Classics and the Western Canon discussion

39 views
Goethe, Faust > Faust Week 4 - Part 2 Act 1

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments We start now on Part 2, which was composed long after Part 1.

Act 1 starts with Faust in a pastoral landscape. How he got there is unexplained. Why he apparently has no thought for Gretchen is unexplained. Also unexplained is how Ariel got from Part 1 to Part 2 (or for that matter, how he got from Prospero’s Island to Germany). With the beautiful surroundings and the chorus of spirits serenading him to sleep and waking it seems a completely different feeling from the end of Part 1.

If I read this correctly, and I by no means am confident in my first reading, Faust seems to be rejecting the search for understanding through sensual relations, but I’m not quite sure what he is replacing that with. In part 1 he found his extensive commitment to intellectual learning unsatisfactory and went almost entirely over to the emotional/sensual. Where is he going here?

We then move to an empire (so far unnamed) which seems to be in disarray. Mephistopheles appears as a jester, and since we have Ariel from Shakespeare, I’m highly tempted to view Meph as a Shakespearean fool, which is to say one who serves a ruler with more wisdom than his official counselors offer.

Come carnival, Faust now shows up and convinces the Emperor to trust Meph’s advice and flood the country with paper money based on buried gold. I read a comment that some scholars consider this referring to the French revolution – do others see this?

Are there parallels between the carnival and Walpurgis Night, and if so what is their significance here and what, if anything, do they tell us about the different emphases of Parts 1 and 2?

In the Dark Gallery we see Faust and Mephistopheles together, but their relationship seems to have changed from Part 1. There, Faust followed Meph’s lead almost entirely. Here, Faust seems to be taking the initiative and trying to get Meph to assist him in it. At any rate, we are immersed in paganism here as Faust seeks the Earth Mothers in order to bring Helen back to the present. What are we to think of Goethe invoking classical paganism in a devout Christian era? And when Faust is able to produce Helen and Paris, the audience seems unimpressed, but Faust tries to seize Helen to force a fusion of ancient and modern. Is this a third way of seeking wisdom, after the intellectual and the emotional? (Enlightenment and Romanticism???) But he fails, is knocked unconscious, and carried off by Mephistopheles.

This is Act 1 of a five act drama. The usual purpose of an Act 1 in the theater is to set things in motion, to set the stage, and to pose the initial conflict(s) or issues which a play will address. Is Goethe using Act 1 for this purpose, and if so what conflicts or issues is he asking us to prepare to address?


message 2: by Nemo (last edited Aug 18, 2015 08:33PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Everyman wrote: "We start now on Part 2, which was composed long after Part 1.

Act 1 starts with Faust in a pastoral landscape. How he got there is unexplained. "


WHAT has Faust been doing all that time?

It seems that he has given up on reality completely and is delving into the realm of fantasy. Ariel is one tell tale sign, and Helen is another. In Euripides' play Helen , she was not a real person, but an aerial image the goddess Hera (Goethe's Earth Mother ?) made to deceive Paris. It is very likely that Goethe had this play in mind when he wrote Act I of Part II.

Is this what Fadiman meant by "phantasmagoria"?

(Now I need to find a copy of Part II, if only for the laughs...)


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: Now I need to find a copy of Part II, if only for the laughs"

http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PI...


message 4: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "We start now on Part 2, which was composed long after Part 1.

Act 1 starts with Faust in a pastoral landscape. How he got there is unexplained. Why he apparently has no thought for Gretchen i..."


What little continuity there is comes from the Intermezzo - Walpurgis Night's Dream, in Part 1. There is where we last see Ariel, who says "Whether Nature bountiful Or spirit gave you pinions, Track me lightly up the hill to the rose dominions!" And this is where Faust awakes, I guess.

