Essays On Faust


Goethe’s Faust presents us with  a competent world view.  It is a work reaching toword the new age.  It presents man in  the guise of faust as a social animal whose actions have deeper ramifications on those around him.  It is what one might call a rippling effect. Faust’s actions are the catalyst that lead to the downfall of his fellow characters, Gretchen, Valenitne, and Gretchens mother.  “Goethe’s view of evil as a force extending beyond the individual to the whole of society”[1] is of paramount impotance when considering the alternatinve interpretations of the Weimar and Deiter Dorn Productiuons of Goethe’s Faust.  But far from bring a fable with a moral, it is a tale of dubious moral character.  Due to its ambiguity, the ambiguity with which Faust deals with his actions, and the supernatural influence of mephistopheles, can the actions of Faust be judged as clearly immoral?  If Goethe has presented Faust as a pawn in a greater game, surely as in Helenic fashion, the mortal soul is never in jeopardy.  The deal struck with Mephisto cannot be lost..  Only if Faust behaves without humanity will his soul be lost.   Thus the human condition as presentesd in the world of  Goethe’s Faust is amoral.


What lies at the heart of Goethe’s Faust is an ambiguity.  The dual nature of the pact Faust makes with Mephistopheles in Fausts study and the bet which is made between the Lord and Mephistopheles in the prologue in Heaven.  Goethe’s Faust raises constant questions concerning good and evil, causality and predetermination.  Goethe’s Faust is concerned with the “fundamental religious and and philosophical problems which have ever fascinated and tormented mankind, problems such as, the relationship between man and and the powers of good and evil; mans revolt against human limitations; the thirst for knowledge beyond mere information; the puzzeling disparity between the sublimity and misery of human life.”[2] With all of these great attributes Goethe’s Faust emerges as a great German Literary acomplishment which due to its inherent ambiguity has been adopted by every major German social and political movement.  Goethe is a Geman literary hero: “he has no aims   less large than the conquest of universal nature, of universal truth, to be his portion: a man not to be bribed, nor decieved, nor overawed; of a stoical self command and self denial, and having one test for all men – What can you teach me?”[3]


In a German context the Faust tale, and especially Gothe’s Faust, is too great to be left alone and becomes automatically hijacked and adapted to suit the true history which is written by none other than the victorious.  The comparison of the Wiemar Faust part one and the Dieter Dorn production clearly reveals the gaping chasam of possible interpretation.  Goethe’s Faust is taken under the umbrella of western capitalism and eastern socialism and the result is two radically different plays which use the same text.  The Weimar production presents Faust as social hero and the Dieter Dorn production presents Faust as a social reprobate.  How is this possible?  I will attempt to reach the source of this ambiguity which allows such radical interpretation by concentrating my reading on the pact made between the Lord and Mephisto and the Pact made between Faust and Mephistopheles.


“Otar Dishonora furnished the first unequivical Soviet defense of Faust’s ruthlessness by establishing him as a hero of social progress whose tragic fate it was to have been born into a world unprepared for the realisation of his dreams.” [4] This interpretation also seems compatible with the Weimar production which presents Faust as the soft spoken, nieve erudite who appears blissfully unaware of the tragedy of which he is a part, and as the prologue in heaven reveals the whole meaning of life is to be involved in the process of the tragedy.  According to Allen Cottrell, “Faust’s  career, as the prologue makes clear, was to resolve the question  whether the mystery  of being may be regarded as meaningful  within the context of human exprience.”[5]  But is this possible in the Weimar concept of the Faust universe,  where Faust himself appears unaware of the meaning of experience?  And if Faust is to be saved regardless of his actions is there any meaning to be derived from the mystery of being in the context of human experience?  Perhaps then man is not such an entegral part of the Earthspirit.


Faust must drink the withces potion and embrace the offerings of Mephistopheles, because of the nature of the bets made with mephisto.  ” There are two bets with mephisto: the Lords  who stakes Faust’s salvation on the ceaselessness of his striving and Faust’s, who offers his life if he should ever affirm any aspect of human existence.”[6]  As a result “Faust may attain salvation because Mephisto lost his bet with the Lord but he must also die, because he lost his bet with Mephisto,”[7]or did he lose his bet with Mephisto when he died, as he would have if he refuses to engage in any activityoffered by Mephisto?


The Weimar production presents the world of Faust as one of cosmic harmony and social harmony.   Mephisto sits at the Lords side slightly below him which indicates a hierarchical structure which is uncharictaristic perhaps of the socialist, pantheon approach to cosmic order.   The main element of contradiction in this respect is in the set design. The use of a tower, which could represent the aspirations of man toward a higher plain, but also suggests a hierarchical structure, it is clear though that there is a certain harmony in  the relationship between Mephistopheles and the Lord.  The streets of  the Weimar Faust are full of healthy singing comely maidens and virile young men.  Even the soldiers which are present in the scene at the city gates are removed to give a sense of social harmony.  Faust is the hero of this harmonious world where good and evil are all part of the greater simbiotic cosmic order.


