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Faust Summary

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FAUST Parts I & II Summary

FAUST by Goethe is a play that is based on a tragic myth. It is about a scholar and magician named Faust, who strikes a deal with the devil (Mephistopheles), that he should experience everything on earth, the deepest despairs and the greatest joys, in exchange for his soul. Faust is so confident that nothing in the world can rid of his angst and suffering that he agreed to serving in hell for eternity if he was wrong.

Before this wager took place, a bet was made between the Lord and the Devil, that the latter would fail to tempt one of God’s servants, Dr. Faust, to sin.

Faust represents the rationalistic ideal, that meaning in life could be found through science and technology. He devotes his life to the pursuit of knowledge, but ultimately, this leads him to despair. He contemplated suicide, and nearly drank poison that he personally prepared. Mephistopheles takes Faust on a journey, where he tries to get Faust out of his nihilist, by getting him to experience love, and finally tragedy. Goethe’s point is that the antidote to a meaningless existence can be found, not in seeking more knowledge, or in placing too much faith in words, or even in God, since words cannot define everything, and God is defined differently by everyone, but by experiencing life emotionally, creatively, and spontaneously.

Below are my favorite parts.

Reason

MEPHISTOPHELES. Lord, since you’ve stopped by here again, liking to know How all of us are doing, for which we’re grateful,

And since you’ve never made me feel de trop, Well, here I am too with your other people. Excuse, I hope, my lack of eloquence,

Though this whole host, I’m sure, will think I’m stupid. Coming from me, high-sounding sentiments Would only make you laugh— that is, provided Laughing is a thing Your Worship still did About suns and worlds I don’t know beans, I only see How mortals find their lives pure misery. Earth’s little god’s shaped out of the same old clay, He’s the same queer fish he was on the first day. He’d be much better off, in my opinion, without The bit of heavenly light you dealt him out. He calls it Reason, and the use he puts it to? To act more beastly than beasts ever do.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (p. 12). Yale University Press.

Education

FAUST. I’ve studied, alas, philosophy, Law and medicine, recto and verso, And how I regret it, theology also, Oh God, how hard I’ve slaved away, With what result? Poor foolish old man, I’m no whit wiser than when I began! I’ve got a Master of Arts degree, On top of that a Ph.D., For ten long years, around and about, Upstairs, downstairs, in and out, I’ve led my students by the nose With what result? that nobody knows, Or ever shall know, the tiniest crumb!

Which is why I feel completely undone. Of course I’m cleverer than these stuffed shirts, These Doctors, M.A.s, scribes and priests, I’m not bothered by a doubt or a scruple, I’m not afraid of Hell or the Devil— But the consequence is, my mirth’s all gone; No longer can I fool myself I’m able to teach anyone How to be better, love true worth; I’ve got no money or property, Worldly honors or celebrity; A dog wouldn’t put up with this life! Which is why I’ve turned to magic, Seeking to know, by ways occult, 390 From ghostly mouths spells difficult,

So I no longer need to sweat Painfully explaining what I don’t know anything about; So I may penetrate the power That holds the universe together, Behold the source whence all proceeds And deal no more in words, words, words. O full moon, melancholy-bright, Friend I’ve watched for, many a night,

Till your quiet-shining circle Appeared above my book-heaped table, If only you might never again Look down from above on my pain, If only I might stray at will In your mild light, high on the hill, Haunt with spirits upland hollows, Fade with you in dim-lit meadows, And soul no longer gasping in The stink of learning’s midnight oil, 410 Bathe in your dews till well again!

Oh misery! Oh am I still Stuck here in this dismal prison? A musty goddamned hole in the wall Where even the golden light of heaven Can only weakly make its way through The painted panes of the gothic window; Where all about me shelves of books Rise up to the vault in stacks, Books gray with dust, worm-eaten, rotten, 420 With soot-stained paper for a curtain; Where instruments, retorts and glasses Are crammed in everywhere a space is; And squeezed in somehow with these things

My family’s ancient furnishings Make complete the sad confusion— Call this a world, this world you live in? Can you still wonder why your heart Should clench in your breast so anxiously? Why your every impulse is stopped short 430 By an inexplicable miserv? Instead of the living house of Nature God created man to dwell in, About you all is dust, mold, ordure, Bones of beasts and long dead men.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 16-17). Yale University Press.

