FAUST CHEAT SHEET
Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend (early 16th century). There are
several interpretations of this tale. One of the most famous interpretations is Johann
Wolgang von Goethe‘s Faust, written in the early 19th century. The story of Faust
centres on the protagonist‘s decision to surrender his soul to the Devil in exchange
Faust, and the adjective Faustian, are often used to describe an arrangement in
which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and
success: the proverbial "deal with the devil". The terms can also refer to an
unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Frankenstein compromises his integrity by usurping the role of God. Faust‘s pact
with the Devil is in defiance of God‘s divine authority.
The Faust of early books — as well as the ballads, dramas and puppet-plays which
grew out of them — is irrevocably damned because he prefers human to divine
knowledge. Faust overreaches the bounds of human knowledge and experience.
Goethe‘s Faust (1808)
In the first part of Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the protagonist turns to
magic in order to attain knowledge. Faust makes an arrangement with the devil: the
devil will do everything that Faust wants while he is here on Earth, and in exchange
Faust will serve the devil in Hell. Rich in classical allusion, in Part Two the romantic
story of the first Faust is forgotten, and Faust wakes in a field of fairies to initiate a
new cycle of adventures and purpose.
Goethe‘s version of Faust was written at the time of the Industrial Revolution: ―Huge
iron machines entered our world propelled by our Faustian needs‖ for knowledge
and power. (John Leinhard – http://uh.edu/engines/faust.htm). Goethe‘s
interpretation of the Faust legend can thus be understood as a warning about the
dangers of scientific and technological advancements.
The Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus
Doctor Faustus was first published in 1604, eleven years after Marlowe's death and
at least twelve years after the first performance of the play. (Over one hundred years
before the Industrial Revolution).
Faustus comments that he has reached the end of every subject he has studied. He
appreciates Logic as being a tool for arguing; Medicine as being unvalued unless it
allowed raising the dead and immortality; Law as being upstanding and above him;
Divinity as useless because he feels that all humans commit sin, and thus to have
sins punishable by death complicates the logic of Divinity.
In Marlowe‘s play Faust makes a pact with the Devil (Mephistophilis). Using
Mephistophilis as a messenger, Faustus strikes a deal with Lucifer: he is to be
allotted twenty-four years of life on Earth, during which time he will have
Mephistophilis as his personal servant. At the end he will give his soul over to Lucifer
as payment and spend the rest of time as one damned to Hell. This deal is to be
sealed in Faustus' own blood. After cutting his arm, the wound is divinely healed and
the Latin words "Homo, fuge!" (Man, flee!) appear upon it. Despite the dramatic
nature of this divine intervention, Faustus disregards the inscription with the
assertion that he is already damned by his actions thus far and therefore left with no
place to which he could flee. Mephistophilis brings coals to break the wound open
again, and thus Faustus is able to take his oath.
Faust and Frankenstein
Faust and Frankenstein both look to magic and other activities which negate God.
Faust defies the authority of God by entering into a pact with the Devil. Frankenstein
attempts to negate God by ―bestowing animation upon lifeless matter‖ (p 53).
Both characters use science and technology to achieve their goals. Faust is
dissatisfied with the limitations of modern science and philosophy, whereas
Frankenstein uses science as a means to ―penetrate the secrets of nature‖ (p 41).
Faust and Frankenstein both demonstrate hubris (excessive pride). This inevitably
leads to the demise of both characters. The use of magic is a show of Faustus‘
‗demoralization‘. He no longer wants to be a mere mortal...he wants to be as
powerful as the devil himself.
Frankenstein also desire immortality. Initially, he perceives himself as a great
benefactor of mankind. His actions defy the natural order by negating death.
Frankenstein seeks God-like power.
Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein and Goethe‘s Faust were written in the era of the
Industrial Revolution. Goethe not only reveals how Faust, the representative modern
man, realizes this massive project of economic progress, but also shows the existing
and potential dangers associated with it. Human progress entails curbing nature by
constructing an artificial world consisting of cities, industry, transport, and intensified
agriculture, symbolized in Faust by land reclamation through building of the dyke.
With great insight Goethe tells us that the intervention into the natural environment
that this demands may have unforeseen consequences because nature reacts
according to its own laws, which humans can never entirely predict.
Victor Frankenstein subverts the natural order by removing nature from the process
of conception, birth and death. Frankenstein‘s (mis)use of science and technology is
portrayed as a destructive force.
The Romantics placed an emphasis on natural beauty in their works in contrast to
the mechanical creations prominent in the Industrial Revolution. As the
implementation of new-found technology brought forth an appreciation for a sense of
capitalism and wealth, it also brought forth a reaction to these trends.
Shelley believed that man was never intended to "play God", or to try to overextend
his mortality by using science to develop his own divinity. Frankenstein is more than
a horror classic; it is a commentary on the ethics of science and technology.