Goethe's Faust

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Sculpture of Mephistopheles bewitching the students in the scene "Auerbachs Keller"' from Faust at the entrance of today's pub Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust is a tragic play in two parts: Faust. Der Tragödie erster Teil (translated as: Faust: The First Part of the Tragedy) and Faust. Der Tragödie zweiter Teil (Faust: The Second Part of the Tragedy). Although rarely staged in its entirety, it is the play with the largest audience numbers on German-language stages. Faust is Goethe's most famous work and considered by many to be one of the greatest works of German literature.[1]

Goethe completed a preliminary version of Part One in 1806. The 1808 publication was followed by the revised 1828–29 edition, which was the last to be edited by Goethe himself. Prior to these appeared a partial printing in 1790 of Faust, a Fragment.

The earliest forms of the work, known as the Urfaust, were developed between 1772 and 1775; however, the details of that development are no longer entirely clear[clarification needed]. Urfaust has twenty-two scenes, one in prose, two largely prose and the remaining 1,441 lines in rhymed verse. The manuscript is lost, but a copy was discovered in 1886.[2]

Goethe finished writing Faust Part Two in 1831. In contrast to Faust Part One, the focus here is no longer on the soul of Faust, which has been sold to the devil, but rather on social phenomena such as psychology, history and politics, in addition to mystical and philosophical topics. The second part formed the principal occupation of Goethe's last years. It appeared only posthumously in 1832.

The First Part of the Tragedy[edit]

Faust I, first edition, 1808

The principal characters of Faust Part One include:

  • Heinrich Faust, a scholar, sometimes said to be based on the real life of Johann Georg Faust, or on Jacob Bidermann's dramatized account of the Legend of the Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus
  • Mephistopheles, the devil
  • Gretchen, Faust's love (short for Margaret; Goethe uses both forms)
  • Marthe, Gretchen's neighbour
  • Valentin, Gretchen's brother
  • Wagner, Faust's famulus

Faust Part One takes place in multiple settings, the first of which is heaven. Mephistopheles makes a bet with God: he says that he can lure God's favourite human being (Faust), who is striving to learn everything that can be known, away from righteous pursuits. The next scene takes place in Faust's study where Faust, despairing at the vanity of scientific, humanitarian and religious learning, turns to magic for the showering of infinite knowledge. He suspects, however, that his attempts are failing. Frustrated, he ponders suicide, but rejects it as he hears the echo of nearby Easter celebrations begin. He goes for a walk with his assistant Wagner and is followed home by a stray poodle (the term then meant a medium-to-big-size dog, similar to a sheep dog).

In Faust's study, the poodle transforms into the devil (Mephistopheles). Faust makes an arrangement with the devil: the devil will do everything that Faust wants while he is here on Earth, and in exchange Faust will serve the devil in Hell. Faust's arrangement is that if he is pleased enough with anything the devil gives him that he wants to stay in that moment forever, then he will die in that moment.

When the devil tells Faust to sign the pact with blood, Faust complains that the devil does not trust Faust's word of honor. In the end, Mephistopheles wins the argument and Faust signs the contract with a drop of his own blood. Faust has a few excursions and then meets Margaret (also known as Gretchen). He is attracted to her and with jewellery and help from a neighbor, Martha, the devil draws Gretchen into Faust's arms. With influence from the devil, Faust seduces Gretchen. Gretchen's mother dies from a sleeping potion, administered by Gretchen to obtain privacy so that Faust could visit her. Gretchen discovers she is pregnant. Gretchen's brother condemns Faust, challenges him and falls dead at the hands of Faust and Mephistopheles. Gretchen drowns her illegitimate child and is convicted of the murder. Faust tries to save Gretchen from death by attempting to free her from prison. Finding that she refuses to escape, Faust and the devil flee the dungeon, while voices from Heaven announce that Gretchen shall be saved – "Sie ist gerettet" – this differs from the harsher ending of Urfaust – "Sie ist gerichtet!" – "she is condemned." It was reported that members of the first-night audience familiar with the original Urfaust version cheered on hearing the amendment.[citation needed]

The Second Part of the Tragedy[edit]

Faust II, first edition, 1832

Rich in classical allusion, in Part Two the romantic story of the first Faust is forgotten, and Faust wakes in a field of fairies to initiate a new cycle of adventures and purpose. The piece consists of five acts (relatively isolated episodes) each representing a different theme. Ultimately, Faust goes to heaven, for he loses only half of the bet. Angels, who arrive as messengers of divine mercy, declare at the end of Act V: "He who strives on and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still" (V, 11936–7).

