The Readers Review: Literature from 1800 to 1910 discussion

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Archives 2012 Group Reads > Faust by Goethe - Part I ~ Scene I: Night

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Silver | 958 comments Mod
For discussion of the first scene of Faust. Please be wary of spoilers and try not to post anything which happens beyond this point. Or use the spoiler tag.


message 2: by Silver (last edited Sep 02, 2012 08:11PM) (new)

Silver | 958 comments Mod
In reading this I could not help but think of the ways in which it reminded me of the Greek Tragedy in Goethe's writing style, and then Wagner in fact tells Faust that he thought he was reading a Greek Tragedy, which I thought was an amusing touch.

I also could not help but wonder if the Angel Choir, and Chorus of Women was not meant to perhaps be an allusion to the Greek Chorus?

I think there was an almost haunting way in which their words interceded into Faust's monologue, and though they were singing of the resurrection of Christ, could what they said also be applied to Faust as well? Is there meant some foreshadow in their chorus?


MadgeUK | 5214 comments Yes I think it is a Greek Chorus. I am also struck by some of the similarities to Milton's Paradise Lost and his descriptions of Satan and Angels etc.


Silver | 958 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "Yes I think it is a Greek Chorus. I am also struck by some of the similarities to Milton's Paradise Lost and his descriptions of Satan and Angels etc."

Yes I got a sense of a bit of Milton and Paradise Lost as well, especially when I was reading the Prelude in Heaven. That struck me as being very reflective of Paradise Lost in some ways.

And Perhaps it could be seen as a sort of smillair idea, as it is a story about the Devil going out to tempt another to try and bring on the fall of a man.


MadgeUK | 5214 comments Standing on the shoulders of giants again:)


message 6: by Lily (last edited Sep 03, 2012 03:00PM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 1604 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Standing on the shoulders of giants again:)"

You prompted me to go check the historical relationship of these two documents:

Milton's Paradise Lost 1667-1674

Goethe's Faust 1806-1829

Precursor: Urfaust 1772-1775

Some 100 years separate them. In between, some of the overturns of the European feudal systems and monarchies have occurred. The Industrial Revolution hasn't really encroached yet, although mechanical looms were in use and the Jacquard was introduced in 1801. Lavoisier has named oxygen (1778) and hydrogen (1783), but it will be another half a century before Maxwell's equations lay the foundation for the electrodynamics revolutions bringing electricity into use at the turn of the next century.


Silver | 958 comments Mod
I wonder, is there any particular significance to the fact that it is Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, that the beginning of the temptation of Faust is set?

Perhaps it is meant to say something about transformation, or a symbolic statement of rebirth?


message 8: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 04, 2012 11:06AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks Lily - some useful comparisons there.

Silver: It may be an allusion to Dante's descent into Hell on Good Friday. Dante returns to the world on Easter Sunday, after having seen Heaven. The chronology of the Inferno and the entire Divine Comedy is meant to parallel the facts of Christ's death and Resurrection. Goethe may be attempting something similar.

I came across these comments from an essay entitled A symbolic comparison of Evil and Sin in Dante's Inferno and Goethe's Faust:-

'Goethe uses Christian references as a background for the story. He is not entirely faithful to the doctrines of the church. Cottrell, in his "Seven Essays" on Faust, has this to say: "At the end of the eighteenth century{...} faith in Christian doctrine was waning and knowledge of the natural sciences rising{...} Faust explores the radical changes demanded by the new orientation{...} Most of Goethe's references to the Bible are used incorrectly and in a blasphemous way. Goethe portrays Christianity as another set of myths to allude to."
Goethe uses mythological references (other than Christian ones) for more than one reason. At times, he uses them to display that Faust is no longer following Christianity and is instead delving into heathen lore in search of truth........While The Divine Comedy was written in a time when the church had much power and an absolute following; Faust was written in a time when faith in church dogma was decreasing and knowledge of the natural sciences was increasing. Each work portrays the aura of its own time, and both depart from the generally accepted conventions in a way that betrays the authors own personal beliefs, as well as their personal vendettas. The Divine Comedy strives to adequately represent the truths of human nature and spirituality. At times it manages to fulfill the question of "Why" something is bad with a more satisfactory response than "Because God said so." Faust achieves the same purpose, not to justify religion, but to belittle it.'

'In Faust, salvation is an indicator of whether or not a person has lived well or had the right priorities in Goethe's eyes, and therefore some people are saved in ways that the Bible does not condone. Each individual is either good or bad, but few individuals are perfect. Any individual who is imperfect can be swayed by Mephistopheles' (primitive thought) power. Those whose goals are righteous will invariably be saved, regardless of their stance on religion.'

'The image of good and evil is one of mankind confronting their own imperfections. Dante's view is that the imperfections are inflicted upon men by the will of God and the presence of Satan. Goethe sees God and the Devil as constructs of man's imperfection, and that, in the end, souls judge themselves...'


message 9: by Nemo (last edited Sep 04, 2012 01:09PM) (new)

Nemo (booksontrial) MadgeUK wrote: "...Most of Goethe's references to the Bible are used incorrectly and in a blasphemous way. Goethe portrays Christianity as another set of myths to allude to ..."