The pageantry of the Carnival reminds me very much of the Walpurgis Night's Dream, and both appear to be allegorical in nature. I don't get all the historical references, but just the names of some of the speakers -- Dogmatic, Idealist, Realist in Part 1, and Fear, Hope, Intelligence in Part 2 -- would point to some sort of allegorical intent. I don't know if the play as a whole is allegorical; if it is, it is neither clear nor simple.


message 5: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 17 comments Quite honestly, I have half a mind of not going on with Part 2 since I do not see a central theme at all in Act 1 but rather a panoramic pageant of Goethe's disguised comments on the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, and when I want to read about ideas, philosophy etc. as such, I prefer a more systematic approach. I am interested, however, in what you are going to make out of Acts I and following ...


message 6: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments I haven't got any answers to Eman's questions but I have been reading part Two with the intuition that it might be telling the same sort of story as part one but from a different level or higher vantage point. Don't know where I got that idea, maybe from the fact that a lot of time passed between the writing of the two parts, and that maybe part two was a second attempt to develop one story.


message 7: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "What are we to think of Goethe invoking classical paganism in a devout Christian era? And when Faust is able to produce Helen and Paris, the audience seems unimpressed, but Faust tries to seize Helen to force a fusion of ancient and modern. "

How devout a Christian was Goethe? The play so far seems such a mishmash of folklore that it's hard to distinguish any particular theological point of view. I would guess at this point that his motive was entertainment more than edification.

The last scene of Act 1 -- The Hall of Chivalry -- is a case in point. The Astrologer (directed by Mephistopheles) makes Faust believe that he is conjuring forth Paris and Helen. I'm not sure if this is just pure theater, one of many plays within the play, or if it is satire. Or both. I take the Astrologer at his word when he says,

Let reason be restrained by magic word;
Instead, from farthest space let wander free
Magnificent audacious fantasy.
Lay eyes upon your bold desire-in-chief,
It is impossible, and hence deserves belief.


The petty criticisms of Paris and Helen are funny though. Paris is handsome, but "underbred.' Helen's head is too small. This is at least partly comedy, isn't it?


message 8: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Christopher wrote: "I definitely feel that Part Two, at least Act One, is much more biting in its criticism of society as a whole than the first part.."

I'm reminded of Tolstoy... "Everyone thinks of criticizing the world, but no one thinks of criticizing himself."


message 9: by Nemo (last edited Aug 25, 2015 02:23PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Just finished reading Act 1. Some random thoughts:

1. The scene where Helen and Paris are admired by the audience seems to be Goethe's retelling of The Judgment of Paris. It's parody of some sort, the judge becomes the judged, with the added element of envy from the same sex for comic relief. (This got me wondering: what could Paris be thinking when he saw the three goddesses?)

2. Mephistopheles in Part I servers as Goethe's mouthpiece, when the playwright wants to deflect any potential backlash; in Part II, Mephistopheles serves as a mechanism to connect the real world with the fantasy world of ancient Greece, a diminished role compared to Part I.

As some have already mentioned, Goethe seems to become less restrained in his criticism in Part II, this is perhaps due to his more established status as a writer, advanced age with less to lose, and the reason he wanted Part II to be published posthumously?

3. Victor Hugo borrowed the idea of the masquerade to introduce his main characters in the beginning of his novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, the Festival of the Fools. I expect we'll meet Helen, Paris and many others in the masquerade later in the play.

4. Why was Faust alarmed by the mention of the "Mothers"?

5. What is the role of a poet in society, according to Goethe? He seems to suggest that poetry has the power to enrich people more than any material goods.


message 10: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Not a strong start to Act II... I don't believe Act II was published until after Goethe's death, and was in construction for nearly as long. One of the lecturers on youtube tells me that Goethe was concerned with how part II would be received by the audience. It would be much harder (wildly, unimaginably, more difficult) to stage. The allegorical characters also make me think this section was intended to be read more than staged (goodbye entertaining scenes of drunken debauchery, hello long monologues of Goethe's social commentary.)


message 11: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Nemo wrote: "Why was Faust alarmed by the mention of the "Mothers"?"

I am so curious about this as well! Mothers come up a lot in this- Gretchen's mother is killed, Gretchen becomes a mother who kills...
Faust's glowing key is going to lead him to the mothers... What will he do there? Aren't mothers usually comforting?


message 12: by Tk (new)

Tk | 51 comments Ashley wrote: "Nemo wrote: "Why was Faust alarmed by the mention of the "Mothers"?"