Relationship between the parts[edit]

Throughout Part One, Faust remains unsatisfied; the ultimate conclusion of the tragedy and the outcome of the wagers are only revealed in Faust Part Two. The first part represents the "small world" and takes place in Faust's own local, temporal milieu. In contrast, Part Two takes place in the "wide world" or macrocosmos.

Basic themes[edit]

Faust does not seek power through knowledge, but access to transcendent knowledge denied to the rational mind. Here Goethe's mysticism asserts itself clearly.

Influence[edit]

Goethe's Faust has inspired a great deal of literature, music, and illustration.

Walter Kaufmann asserts that "Goethe created a character [i.e. Faust] who was accepted by his people as their ideal prototype."[3]

Although today many of the classical and Central European themes may be hard for the modern reader to grasp, the work remains a resonant parable on scientific learning and religion, passion and seduction, independence and love, as well as other subjects. In poetic terms, Goethe places science and power in the context of a morally interested metaphysics. Faust is a scientific empiricist who is forced to confront questions of good and evil, God and the devil, sexuality and mortality.

The German language has itself been influenced by Goethe's Faust, particularly by the first part. One example of this is the phrase "des Pudels Kern," which means the real nature or deeper meaning of something (that was not evident before). The literal translation of "des Pudels Kern" is "the core of the poodle," and it originates from Faust's exclamation upon seeing the poodle (which followed him home) turn into Mephistopheles. Another instance originates in the scene wherein Gretchen asks Faust if he is religious. In German, the word "Gretchenfrage" (literally "Gretchen question") refers to a question aiming at the core of the issue, often forcing the answering person to make a confession or a difficult decision.[4]

Translations[edit]

Emil Jannings as the Devil in F. W. Murnau's 1926 film Faust

In 1821, a partial English verse translation of Faust (Part One) was published anonymously by the London publisher Thomas Boosey and Sons, with illustrations by the German engraver Moritz Retzsch. This translation was attributed to the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Frederick Burwick[5] and James C. McKusick[6] in their 2007 Oxford University Press edition, Faustus: From the German of Goethe, Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.[7] In a letter dated 4 September 1820, Goethe wrote to his son August that Coleridge was translating Faust.[8] However, this attribution is controversial: Roger Paulin, William St. Clair, and Elinor Shaffer provide a lengthy rebuttal to Burwick and McKusick, offering evidence including Coleridge's repeated denials that he had ever translated Faustus and arguing that Goethe's letter to his son was based on misinformation from a third party [9] Coleridge's fellow Romantic Percy Shelley produced admired[10] fragments of a translation first publishing Part One Scene II in The Liberal magazine in 1822, with "Scene I" (in the original, the "Prologue in Heaven) being published in the first edition of his Posthumous Poems by Mary Shelley in 1824.[11]

In 1828, at the age of twenty, Gérard de Nerval published a French translation of J.W. von Goethe's Faust, which given his young age and the complexity of the text is regarded as a remarkable feat, all the more so considering the praise it received from the German author himself.

In 1870–71, Bayard Taylor published an English translation in the original metres.

In 1887 the Irish dramatist William Gorman Wills loosely adapted the first part of Faust for a production starring Henry Irving as Mephistopheles at the Lyceum Theatre, London.

Calvin Thomas published translations of Part 1 in 1892 and Part 2 in 1897.

Philosopher Walter Kaufmann was also known for an English translation of Faust, presenting Part One in its entirety, with selections from Part Two, and omitted scenes extensively summarized. Kaufmann's version preserves Goethe's metres and rhyme schemes, but objected to translating all of Part Two into English, believing that "To let Goethe speak English is one thing; to transpose into English his attempt to imitate Greek poetry in German is another."[10]

In August 1950, Boris Pasternak's Russian language translation of the first part led him to be attacked in the Soviet literary journal Novy Mir. The attack read in part,

... the translator clearly distorts Goethe's ideas... in order to defend the reactionary theory of 'pure art' ... he introduces an aesthetic and individualist flavor into the text... attributes a reactionary idea to Goethe... distorts the social and philosophical meaning...[12]