If the Biblical references in Faust appear to be "blasphemous" or "incorrect", it may be because Goethe perceived the need to appeal to the mass audience without compromising too much his own poetic freedom. As he said in the prelude (the part I enjoyed the most so far), the few "unwisely frank" who "laid bare each thought and feeling, Have evermore been crucified and burned".

This is my first time reading Goethe, and I don't know much about his life and beliefs, but it does appear that the fellow is quite complex, with a great sense of humor.


message 10: by Hedi (last edited Sep 07, 2012 01:01PM) (new)

Hedi | 583 comments Nemo wrote: "MadgeUK wrote: "...Most of Goethe's references to the Bible are used incorrectly and in a blasphemous way. Goethe portrays Christianity as another set of myths to allude to ..."

If the Biblical re..."


Nemo, maybe one general thing about Goethe is that he was a major part of the Enlightenment movement. He was also a freemason and philosopher.

"Faust" in general is to be regarded as a philosophical discourse. Goethe put this scene into a very highly vaulted, but narrow room, which is supposed to be a symbol of the direction to heaven, but also the narrowness.

The whole story of Faust goes back to Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and plays in the 16th century.
Faust has studied as mentioned in his monologue the four major disciplines of his time, but still cannot find his answers. Therefore, he turns to magic which is differentiated into white (in form of the ghost / spirit that appears to him in this part of the tragedy) and black magic (in form of Mephistopheles).
This goes also back to pansophy, which tried to look at the macrokosmos (universe) and the microkosmos (man)and bring the "Light of Nature" (Sciences) in line with the "Light of Mercy" (Revelation, Christian traditions).
In his monologue, Faust is looking at the sign of the macrokosmos in his book when he calls the spirit.

We will probably come across other symbols of pansophy during our read.

While Faust represents the pansophical view of the 16th century, Wagner is supposed to represent the humanistic view of the 16th/ 17th century. Therefore, he refers to the Greek tragedy. He refers to the Greeks and Romans several times.

These were a few notes from my annotations. I hope this makes sense and helps to understand this a little. I definitely hope I am not confusing you all.
However, Faust is a very complex and philosophical drama.


message 11: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 07, 2012 01:25PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments The whole story of Faust goes back to Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and plays in the 16th century.

The Introduction to my Wordsworth edition says about the origin of Faust:-

'The legend of Faust, or Dr Faustus, was based on the reported life of a notorious but obscure magician who probably lived c1480-1540. By 1587 his sensational and blasphemous career was chronicled by an anonymous author who presented the History of Dr Johann Faust, the Notorious Magician and Nigromancer in the spirit of the German Reformation as a 'terrible warning to all Christians' against the snares of the Devil, who 'as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour' (I Peter 5:8). The History was a warning against arrogance and pride...it was also an entertaining, even exciting, story that presented unusual and risqué material within a moral and religious framework of the strictest Lutheran orthodoxy....It became an international best seller and it was the English version, identified by only the initials P.F., which provided Christopher Marlowe with the material for his Tragical History of Dr Faustus (1593).'

'...Marlowe's play was subsequently re-imported into Germany by English travelling players and provided a literary quarry from which increasingly garbled versions were taken to be performed in the German popular theatre and as puppet plays until well into the 19C. Goethe did not know Marlowe's play at first hand until 1818, well after his Faust Part One was completed; he first experienced the story of Faust in a puppet version as a child in Frankfurt....It was from these two traditions, the moralising narrative and the popular and sensational theatrical versions, that Goethe derived the impetus for his own treatment of the story of Dr Faust. Other contributory factors include (view spoiler); the enormous influence of Shakespeare on the young Goethe, his enthusiasm for folk song and folk ballad; his early interest in alchemy, astrology and occult traditions; and his enthusiasm for the thriving culture of the German Reformation, the age of Martin Luther, Hans Sachs, Albrecht Dürer, and the Emporer Maximilian I.'


Hedi | 583 comments MadgeUK wrote: "The whole story of Faust goes back to Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and plays in the 16th century.

The Introduction to my Wordsworth edition says about the origin of Faust:-

'The legend of Fa..."


Thanks, Madge. Sorry, I only referred to Marlowe and was thinking of his puppet play, but as you are stating correctly it goes in the end back to the legend of Dr. Faustus.


Danielle | 6 comments Hi,
The introduction to my bi-langual edition goes even further. It says that Faust's character is a variation from the character of the magician which comes from the earliest antiquity. Early Christianism had inherited from Eastern and jewish traditions the idea of a world of evils next to a divine world. Satan againt God, each one trying to persuade humans to come to them. There was also the belief that evil spirits as well as bad ones could be mentioned and called throught magical ceremonies.
There are several christians legends about magicians which are very similar to that of Faust.


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The Readers Review: Literature from 1800 to 1910

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Books mentioned in this topic

Paradise Lost (other topics)
Faust: First Part (other topics)
Urfaust (other topics)