The Dieter Dorn production on the other hand produces Mephistopheles with overwhelming theatrics. Mephistopheles breaches into heaven through the floor of the stage, ripping up the floor boads, spouting venemous red light into the serene blue of Heaven.  From the outset of the Dieter Dorn production the world of Faust is seen to be one of cosmic and social chaos.  It is a world where the people at the city gate treat Faust wihout an ounce of courtesy; they even transform directly into the witches who turn Faust away from his piety and into a creature of the foulest magnitude.  The forces of good and evil battle over the soul of Faust as he contemplates suicide.   Where as in the Weimar production there is no evidence of the physical presence of any force involved in the saving of Faust but Faust himself.  Faust emerges as the hero of his own tragedy.  In the Weimar production Faust is hero because he participates unaware in the will of the greater cosmic order and in the Dieter dorn Faust is hero because he participates aware of his position in the greater cosmic chaos.


In the western German interpretation Faust does not require guilt nor does he require remorse for a self realisation, because he is already saved  due to the pact made between the Lord and Mephistopheles.


When one looks at the relationship between Faust and Mephisto in the two productions the harmony of the Weimar production and the chaos of the Dieter Dorn production can be seen as two clearly distinct interpretations regarding the nature of the world of Faust.  In the Weimar production Faust appears not to learn the true nature of cosmic order simply because the body language between Mephisto and Faust goes un…


The Ambiguity presented by the pact of Faust and the bet made by the Lord  is a a direct analogy to the ambiguous nature of man.  Man appears as a “strange creation which vascillates between heaven and earth, between the possible and the imposible, the most coarse and the most delicate or whatever other extremes the human imagination may conjure up.”[8] Thus, in his attempt to defeat Faust it is imperative that “Mephistopheles desires to make Faust behave as though he were exclusively of this world, but Faust conscious that he possesses two souls in his breast, cannot possibly accept this point of view.”  Due to this duality within man, which is present in Faust by the presence of elements of the metaphysical and the physical in one being, man will never be satisfied because he is an imperfect being.  Gillies in his analysis insists that “if we  strive to grasp the finite we must do so within the bounds of our earthly existance, we learn or be destroyed.”[9]  This is the keystone to the Faust mystery.





Atkins, Stuart.  Goethe’s Faust.  Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press, 1964.


Cottrell, Alan P.  Goethe’s view of evil and the search for a new image of man in our            time.  Edinburgh:  Floris Books, 1982.


Durran, Osman.  Faust and the Bible.  Switzerland: Peterlang Publishers, 1977.


Fairley Barker.  Goethe’s Faust six Essays.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.



Goethe.  The collected works 2 Faust I & II.  Ed. Stuart Atkins. New Jersey:

Princeton University Press, 1994.


Goethe.  The collected works 3 Essays on Art and Literature.  Ed. John Geary.

New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.


Gillies, Alexander.  Goethe’s Faust.  Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957.


Molnar, Geza von.  “The conditions of Fausts wager and the its resolution in the light      of Cantian ethics.”  The English Goethe Society New series Vol. LI. Ed. Frank   M. Flower. Leeds:  The English Goethe Society, 1991.


Palmer, Philip Mason and Robert Pattison More.  Sources of the Faust tradition from            Simon Magus to Lessing.  New York: Haskel House, 1965.


Reed, T.J.  Goethe.  Masters Series Oxford





[1] Goethe’s  view of evil (169)


[2]P.M. Palmer & R.P. More The sources of Faust (3).


[3] Goethe’s view of Evil (167)


[4] Geza von MolnarThe English Goethe Society(51)


[5] ibid. (79)


[6] Rickerts: English Goethe society (49)


[7] Molnar : English Goethe society (49)


[8] Goethe Essays on Art and Literature (186)


[9] Gillies (19)

In a prologue in Heaven, reminiscent of the biblical Book of Job, Mephistopheles bets God that he can corrupt God’s faithful servant on earth, Faust.

Faust is a restless striver with an insatiable desire for experience and knowledge. He wagers that the devil can never cause him to be self-satisfied, or to wish any experience or achievement to last forever.

Mephistopheles tempts Faust with debauchery. Together they attend a witches’ Sabbath. The devil restores Faust’s youth and tempts him with the love of a woman, Gretchen. Faust becomes adviser to the Emperor and marries Helen of Troy, the world’s most beautiful woman, but Faust finds none of these experiences ultimately satisfying.

In an effort to be useful to his fellowman, Faust drains a large tract of swampy land, making it productive for thousands of people. Though old and blind now, Faust imagines the fair scene he has created, and wishes for the moment to be prolonged.

With this expression of satisfaction, he loses his wager with the devil, who attempts to claim Faust’s soul.

God, however, intervenes. Unquestionably, Faust has sinned: He has seduced and then abandoned the innocent maiden, Gretchen; he has caused an old couple who stood in the way of his reclamation project to be burned in their cottage. Still, God declares that while Faust made mistakes, he always strove to do good and therefore deserves salvation.


(The entire section is 537 words.)

One thought on “Essays On Faust

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *