Comedy and Tragedy
Humanities Core Course
Winter 2012, Lecture 4
Satire against the Catholic church.
The mother asked the priest to have a look,
and he had scarcely heard what was afoot
when he eyed the gems with muted glee
and said: “You’ve done the proper thing!
Who conquers self will be rewarded in the end.
The church has always had an iron belly,
has swallowed states and countries now and then, Church is
and yet it never overate. hypocritical in its
The church alone, dear woman, can digest condemnation of
ill-gotten gains without a stomachache.”
(2831-40, pp. 243-45) worldly goods.
Satire of academic learning
But each word, I think, should harbor some idea.
MEPHISTOPHELES. In academic
Yes, yes indeed. But don’t torment yourself too much, learning,
because precisely where no thought is present words
a word appears in proper time.
Words are priceless in an argument.
Words are building stones of systems. substitute for
It’s splendid to believe in words; real ideas.
from words you cannot rob a single letter.
(1990-2000, p. 155)
Satire of bourgeois marriage
The dirty thief! The robber of his children!
All our misery and dire need did not suffice
to draw his shameful life from sin.
Well spoken, and for that, you see, he’s dead. Bourgeois marriage is
But now, if I were in your place, not about love but
I’d spend a year in decent mourning
while angling for a new prospective swain. about self-interest.
Oh my! To find another one quite like my first
will be no easy undertaking in this world.
He was the sweetest little pickle-herring.
But he liked too much to roam about—
foreign wine and foreign women,
and worst of all, those cursed dice. (2985-97, p. 261)
17th century perspective on the witches’ sabbath:
serious or satirical?
Source: Herr, Michael. Zauberei, Witchcraft. 1638. Hollstein’s German Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts 1400-1700, Volume
XXVI, Matthaeus Merian the Edler. Ed. Tilman Falk. Roosendaal, The Netherlands: Koninklijke van Poll, 1989. Print. 156.
STRUCTURE OF FAUST
Act 1: Emperor Story
Act 2: Classical Walpurgis Night
Act 4: Counter-Emperor Story
Act 5: Baucis and Philemon Story
Act 5: Burial
Act 5: Mountain gorges
Act 3: Helen Story
DEDICATION PRELUDE PROLOGUE FAUST STORY GRETCHEN STORY WALPURGIS GRETCHEN
IN THE IN HEAVEN •Night •A Street NIGHT STORY
THEATER •Before the Gate •Evening •Walpurgis Night •Gloomy Day
•Faust’s Study •Promenade •Walpurgis- – Field
•Auerbach’s •The Neighbor’s Night’s Dream •Night
Cellar in Leipzig House – Open Field
•Witch’s Kitchen •A Street •Dungeon
•A Summer Cabin
•Forest and Cavern
•At the Well
•By the Ramparts
Faust I Faust II
The Walpurgis Night is
A. A utopian alternative to the oppression of the
B. A diabolical diversion from the violence
WITCHES (in chorus).
The witches ride to Blocksberg’s top.
The stubble is yellow, green the crop.
On top of the cackling horde
Sits Urian presiding as lord.
Over rubble and stubble they stream in blustery weather,
Witches and billy goats stinking and leaping together. Focus on body and scatological
(3956-61, p. 357) humor
Just look! You scarcely see the end of it.
One hundred fires burning in a row;
they dance, they chat, they cook and drink and kiss.
Can you tell me where one offers something better?
Witches celebrate, free of social
(4056-59, p. 367) constraints.
But I prefer that higher region
where even now I see a smoky, churning glow,
and crowds advancing to the Evil One;
many riddles may be answered there.
But other riddles will be knotted.
(ll. 4037-4041, p. 365)
MEPHISTOPHELES: Today there is no rest for you;
the dance resumes. Let's get into the fray.
FAUST (dancing with the YOUNG WITCH):
Once I fell to pleasant dreaming:
I saw a sturdy apple tree
with two apples on it gleaming. Operetta: Comic theater
I climbed it, for they tempted me.
with characters singing
PRETTY WITCH: You want apples of a pleasing size; their parts.
You've looked for them since paradise.
I am thrilled with joy and pleasure,
For my garden holds such treasure.
MEPHISTOPHELES: Once I had a savage dream:
I saw an ancient, cloven tree
In which a giant hole did gleam: Burlesque: Takes a
Big as it was, it suited me. serious genre and
OLD WITCH: Let me salute and welcome you; exaggerates it to make
The cloven hoof shows through your shoe!
A giant stopper will ensure fun of it.
That you can fill the aperture.
(ll. 4123-43, p. 373)
Shameless mob! What on earth is this? SATIRE
Has it not been proven long ago:
Spirits do not walk on solid ground? Rationalist believes spirits
Now you presume to dance like one of us! have been disproven.
PRETTY WITCH: What could he be doing at our ball?
FAUST: You may find him anywhere, my dear.