In response, Pasternak wrote to the exiled daughter of Marina Tsvetayeva,

There has been much concern over an article in Novy Mir denouncing my Faust on the grounds that the gods, angels, witches, spirits, the madness of poor Gretchen, and everything 'irrational' has been rendered much too well, while Goethe's 'progressive' ideas (what are they?) have been glossed over. But I have a contract to do the second part as well! I don't know how it will all end. Fortunately, it seems that the article won't have any practical effect.[12]

Historic productions[edit]

Part one[edit]

Part two[edit]

  • 2003 of Ingmar Thilo; with Antonios Safralis (Faust), Raphaela Zick (Mephisto), Ulrike Dostal (Helena), Max Friedmann (Lynceus), and others
  • 2005 Michael Thalheimer at Deutsches Theater, Berlin, with a.o. Ingo Hülsmann, Sven Lehmann, Nina Hoss and Inge Keller
  • 1990: fragments from 2nd part. Piccolo Teatro di Milano: Director Giorgio Strehler, scenographer Josef Svoboda

Entire piece[edit]

  • 1938: World premiere of both parts, unabridged, at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland
  • July 22–23, 2000: The Expo 2000 Hanover performance: Directed by Peter Stein; both parts in their complete version, with Bruno Ganz and Christian Nickel (the young and the old Faust), Johann Adam Oest (Mephistopheles), Dorothée Hartinger, Corinna Kirchhoff and Elke Petri. Complete playing length (with intervals): 21 hours

Later derivative works[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Portor, Laura Spencer (1917). The Greatest Books in the World: Interpretative Studies. Chautauqua, NY: Chautauqua Press. p. 82. 
  2. ^ Goethe's Plays, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated into English with Introductions by Charles E. Passage, Publisher Benn Limited 1980 ISBN 0510000878 / 9780510000875 / 0-510-00087-8
  3. ^ Kaufmann, Walter A., From Shakespeare To Existentialism: An Original Study, Princeton University Press (1980), at p. 56. Kaufmann states (same page) that such public acceptance of Faust 'was by no means [Goethe's] intention.'
  4. ^ See de.Wiktionary entry "Gretchenfrage" and Gretchenfrage on de.Wikipedia (German)
  5. ^ F Burwick, UCLA .
  6. ^ Faculty, UMT .
  7. ^ "Product", Catalogue, UK: OUP .
  8. ^ Grovier, Kelly (February 13, 2008). "Coleridge and Goethe together at last". The Times (London). 
  9. ^ Roger, et al., Paulin (2008), A Gentleman of Literary Eminence .
  10. ^ a b Kaufmann, Walter (1963). "Introduction". Goethe's Faust : part one and sections from part two (Anchor books ed. ed.). Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday. p. 47. ISBN 0-385-03114-9. 
  11. ^ Thomas Hutchinson, ed. (1970). Poetical works [of] Shelley (2nd ed.). London: Oxford University Press. pp. 748–762. ISBN 0-19-281069-3. 
  12. ^ a b Olga Ivinskaya, A Captive of Time: My Years with Pasternak, 1978. pp. 78-79.

References[edit]

Much of the content of this article is translated from the equivalent German-language Wikipedia article (retrieved November 6, 2005). The German articles Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gustaf Gründgens, and Knittelvers were also referred to. The following references are cited by the German-language Faust I:

  • Hans Arens (de): Kommentar zu Goethes Faust I. Heidelberg 1982, Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, ISBN 3-533-03184-5
  • A. Schöne Faust. Kommentare. Enthalten in: Goethe Faust. Frankfurt am Main 1994, Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, ISBN 3-618-60270-7
  • U. Gaier Faust-Dichtungen. Kommentar I. Enthalten in: Johann Wolfgang Goethe Faust-Dichtungen. Stuttgart 1999, Philipp Reclam jun. Verlag, ISBN 3-15-030019-3
  • Gero von Wilpert: Goethe encyclopedia, Stuttgart, Kroener 1998, ISBN 3-520-40701-9
  • Gerhard Kaiser, Ist der Mensch zu retten? Vision und Kritik der Moderne in Goethes Faust, Rombach Wissenschaft, ISBN 3-7930-9113-9 (German)
  • J.M. van der Laan, "Seeking Meaning for Goethe's Faust." Continuum, 2007, ISBN 0-8264-9304-1, ISBN 978-0826493040

External links[edit]