Speak From the Heart

FAUST. Unless you really feel it, no, you cannot— Unless the words your lips declare are heartfelt And by their soul-born spontaneous power, Seize with delight the soul of your hearer. But no! Stick in your seats, you scholars! Paste bits and pieces together, cook up a beggar’s stew from others’ left overs Over a flame you’ve sweated to coax up From your own little heap of smoldering ashes, Filling with wonder all the jackasses, If that’s the kind of stuff your taste favors. But you’ll never get heart to cleave to heart Unless you speak from your own heart.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 21-22). Yale University Press.

Who Wants to Know the Real Truth?

FAUST. Advance yourself in an honest way, Don’t play the fool in cap and bells! Good sense, good understanding, they Are art enough, speak for themselves. When you have something serious to say, What need is there for hunting up Fancy words, high-sounding phrases? Your brilliant speeches, smartened up With bits and pieces collected out of a miscellany of commonplaces from all the languages spoken by all the races Are about as bracing as the foggy autumnal breeze Swaying the last leaves on the trees.

WAGNER. Dear God, but art is long, And our life— much shorter. Often in the middle of my labor My confidence and courage falter. How hard it is to master all the stuff For dealing with each and every source, And before you’ve traveled half the course, Poor devil, you have gone and left this life.

FAUST. Parchment, tell me— that’s the sacred fount You drink out of, to slake your eternal thirst? The only true refreshment that exists You get from where? Yourself— where all things start.

WAGNER. But sir, it’s such a pleasure, isn’t it, To enter into another age’s spirit, To see what the sages before us thought And measure how far since we’ve got.

FAUST. As far as to the stars, no doubt! Your history, why, it’s a joke; Bygone times are a seven-sealed book. What you call an age’s spirit, What is it? Nothing but your own poor spirit With the age reflected as you see it. And it’s pathetic, what’s to be seen in your mirror. One look and I head straight for the exit. A trash can, strewn attic, junk-filled cellar, At best a blood-and-thunder thriller Improved with the most high-minded sentiments Exactly suited for mouthing by marionettes.

WAGNER. But this great world, the human mind and heart, They are things all want to know about.

FAUST. Yes, know as the world knows knowing! Who wants to know the real truth, tell me? Those few with vision, feeling, understanding Who failed to stand guard, most unwisely, Over their tongues, speaking their minds and hearts For the mob to hear— you know what’s been their fate: They were crucified, burnt, torn to bits. But we must break off, friend, it’s getting late.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 22-23). Yale University Press

Creativity

FAUST. Me, the image of God, certain in my belief Soon, soon I’d behold the mirror of eternal truth, Whose near presence I felt, already savoring The celestial glory, stripped of my mortal clothing;

Me, higher placed than the angels, dreaming brashly With the strength I possess I could flow freely, Godlike creative, through Nature’s live body— Well, it had to be paid for: a single word Thundered out knocked me flat, all my vain conceit curbed. No, I can’t claim we are equals, presumptuously! Though I was strong enough to draw you down to me, Holding on to you was another matter entirely. In that exalted-humbling moment of pure delight I felt myself at once both small and great. And then you thrust me remorselessly back Into uncertainty, which is all of humanity’s fate. Who’ll tell me what to do? Not to do? Still seek out the spirits to learn what they know? Alas, what we do as much as what’s done to us, Obstructs the way stretching clearly before us. The noblest conceptions our minds ever attained Are violated more and more and profaned; When we’ve gained a bit of the good of this world for our prize,

Then the better’s dismissed as delusion and lies; Those radiant sentiments, once our breath of life, Grow dim and expire in the madding crowd’s strife. Time was that hope and brave imagination Boldly reached as far as to infinity, But now misfortune piling on misfortune, A little, confined space will satisfy. It’s then, heart deep, Care builds her nest, Dithering nervously, killing joy, ruining rest, Masking herself as this, as that concern For house and home, for wife and children, Fearing fire and flood, daggers and poison; You shrink back in terror from imagined blows

Oh no, I’m no god, only too well do I know it! A worm’s what I am, wriggling through the soot And finding its nourishment in it, Whom the passerby treads underfoot. These high walls, every shelf crammed, every niche, Dust is what shrinks them to a stifling cell, This moth-eaten world with its all kinds of trash, They are the reasons I feel shut up in jail. And here I’ll discover what it is that I lack? Devour thousands of books so as to learn, shall I, Mankind has always been stretched on the rack With now and then somebody, somewhere’s been happy.

