Summary (Magill, "Faust" 308-309):

"Mephistopheles brought Faust to the emperor, who asked Faust to show him the most beautiful male and female who had ever existed—Paris, and Helen of Troy. Faust produced the images of these mythological characters, and at the sight of Helen, his desire to possess her was so strong that he fainted, and Mephistopheles brought him back in a swoon to his own laboratory. Mephistopheles is unable to comprehend Faust’s desire for the ideal beauty which Helen represented.

"With the help of Wagner, Mephistopheles created a formless spirit of learning, Homunculus, who could see what was going on in Faust’s mind. Homunculus, Mephistopheles, and Faust went to Greece, where Mephistopheles borrowed from the fantastic images of classical mythology one of their grotesque forms. With Mephistopheles’ intervention, a living Helen was brought to Faust. It seemed now, with the attainment of this supreme joy of beauty in Helen, that Faust would cry for such a moment to linger forever, but he soon realized that the enjoyment of transitory beauty was no more enduring that his other experiences.

"With a new knowledge of himself, Faust returned to his native land. Achievement was now his goal, as he reaffirmed his earlier pledge that his power should be used to produce something useful to man [and woman?]. The mystical and magical powers which Faust had once held were banished so that he could stand before nature alone. He obtained a large strip of swamp land and restored it to productivity.

"Many years passed. Now old and blind, Faust realized he had created a vast territory of land occupied by people who would always be active in making something useful for themselves. Having participated in this achievement, Faust beheld himself as a man standing among free and active people as one of them. At the moment when he realized what he had created, he cried out for this moment, so fair to him, to linger on. Faust had emerged from a self-centered egoist into a man who saw his actions as part of a creative society.

"He realized that life could be worth living, but in that moment of perception he lost his wager to Mephistopheles. The devil now claimed Faust’s soul, but in reality he too had lost the wager. The Almighty was right. Although Faust had made mistakes in his life, he had always remained aware of goodness and truth.

"Seeing his own defeat, Mephistopheles attempted to prevent the ascension of Faust’s soul to God. Angels appeared to help Faust, however, and he was carried to a place in Heaven where all was active creation—exactly the kind of afterlife that Faust would have chosen."

Faust Commentary:

"A seminal work of the Romantic Movement, Faust dissects the philosophical problem of human damnation brought about by the desire for knowledge and personal happiness. A basically good man and a man of genius, Faust sells his soul to the Devil in a contract stipulating that only when he finds an experience so great that he wishes it to endure forever can the Devil take his soul. He finally reaches his goal, but the experience is one in which he helps his fellow man. Thus Mephistopheles loses despite his efforts" (Magill, "Faust" 307).

[Magill offers this critical evaluation of the wager:]
"[T]he Prologue in Heaven and the pact with Mephistopheles . . . are crucial to the philosophical aspect of the work. Mephistopheles is no longer the absolute opponent of God, but is included in the divine framework: he is a necessary force in creation, a gadfly. The Faust action now becomes a wager between God and Mephistopheles, which God necessarily must win. Thus the old blood contract between Faust and Mephistopheles must make Faust deny his very nature by giving up his quest for ever higher satisfactions, by giving him a moment of absolute fulfillment. Damnation, for Goethe, is the cessation of man’s striving toward the absolute, and this striving is good, no matter what mistakes man makes in his limited understanding. This is made clear in the Prologue: God recognizes that man will err as long as he strives, but He states that only by seeking after the absolute, however confusedly, can man fulfill his nature. Mephistopheles sees only the confusion, the futility of the results, and the coarseness of man’s life. He is blind to the visionary, poetic quality of Faust, the quality that animates his quest. This relationship established in part I will continue until the end of the play. In each episode Faust begins with an idealistic vision of what he seeks, but he never attains it. Seen externally, Mephistopheles is always right—it is only internally that Faust’s quest has meaning" (Magill, "Faust" 309).

[More of Magill’s critical commentary:]
"The final sections of Faust were composed between 1825-1831. In them, Faust’s appearances at court and the final scenes of Faust’s redemption return to the framework established in the Prologue. Faust’s last days are still unsatisfied and his quest is as violent as ever—his merchant ships turn to piracy and a gentle old couple are killed to make room for his palace. But his final vision is that of all humanity, striving onward to turn chaos into order, seeking a dimly imagined goal which is represented in the final scene by an endless stairway. Here, on the path toward the Divine, Faust is to continue to strive, and his live is redeemed by divine love, represented by Gretchen, who in spite of her crimes is also here, a penitent, praying for Faust. On earth all is transitory and insufficient. Only from the point of view of the Divine does all the confused striving attain meaning—meaning which was, in fact, implicit in the stanzas of the three archangels sung at the opening of the work, 12,000 lines earlier" (Magill, "Faust" 310).

Works Cited

Agatucci, Cora, ed.  "Faust Reading Guide."  Handout, English 109, Central Oregon Community
         College, Spring 2007.

Brians, Paul.  "Study Guide for Goethe's Faust."  Humanities 303: Reason Romanticism & Revolution
        Course Materials. 2000. Dept. of English, Washington State University, Pullman.  6 April 2004
        <http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/faust.html>.

Davis, Paul, et al., eds.  Western Literature in a World Context. Vol. 2: The Enlightenment through
         the Present. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.  

Magill, Frank N., ed. "Faust." Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.  307-310.

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