I am so curious about this as well! Mothers come up a lot in this-"


Add me to the list of the curious/confused.


message 13: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments This is from Johann Peter Eckermann's "Conversations with Goethe": (Eckermann was a close associate of Goethe's and one of the editors of Faust Part 2.)

This afternoon, Goethe afforded me great pleasure by reading the scene in which Faust visits with the Mothers.

The novel and unexpectedness of the subject, and Goethe's manner of reading the scene, struck me so forcibly that I felt myself wholly transported into the situation of Faust when he shudders at the communication from Mephistopheles.

Although I had heard and felt the whole, yet so much remained an enigma to me that I asked Goethe for some explanation. But he, as usual, wrapped himself up in mystery, as he looked on me with wide open eyes and repeated the words:

"The Mothers! Why it strikes a singular chord."

"I can reveal to you no more," said he, "except that I found in Plutarch that in ancient Greece mention was made of the Mothers as divinities. This is all that I owe to others, the rest is my own invention. Take the manuscript home with you, study it carefully, and see what you can make of it."


The Interpretive Notes in the Norton edition say that the source in Plutarch has been identified as the Life of Marcellus. "Plutarch emphasizes the service of Marcellus as civilizer of Rome, one of the first to bring Greek art and learning to the Italian city (as Faust subsequently brings the forms of Helena and Paris to the Emperor's court.) These mother goddesses were identical (according to Diodorus Siculus, also known to Goethe) with the Corybantes of Crete, associated with the Great Mother, Rhea, or Cycbele, or Demeter."

The notes also mentions that "Goethe may have also intended a pun on the name Mothers which in German (die Mutter) sounds virtually identical to the word for "myth" (die Mythe)."


message 14: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Ashley wrote: "Faust's glowing key is going to lead him to the mothers... What will he do there? Aren't mothers usually comforting?
.."

Maybe they have some moral authority that he fears?


message 15: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Earlier I suggested a decisive moment in Study II when Faust discards knowledge in favor of ’sensual experience’. That should be broadened to something like 'a quest for knowledge led by instinct' (or: Romanticism). In Faust 2 this quest leaves the private and enters the public sphere.

One result, in Goethe's view is paper money, a delusion (I never before thought of it as something very romantic, but I should think again). And when (for the time being) material needs are met, other foolish demands follow. So Faust, trusting on Meph's magic, promises the king a spectacle starring Helen.

Only, Meph is powerless when it comes to heathen worlds (another one of Goethe’s brilliant ideas). He can only give Faust a mysterious key (glowing, swollen), and the instruction to steal the means to conjure Helen from the Mothers. The Mothers, in a cave, what can it mean? No one seems to know, but I suspect it has something to do with idealistic philosophy.

Anyway, the trick works. But Faust seems to forget that it is only a show, and he foolishly falls in love with Helen. A hilarious scene, yes Faust is 90% comedy (Goethe described it as very serious comedy - sehr ernsten Scherze).


message 16: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Part 2 is major shift in perspective. Part 1 presents a story on an individual level, while Part 2 tells a story on a universal level- Which is why the characters in Part 1 are more concrete. I think to create this kind of contrast it was necessary for Gretchen to commit a crime requiring her to be judged both by society (her brother, the prison, etc.) and judged by divinity as well (her impending redemption). This horrific incident provided a bridge between Goethe's commentary on morality for the individual in society (Part 1) and a more universal, divine search for morality.

As Wendel said, "Meph is powerless when it comes to heathen worlds" which accounts for his apparent loss of power. By depicting a Christian devil in such a mythological world, Goethe bridges the classical with the modern.

Though I am not happy about the lack of acknowledgement paid to Gretchen, it was only through tragedies related to her that he was able to come to a place of more divine significance.


message 17: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Nemo wrote: "What is the role of a poet in society, according to Goethe?"

I can't speak for Goethe, but the impression I get is that the poet must blend life's tragedies and comedies to cause the audience to continue to question.


message 18: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Ashley wrote: "Nemo wrote: "What is the role of a poet in society, according to Goethe?"

I can't speak for Goethe, but the impression I get is that the poet must blend life's tragedies and comedies to cause the ..."


But life is already a blend of tragedies and comedies, what need is there for poets? :)


back to top