You, empty skull there, smirking so, I know why— What does it tell me, if not that your brain, Whirling like mine, sought the bright sun of truth, Only to wander, night-bewildered, in vain. And all this apparatus, you mock me, you laugh With your every wheel, cylinder, cog and ratchet, I stood at the door, sure that you were the key, Yet for all the bit’s cunning design I couldn’t unlatch it. Mysterious even in broad daylight, Nature lets no one part her veil, And what she keeps hidden, out of sight, All your levers and wrenches can’t make her reveal. You, ancient stuff I’ve left lying about, You’re here, and why?— my father found you useful, And you, old scrolls, have gathered soot For as long as the lamp’s smoked on this table. Much better to have squandered the little I got Than find myself sweating under the lot. It’s from our fathers, what we inherit, To possess it really, we’ve got to earn it. What you don’t use is a dead weight, What’s worthwhile is what you spontaneously create.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 25-26). Yale University Press.

Temptations

Mephistopheles makes a bet with Faust that he can take him out of his subjective misery, but Faust is confident that these attempts are futile. He knows that he will never be able to escape his subjective misery.

MEPHISTO. In that case, an agreement’s easy. Come, dare it! Come, your signature! Oh, how my tricks will tickle your fancy! I’ll show you things no man has seen before.

FAUST. You poor devil, really, what have you got to offer? The mind of man in its sublime endeavor, Tell me, have you ever understood it? Oh yes indeed, you’ve bread, and when I eat it I’m hungry still; you’ve yellow gold— it’s flighty, Quicksilver-like it’s gone and my purse empty; Games of chance no man can win at, ever; Girls who wind me in their arms, their lover, While eyeing up a fresh one over my shoulder; There’s fame, last failing of a noble nature, It shoots across the sky a second, then it’s over. Oh yes, do show me fruit that rots as you try To pick it, trees whose leaves bud daily, daily die!

MEPHISTO. Marvels like that? For a devil, not so daunting, I’m good for whatever you have in mind. —But friend, the day comes when you find A share of your own in life’s good things, And peace and quiet, are what you’re wanting.

FAUST. If ever you see me loll at ease, Then it’s all yours, you can have it, my life! If ever you fool me with flatteries Into feeling satisfied with myself, Or tempt me with visions of luxuries, That’s it, the last day that I breathe this air, I’ll bet you!

MEPHISTO. Done! A bet!


Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 58-59). Yale University Press.

MEPHISTO. [Wearing Faust’s gown] Despise learning, heap contempt on reason, The human race’s best possession, Only let the lying spirit draw you Over into mumbo-jumbo, Make-believe and pure illusion—And then you’re mine for sure, I have you, No matter what we just agreed to. Fate’s given him a spirit knows no measure, On and on it strives, relentlessly, It soars away disdaining every pleasure, Yet I will drag him deep into debauchery Where all proves shallow, meaningless, I’ll have him writhing, ravening, berserk; Before his lips’ insatiable greediness I’ll dangle food and drink; he’ll shriek In vain for relief from his torturing dryness! And even if he weren’t the Devil’s already, He’d still be sure to perish miserably.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 64-65). Yale University Press.

Mephistopheles the Scholar

A student encounters Mephistopholes, and since the latter can take any shape he wants, he fools the student into thinking he’s a scholar. The student proceeds to ask him about his opinion on different scholarly pursuits. This was about theology .

STUDENT. I hate the stuff now more than ever! How lucky I am to have you for adviser. Perhaps I’ll take theology.

MEPHISTO. I shouldn’t want to lead you astray, But it’s a science, if you’ll allow me to say it, Where it’s easy to lose your way. There’s so much poison hidden in it It’s very nearly impossible To tell what’s toxic from what’s medicinal. Here again it’s safer to choose One single master and echo his words dutifully— As a general rule, put your trust in words, They’ll guide you safely past doubt and dubiety Into the Temple of Absolute Certainty.

STUDENT. But shouldn’t words convey ideas, a meaning?

