Faust, Part 1

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Front cover of Faust, Leipzig 1932

Faust Part 1 (original title: Faust - Der Tragödie erster Teil) is a tragic play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The play is a closet drama, meaning that it is meant to be read rather than performed. It is Goethe's most famous work and considered by many as the greatest german work of literature of all time.


Faust is based on an actual historical figure of the same name. The play begins with the prologue in heaven. Mephistopheles dares God that he will lead Faust, a loyal servant to God, astray, but God trusts Faust to follow his path even though it is sometimes obscure. This is similar to the story of Job in the Bible. When we meet Faust, he quarrels with his fate. He knows everything there is to know (he's studied all his life), but still does not feel satisfied. He wants to kill himself, but is stopped by churchbells. Outside his house, Faust encounters a large black dog (called "Pudel" in the original German), who turns into Mephistopheles and says about himself: "(Ich bin) Ein Teil von jener Kraft, Die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft." (I am part of the power that always wants the ill and always produces the good.)

Faust signs a pact with the devil, saying that the devil may have his soul on the day he rests. Mephisto in turn will be, until then, his slave. He tries to corrupt Faust by showing him the amenities of human life, which he has never known, but of course does not succeed. Faust wants to learn about love, so the devilish cad introduces the good doctor to a local lovely by the name of Gretchen. Faust first woos her, then gets bored with her, leaving her pregnant and killing her brother. Mephisto tries to distract him by engaging into "Walpurgis Night", a giant orgy of the evil powers, but Faust cannot forget her (he sees her image before him, just before he is about to have sex with another woman). In the meantime, Gretchen gives birth to a child and kills it. She is locked into prison and sentenced to death. Faust tries to free her, but she does not want to go with him. Her soul is improbably "saved" at the end of the play.

In the entire book, Faust stays restless, so you will have to read the second part in order to find out whether Mephisto succeeds or not. While the first part represents the "small world" and takes place in the commoners' millieu, Faust Part 2 takes place in the "wide world" of politics and industrialism. Also, the first part criticizes society, while the second part criticizes politics and the greed of the early industrialists. This play is composed of fragments, written by Goethe over a long period of time. It remains, with the second part, one of the most important works of German literature.

Effects not intended by the author

Because this play is such an important part of German culture, it has also been abused in the past by the Prussians, the Nazis, and the East German regime to justify their ideologies.

The Hamburg Performance

Probably the most famous stage performance of Faust that was filmed is the so-called Hamburg performance, with Gustav Gründgens in the role of Mephisto.


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