When others dance, he's got to criticize,
and if he fails to criticize a step, Intellectual criticizes rather
that step might just as well have not been taken. than lives.
His chagrin grows most severe when we move forward.
You are still here! Incredible, such insolence!
Clear out! We are enlightened, don't you know?
The devil's pack ignores all rules and standards. Enlightener believes
We are so smart, but still the ghosts haunt Tegel. superstition and folly
How I have worked to clear the air of superstition! should no longer exist.
But - such insolence - the folly still clings everywhere.
(ll. 4144-63, p. 375)
Walpurgis Night overturns the tragedy by creating a
utopian alternative to the oppressive world of Christian
morals that condemns Margaret.
•As a space of nature, folk tradition, freedom, and fantasy, the
Walpurgis Night presents an alternative to the community’s oppression.
•Enlightenment rationalist does not recognize the validity of spiritual or
•Christian attack on witches is part of the same prejudices and fears
that drive Margaret to despair.
Mephisto, do you see
a pale and lovely child, far away and quite
She is gliding slowly from her place;
she appears to move with fettered feet.
I must confess, it seems to me Faust is reminded of Gretchen.
that she resembles my dear Gretchen.
Leave that be! It bodes no good to anyone.
It is a lifeless magic shape, an idol;
it is unwise to meet it anywhere.
Its rigid stare congeals the blood of men
so that they nearly turn to stone.
You’ve heard of the Medusa, I suppose.
But Mephistopheles turns his
Now I see a dead girl’s eyes attention away from her, diverting
which were never closed by loving hands.
That is the breast which Gretchen yielded me, him with the Walpurgis-Night’s
the blessed body I enjoyed.
You are too gullible, you fool! It’s make-believe!
To all she seems their own beloved.
In prison! In irremediable misery!
Given over to evil spirits and to the Faust blames Mephistopheles
unfeeling who presume to dispense
justice! And meanwhile you soothe me
for distracting him from
with stale, insipid diversions, hide her Margaret with the Walpurgis
ever-growing anguish from me, and let Night.
her perish without help and without
hope. (Gloomy Day – Field, p. 399)
Walpurgis Night cannot establish its view of reality and
ends up only interrupting the tragedy and distracting both
Faust and the audience from Margaret’s plight.
•The scene distracts Faust from Margaret’s plight.
•The scene diverts the audience from the tragedy.
•The scene’s alternative perspective is an aspect of
Faust’s ethic of individualism.
The Walpurgis Night is
A. A utopian alternative to the oppression of the
B. A diabolical diversion from the violence
C. None of the above.
What is the role of Mephistopheles?
A. To discourage Faust from striving.
B. To urge Faust to continue striving.
Mephistopheles threatens Faust’s goals by tempting
him with empty activity.
MEPHISTOPHELES (in FAUST’s gown).
If once you scorn all science and all reason,
the highest strength that dwells in man,
and through trickery and magic arts
abet the spirit of dishonesty,
then I’ve got you unconditionally— • Mephistopheles recognizes
then destiny endowed him with a spirit
that hastens forward, unrestrained,
Faust’s preference for
whose fierce and overhasty drive
striving rather than pleasure.
leapfrogs headlong over earthly pleasures.
I’ll drag him through the savage life, • He wants to make Faust’s
through the wasteland of mediocrity. activity into something
Let him wriggle, stiffen, wade through slime, meaningless and focused on
let food and drink be dangled by his lips sensual satisfaction.
to bait his hot, insatiate appetite.
He will vainly cry for satisfaction,
and had he not by then become the devil’s,
he still would perish miserably. (1851-67, pp. 143-45)
… provides a sleeping … defends Faust
potion for Margaret’s against Valentine,
mother, but then she who Faust kills.
… provides Margaret for … saves Faust from
Faust, but she is cast prison, but Margaret is
into misery and death. left to be executed.
Gloomy Day – Field
Given over to evil spirits and to the unfeeling
who presume to dispense justice! And
meanwhile you soothe me with stale, insipid Faust blames Mephistopheles for
diversions, hide her ever-growing anguish diverting him from Margaret’s
from me, and let her perish without help and suffering during the Walpurgis
without hope. Night.
The blood-guilt by your hand still lies upon the
town. Avenging spirits hover over the site of
the murder, lying in wait for the returning killer.
That too from you? A world of murder and Faust blames Mephistopheles for
death upon your monstrous head! the murder of Valentine.
Save her! Or else beware! The
most dreadful curse on you for
I cannot undo the bonds of the Mephistopheles insists
Avenger, nor draw back the that Faust made the
bolts.—Save her!—Who was it decisions that led to
that plunged her into ruin? I or violence.
Mephistopheles vs. Earth Spirit
Can you conceive what new and vital power
I draw from living in the wilderness? Faust obtains a feeling of power
If you could, I think you’d be by communing with nature.
devilish enough to envy me my happiness.
What supernatural delight!
