Kalpana Kalpana (Editor)

Goethe's Faust

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Faust (2011), Faustina (1957)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe plays, Other plays

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust is a tragic play in two parts usually known in English as Faust, Part One and Faust, Part Two. Although rarely staged in its entirety, it is the play with the largest audience numbers on German-language stages. Faust is considered by many to be Goethe's magnum opus and the greatest work of German literature.


The earliest forms of the work, known as the Urfaust, were developed between 1772 and 1775; however, the details of that development are not entirely clear. 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.

The first appearance of the work in print was Faust, a Fragment, published in 1790. Goethe completed a preliminary version of what is now known as Part One in 1806. Its publication in 1808 was followed by the revised 1828–29 edition, the last to be edited by Goethe himself.

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.

Goethe s faust introduction and prologue


The original 1808 German title page of Goethe's play read simply: "Faust. / Eine Tragödie" ("Faust. / A Tragedy"). The addition of "erster Teil" ("Part One", in English) was only retrospectively applied by publishers when the sequel was published in 1832 with a title page which read: "Faust. / Der Tragödie zweiter Teil" ("Faust. / The Tragedy Part Two"). The two plays have been published in English under a number of titles, and are most usually referred to as Faust Parts One and Two.

Faust, Part One

The principal characters of Faust Part One include:

  • Heinrich Faust, a scholar, sometimes said to be based on Johann Georg Faust, or on Jacob Bidermann's dramatized account of the Legend of the Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus; see also Faust
  • Mephistopheles, an agent of the devil
  • Gretchen, Faust's love (short for Margarete; Goethe uses both forms)
  • Marthe, Gretchen's neighbour
  • Valentin, Gretchen's brother
  • Wagner, Faust's attendant
  • 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 with 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."

    Faust, Part Two

    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

    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.


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

    Paul Carus (1852-1919) said Goethe's book had influence "little less than the Bible."

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

    Many lines and phrase from Goethe's Faust have become part of the German language; see quotes here and here.


    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 and James C. McKusick in their 2007 Oxford University Press edition, Faustus: From the German of Goethe, Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In a letter dated 4 September 1820, Goethe wrote to his son August that Coleridge was translating Faust. 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 Coleridge's fellow Romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley produced admired 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.

    In 1828, at the age of twenty, Gérard de Nerval published a French translation of 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 W. G. 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."

    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...

    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.

    In 1976, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published Randall Jarrell's translation of Faust, Part One posthumously.

    Part One

  • May 24, 1819: Premiere of selected scenes. Castle Monbijou, Berlin
  • January 29, 1829: Premiere of the complete Part One. Braunschweig
  • 1960: Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg: Directed by Peter Gorski, and produced by Gustaf Gründgens (who also played Mephistopheles), with Will Quadflieg (Faust), Ella Büchi (Gretchen), Elisabeth Flickenschildt (Martha), Max Eckard (Valentin), Eduard Marks (Wagner), Uwe Friedrichsen (Student). The film of this performance was very successful.
  • October 26, 2006: Teatro Comunale Modena, Italy: Directed by Eimuntas Nekrošius; complete playing length (with intervals): 4½ hours
  • 1989: fragments from 1st part. Piccolo Teatro di Milano: Director Giorgio Strehler, scenographer Josef Svoboda
  • Part Two

  • 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

  • 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
  • In music and film

  • In 1814 Franz Schubert set a text from Faust Part I, scene 15 as "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (D 118; Op. 2). It was his first setting of a text by Goethe. Later Lieder by Schubert based on Faust: D 126, 367, 440 and 564.
  • Robert Schumann's secular oratorio Scenes from Goethe's Faust (1844–1853)
  • Hector Berlioz's "légende dramatique" La damnation de Faust (1846)
  • Franz Liszt's Faust Symphony (1857)
  • Charles Gounod's opera Faust (1859)
  • Arrigo Boito's opera Mefistofele (1868; 1875)
  • The second section of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 (1906) sets the text of the final scene of part II of Goethe's Faust.
  • F. W. Murnau's film Faust (1926) is based on older versions of the legend as well as Goethe's version.
  • Randy Newman's musical Faust (1993)
  • Jan Švankmajer's film Faust (1994)
  • Alexander Sokurov's film Faust (2011)
  • American band Kamelot's concept albums Epica and The Black Halo are loosely based around the play.
  • American band Agalloch's Faustian Echoes EP is directly based on Goethe's work and contains direct quotations from it.
  • References

    Goethe's Faust Wikipedia