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Faust (Part I, 1808; Part II, 1832)



Language & Form


Main Issues

Study Questions



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)


Part I published in 1808, Part II published in 1832

Language & Form

German original, Faust: Eine Tragödie (Faust: A Tragedy). Employs a wide variety of verse forms, as well as prose. Recommended Translations: Walter Kaufmann, David Luke.


An old scholar, Faust is dissatisfied and yearns to comprehend not just all knowledge, but all experience. In such a quest, Faust makes a bargain with a nihilistic spirit named Mephistopheles. The pact provides for the loss of Faust's soul in the event that Mephistopheles should provide him with any sensuous experience to his liking. Among the temptations offered by Mephistopheles is a young girl by the name of Margaret (Gretchen), whom Faust seduces and abandons, indirectly causing her death and that of the child they conceived together. In Part II, Faust continues his association with Mephistopheles and, among other adventures, has a love affair with Helen of Troy and fathers a son with her. Later, still with the aid of Mephistopheles, Faust reclaims lands from the sea which he intends to turn into a paradise on earth -- his legacy to humankind. Happy with his efforts and a vision of the future, Faust is caught in a moment of satisfaction which Mephistopheles claims as his victory. At the last moment, however, God's angels save Faust and bear his soul to heaven where he is reunited with Gretchen and appointed as teacher of the blessed.

Main Issues

Story based on the traditional legend of a man who sells his soul to the devil; foundation on the historical life of the magician and astrologer, Johannes Faustus (1480-1540); also made into a play by Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus (first performed 1588, published 1604).

Faust is frustrated and dissatisfied with his life-long pursuit of knowledge. Ambitious search for totality, embracing of all knowledge and all sensuous experience.

Mephistopheles as nihilistic spirit of despair -- an aspect of Faust's own unhappiness and impatience with the limitations of his scholarly pursuits.

Attempt at synthesis of Romanticism and Classicism; heart and mind; reason and passion.

Story framed by statements of God in the Prologue in Heaven: "Man errs as long as he strives" and by the angels who save Faust in the end: "Whoever strives with all his might, him we can save."

Study Questions (Faust, Part I)

What is the significance of the prologue in Heaven? What is God's attitude toward Mephistopheles? Does he hate him? Why or why not? Why does God allow Mephistopheles to tempt Faust? Why is he so sure that Faust will prevail against the evil spirit?

What is wrong with Faust at the beginning of the play? Why is he dissatisfied? Why does he abandon his lifelong pursuit of knowledge and science and turn instead to magic? Why does he invoke spirits? What happens when he attempts to summon the spirit of the macrocosm? The Earth Spirit? How does he feel after the spirit appears? What does the Spirit mean when it says to Faust, "Peer of the spirit that you comprehend / Not Mine!"? How does Faust feel after the spirit disappears? What is it that Faust almost drinks? What does the act itself signify/allow? Why doesn't he drink?

What kinds of activities are people involved in on Easter morning? Does Faust participate? What do he and his student Wagner do? How does Faust feel about the praise others bestow on him for his skill as a physician? In what way is Faust's soul torn? What is the meaning of the dog that Faust and Wagner come across? What does Faust notice about it? What does Faust tell the dog? Is this significant? Is it important the he allows the dog to enter his home?

How is Faust trying to translate the Bible? What passage is he working on? What choices of translation does he consider? Which one does he prefer? How does this situation relate to the overall crisis which Faust is facing? What interrupts him as he works?

What is the significance of Mephistopheles's response to Faust's question, "what is your name?" What does this imply? How does Mephistopheles define himself? What is essential to his character and way of being? Why does Mephistopheles need Faust's permission to depart? Why was he able to get into Faust's home? What is the meaning of the pentagram? What does Mephistopheles have to offer as an example of his "art"?

Why must Faust say "Come in!" three times before Mephistopheles will came back into his home? What is Mephistopheles's appearance? How does he dress? How is this significant?

What exactly is the pact that Faust makes with Mephistopheles? Is this the usual deal with the devil? How does it differ? Why does Mephistopheles insist on a signature with blood? What does Mephistopheles reveal as he speaks to himself while dressed in Faust's robe? Is there any way Faust can win? What is the meaning of the scene when Mephistopheles, pretending to be Faust, talks to a student? What does he advise him at first, what later? What does he write on the student's notebook?

What is the first place Faust and Mephistopheles visit together? What happens there? What is the significance of the transformation of wine into fire? What other tricks does Mephistopheles perform?

Why do they visit the witch's kitchen? What is Faust's attitude toward witchcraft? What is Mephistopheles's response to Faust's request for an alternative to drinking the magical potion? Does Faust like the alternative? What does Faust see in a magical mirror while at the witch's kitchen? Is it significant that it is a mirror? What does this image anticipate? What does it suggest about Faust's desires? What does Mephistopheles tell the witch to call him? What does Mephistopheles reveal when talking to himself?

How does Faust contrive to attract the attention of Margaret (Gretchen)? How is he dressed? What does he look like? How does he speak? How does Gretchen react to the presence of Mephistopheles? What does he put in her closet? How does she react to the finding? What does she do? What does her mother do with the gift?

What news does Mephistopheles give to Martha, Gretchen's friend? Why? What are his intentions? What is he planning? What role does Faust play in the deception?

What kind of life does Gretchen lead before the arrival of Faust? How is her life changed by his presence and actions? What happened to her mother? What about the child she conceived with Faust?

Why is Gretchen's brother, Valentine, upset? Why does he attack Faust and Mephistopheles? What is the meaning of Mephistopheles's leading and guiding Faust through the fight? Who delivers the mortal sword thrust to Valentine? Why does Valentine curse Gretchen in his dying words?

What is the significance of Walpurgis Night? What may have been Goethe's purposes in these scenes? What is he criticizing? How is this similar to and how does it differ, for example, from the situation, aims, and tone of Dante's Inferno? What vision does Faust have on that night? Why is Mephistopheles so alarmed by that vision and, urging Faust to move along, warns him about the dangers of "Medusa's eyes"?

What is the meaning of the scene "Night, Open Field" as Faust and Mephistopheles storm across the countryside on black horses? Where are they going? What are the witches doing by the side of the road? What are they "strewing"? What are they "dedicating"? Why does Mephistopheles urge Faust to just keep going?

Why is Gretchen in prison? Who does she think Faust is when he first arrives? What does she say to him? What revelations does she make to Faust? Why does she reject Faust? Why does she refuse to go with him and save her life? What does her final act represent? How is it similar to or different from Faust's near-suicide near the beginning of the play? Why doesn't Faust stay with her? What are we to understand happens to Gretchen? What are her last words? What does that imply?



Dr. Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Matthew C. Peckham in the creation of this page.


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Last updated: 2/3/03

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