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Faust or Faustus is the protagonist of a popular German legend in which a mediæval scholar makes a pact with the Devil. The tale is the basis for many literary works by, for instance, Christopher Marlowe, Goethe, Klaus Mann, Thomas Mann, Charles Gounod, Hector Berlioz and Oscar Wilde.

A Faustian story concerns the fate of a protagonist, who in his quest for forbidden or advanced knowledge of material things, summons the Devil who offers to serve him for a period of time, at the cost of his soul.

"Faustus" was also an anti-Christian adversary in some of Saint Augustine's writings.

The name "Faust" has come to stand for a charlatan alchemist (some claim "astrologer and necromancer") whose pride and vanity lead to his doom. Similarly, the adjective "faustian" has come to denote acts or constellations involving human hubris which lead eventually to doom.


Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

The early Faust chapbook, while already in circulation in Northern Germany, found its way to England, where it was translated into English by "P. F., Gent[leman]" in 1592 as The Historie of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor Iohn Faustus. It was this work that Christopher Marlowe used for his more ambitious play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (published c. 1604). Marlowe also borrowed from Acts and Monuments by John Foxe, on the exchanges between Pope Adrian and a rival pope. Another possible inspiration of Marlowe's version is John Dee (1527-1609), who practised forms of alchemy and science and developed Enochian magic.

Goethe's Faust

Goethe's Faust inverts and makes greatly more complex the simple Christian moral of the original legend. A hybrid between a play and an extended poem, Goethe's two part "closet drama" is epic in scope. It gathers together references from Christian, medieval, Roman, eastern and Hellenic poetry, philosophy and literature; ending in a Faust who is saved, carried aloft to heaven, as Mephistopheles looks on.

The legend of Faust was an obsession of Goethe's. Although by no means a constant pursuit, the composition and refinement of his own version of the legend occupied him for over sixty years. The final version, not completely published until after his death, is recognized as a great work of German Literature.

The story concerns the fate of Faust in his quest for the true essence of life ("was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält"). Frustrated with learning and the limits to his knowledge and power, he attracts the attention of the Devil (represented by Mephistopheles), whom Faust makes a deal to serve until the moment that Faust attains the zenith of human happiness, at which point Mephistopheles may take his soul. Goethe's Faust is pleased with the deal, as he believes the moment will never come.

In the first part, Mephistopheles leads Faust through experiences that culminate in a lustful and destructive relationship with an innocent and nubile woman named Gretchen. Gretchen and her family are destroyed by Mephistopheles' deceptions and Faust's desires and actions. The story ends in tragedy as Gretchen is saved and Faust is left in shame.

The second part begins with the spirits of the earth forgiving Faust (and the rest of mankind) and progresses into rich allegorical poetry. Faust and his devil pass through the world of politics and the world of the classical gods, and meet with Helen of Troy (the personification of beauty). Finally, having succeeded in taming the very forces of war and nature Faust experiences a single moment of happiness.

The devil Mephistopheles, trying to grab Faust's soul when he dies, is frustrated as the Lord intervenes – recognizing the value of Faust's unending striving.

Goethe's Faust was the source material for at least two successful operas: Faust by Charles Gounod and Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito; and major works for soloists, chorus and orchestra such as the "dramatic legend" The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust and the second part of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8. In September 2006, Oxford University Press created a controversy by publishing a translation of Goethe's Faust allegedly by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge famously insisted during his lifetime that he "had never put pen to paper as a translator of Faust", but the volume's editor, UCLA Professor Emeritus Frederick Burwick, claims to have assembled over 800 verbal echoes between the translation and Coleridge's other poetry.

Also Franz Liszt's The Mephisto Waltz.

Other Fausts

See also:List of works which retell or strongly allude to the Faust tale

See also

See List of works which retell or strongly allude to the Faust tale

Faust (1994) - Ernst Gossner, Jan Svankmajer

See entry on Jan Švankmajer

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