MEPHISTO. Of course they should! But why overdo it? It’s exactly when ideas are wanting, Words come in so handy as a substitute. With words we argue pro and con, With words invent a whole system. Believe in words! Have faith in them! No jot or tittle shall pass from them.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 68-69). Yale University Press.

The Old Doctor

At this point, Faust has fallen for a girl (Gretchen), and in this exchange he is berated by Mephistopheles for his lifestyle and values.

FAUST. Why, that’s just perfect, isn’t it? He bores me stiff and wants praise for it.

MEPHISTO. You poor earthly creature, would You ever have managed at all without me? Whom do you have to thank for being cured Of your mad ideas, your feverish frenzy? If not for me you would have disappeared From off the face of earth already. A life, you call it, to be brooding Owl-like in caves or toad-like feeding On oozing moss and dripping stones? That’s a way to spend your time? The old Doctor still lives in your bones.

FAUST. Try to understand, my life’s renewed When I wander in communion with wild Nature; But even if you could I know you would Begrudge me, Devil that you are, my rapture.

MEPHISTO. Oh my! Your rapture— superterrestrial! Sprawled on a hillside in the nocturnal dewfall, Penetrating intuitively the bowels of the earth, All the six days of Creation unfolding inside yourself, In your arrogance enjoying I don’t know what satisfaction, Amorously immerging with the all in its perfection, Nary a trace left of the child born of this earth, And then as finis to your deep, deep insight— [Making a gesture] I forbid myself to say, it’s not polite.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 117-118). Yale University Press.

Jewels

Mephistopheles tells an emperor of buried treasures underground.

EMPEROR. Keep your mysteries, your gloom! Sneak thieves go undetected in the dark, At night all cats are gray, all cows are black. Below us pots of gold, you claim, lie hidden— All right, then plow them up, let’s see them!

MEPHISTO. Take pick and shovel and dig yourself, Work like a peasant, it’s good for the health, And golden calves, so many, a herd Starting out of the earth, are your reward. Immediately with what delight You’ll deck yourself and your mistress out. Jewels that sparkle with every color Lend beauty and majesty even more luster.

EMPEROR. Yes, yes! But quick! How long must we wait?

ASTROLOGER. [As above (prompted by Mephistopheles)]

Sire, I beg you, restrain your eagerness! First we must let the Carnival season pass. Nothing can be done to any purpose When all are pleasure-minded, unserious. Penance is called for, sobriety, composure; Our higher strivings license our lower. Who craves good things, first himself be good. Who craves delights, tame his unruly blood, Who wishes wine, patience till grapes ripen, Who hopes for miracles, his faith strengthen.

EMPEROR. Then let the time be passed in merriment, And when Ash Wednesday comes, more welcome it! Without delay we’ll celebrate meanwhile Even more joyously the riotous Carnival. Trumpets Exeunt.

MEPHISTO. Good fortune’s closely linked to merit, A thought that never enters foolish minds; The Philosopher’s Stone’s there in their hands? The Philosopher’s searching everywhere for it.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (pp. 185-186). Yale University Press.

Disenchanted

Baccalaureus is an irreverent youth, who has been disenchanted by the promise of education. He goes on a rant, then has a dialogue with Mephistopheles.

BACCALAUREUS. [Striding down the corridor] Every door’s wide open here, Letting in, thank God, some air Where all is dry rot, fustiness, Where life’s not life but a slow death. It gives a fellow hope he may Do more than breathe dust, waste away. The walls are swaying, they’re about To topple over and fall flat. If I’m not careful, promptly leave, I’ll find myself buried alive. I’m brave as any, even braver, But I stop here, I’ll go no farther. But what’s this I am looking at? I swear it is the very spot Where I arrived, so long ago, A naive freshman, keen to know All the old heads had to teach. How I drank in their gibberish! Out of old tomes bound in leather They taught the lies called by them learning— Learning they believed in? Never! So spent their lives and ours on nothing. Look! Inside the study someone’s sitting in the dark, half hidden. Coming closer, my eyes popping, I see it’s him in his old wrapping, His fur-lined robe, just as he wore it

The last time that I saw him in it. He seemed to me a fount of wisdom In those old days— I didn’t know him. But now I see right through the man! I’ll have myself a go at him. Unless, old Sir, you lack the strength to hold Your bent, bald head above the cloudy tide Of Lethe’s drowsy stream, in me behold Your former pupil, now outgrown the rod! You’re just as I remember you, exactly; Myself, however, you’ll find changed completely.

MEPHISTO. I’m glad it fetched you here, my bell. I held you then in some esteem; The grub and chrysalis foretell The brilliant butterfly to come. You took in your curls and lace collar A childish pleasure, I remember. You wore your hair long, I think, while Now it’s short in today’s style. You look so able, resolute, But one must not be absolute.

BACCALAUREUS. Old man, here all’s just as it was before, But times have changed, don’t you forget it, please, So spare me professorial ironies, We’re not the innocents that we once were. No wit was needed to mock guileless boys, But that’s all past, today no one would dare.

MEPHISTO. Tell the young the plain truth honestly, They close their ears, they have no wish to hear it. But when on their own hides as by and by They feel its sting and come at last to know it, They all think it is their brains found it out.

And their old master? What an idiot!

BACCALAUREUS. Or rather rogue! Is there anywhere A teacher who says how things truly are? They praise, they blame, as seems expedient, Beam brightly, frown— the poor trusting student!

MEPHISTO. To be sure, there’s first a time for learning, And now, I see, you’re ready to teach others. In all your months and years of living, looking, The rich experiences you must have gathered!

BACCALAUREUS. Experience! Why, it’s just dust and bones Compared with what the mind of man contains. Admit it: all your hard-won learning, knowledge, What is it? Just a lot of useless baggage.

MEPHISTO. [After a pause] Yes, I’ve suspected it. How stupid, How trivial my thinking’s been, how vapid.

BACCALAUREUS. Oh very good! Now you are talking sense— The first old-timer with intelligence.

MEPHISTO. I searched for golden treasure in the ground, Contemptible, base coal was what I found.

BACCALAUREUS. Confess it, your bald head is no more worth Than that old hollow skull upon the shelf.

MEPHISTO. [Cheerfully] How rude you are which you don’t realize.

BACCALAUREUS. To be polite, in German, means: tell lies!

MEPHISTO. [Who has been rolling his wheeled chair nearer and nearer to the foot of the stage, addressing the audience] I can hardly breathe or see up here. 6980 Is there any room for me down there?

BACCALAUREUS. What nerve, so as to hang on a while longer, To claim you matter still, when all is past and over. What’s life? It’s blood, and where, I’d like to know, Does blood, unless in youth, more freshly flow? In youth blood’s vigorous, it throbs and beats, From its own vital force new life creates,

It’s active, stirring, makes things move along, Rejects the weak, gives first place to the strong. While we’ve been conquering half the world, tell me, What have you done?— Dreamt your life away Nodding over this scheme, that scheme, and another. It’s a fact: old age is a cold fever, An ague, full of fussiness and worry, You’re good as dead when you are over thirty, That’s when you should all be put away. MEPHISTO. About all that the Devil has no comment.

BACCALAUREUS. No devil is, unless with my agreement.

MEPHISTO. [Aside] He’ll lay you by the heels, though, by and by.

BACCALAUREUS. Youth’s glorious calling, listen, do: what is it? There was no world until by me created. I led the beaming sun out of the sea, I launched the moon upon her changing course, The day appeared, all garlanded, for me, The earth grew green and lived in my embrace, Upon my sign, in that creating night, The stars, unveiled, shone gloriously bright. Who but me unloosed your captive minds From their confinement in philistine bonds? Free as the air, just as the spirit prompts me, I joy to follow where my soul’s light leads me, I speed along in sheerest self-delight, Brightness before and at my back the night. Exit.

MEPHISTO. Go thy ways, rare genius, in your glory! How chagrined you’d be to know There’s nothing wise and nothing silly Wasn’t thought of long ago. —But I don’t think he’ll do us any wrong,

In a few years he’ll sing another song. The juice may seethe and sputter in the vat, Time passes and good wine is the result. [To the younger section of the audience, who have refrained from applauding.] My words, I notice, leave you cold. Well, never mind, you’re all good children. Remember that the Devil’s old, When you’re old, too, you’ll understand him.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Greenberg, Martin; Wilson, W. Daniel. Faust (p. 242-247). Yale University Press.

Faust: A Tragedy, Parts One and Two, Fully RevisedFaust Summary 3

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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