To lie in nightly dew on mountain heights,
to encompass earth and heaven in a rapture
and inflate one’s being to a godlike state,
to burrow to the core, inflamed by premonition, Mephistopheles pokes fun at
to feel six days of God’s creation in your bosom, Faust, treating his feeling of
enjoy in pride and strength I know what not what, power as a conceited, self-
and flooding all in loving ecstasy,
the son of earth is canceled out—
then comes the lofty intuition—
(Makes an obscene gesture)
to end in … Well, I’ll keep it to myself.
(3278-92, pp. 295-97)
Now she’s cheerful, but mostly she is sad,
now her tears are streaming down, Mephistopheles tempts
and then she’s calm again, it seems,
and always, always loving you.
Faust to return to
You snake! You snake!
Here now! So I’ve trapped you!
FAUST. In order to protect her,
Get away from me, you cursed fiend,
and never speak her blessed name! Faust tries to avoid going
Lash not again my tortured senses back to Margaret
to lust for her whom I adore.
(3320-29, p. 299)
What is the role of Mephistopheles?
A. Push Faust to continue striving.
B. Convince Faust to stop striving.
C. None of the above.
How do we judge Faust’s hesitation?
And you, what led you to this chamber?
How deeply you are stirred!
Your heart is heavy, and you feel so out of place. Are Faust’s misgivings a
Wretched Faust! Who are you anyway? sign of morality or of
Am I moving in a magic haze? weakness?
I came to seize the crassest pleasure,
and now I dissolve in dreams of love!
Are we the sports of every whim of the weather?
And should she enter at this very moment,
how you would rue your crude transgression!
Faust seems to emphasize
Then Faust would suddenly be very small not just his guilt, but also
and languish helpless at her feet.
his fear of weakness.
Quick, my friend! I see her coming down below.
Away from here, and never to return!
(2717-2730, p. 235)
But come. Why all this fussing?
You’re going to your sweetheart’s chamber
and not at all to death and doom.
When in her arms, I need no joys of Heaven.
The warmth I seek is burning in her breast.
Do I not every moment feel her woe?
Am I not the fugitive, the homeless roamer,
an aimless, rootless, monstrous creature,
roaring like a cataract from crag to crag,
Faust despairs because he knows that he is
madly racing for the final precipice? in continual movement…
And she along the banks with childlike, simple sense,
there in her cabin on an alpine meadow,
with all the homey enterprises …and Margaret is someone in stasis.
encompassed by her tiny world.
And I whom God abhors,
I was not satisfied
to seize the rocks,
and crush them into pieces.
It was her life, her peace I had to ruin. He blames himself for ruining her peace…
You, Satan, claimed this sacrifice!
Help, Satan, help abridge the time of fear!
What has to happen, let it happen now!
Let her fate come crashing down on mine,
…but chooses to continue on his path in spite
let us both embrace perdition! of the destruction it will cause.
(3345-65, pp. 301-303)
Goethe’s Faust I is:
A. A comedy that affirms the values of the Walpurgis
B. A tragedy because Margaret dies to affirm
C. A tragedy because Christian values create so
much suffering for Margaret.
D. A tragedy because Faust must continue to strive in
spite of the violence he causes.
E. None of the above.
19 century reactions condemned Goethe’s
Faust for its anti-Christian tendencies.
from Joseph von Eichendorff’s History of
German Literature (1857)
„...Goethe summed up the idea of humanity, not
just as the cultivation of a sense of beauty
through art, but the harmonious development of Eichendorff sees Goethe’s Faust as
all human powers and capacities through life central to the development of an
itself. He does not at all want to „follow an ideal“ individualist, humanist ethic.
but to allow his feelings to develop into
capacities through struggle and play. [...] Clearly
such an absolute focus on natural development But this new ethic undermines
makes all positive religion impossible, or at the religion.
very least superfluous (1052-53).
Eichendorff, Joseph von. Werke in sechs Bänden. Ed. Wolfgang Frühwald, Brigitte Schillbach and Hartwig Schultz. Frankfurt am
Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1985-1993.
Beginning with German unification in 1871, critics
began to see Faust as a model for German
Gustav von Loeper (1871)
„Faust‘s true guilt and at the same time his true greatness Loeper describes Faust’s guilt
lies in the struggle against the limits of human nature“ as part of his “greatness.”
Kuno Fischer (1878)
„Faust‘s pleasure lies in the fruit of his labor, the view
upon the great and blessed sphere of influence that he Fischer sees Faust’s ideal of
has created and upon the land that he has wrung from the striving as the basis of
elements, settled, and transformed into a human world activity for future
and into an arena for striving generations after his own generations.
image“ (3:55-56, emphasis in original).
Loeper, Gustav. Goethes Sämtliche Werke. Vol. 13. Ed. Gustav von Loeper. Berlin: Hempel, 1871. Fischer, Kuno. Goethe’s Faust.
Ueber die Entstehung und Composition des Gedichts. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1878. Cited in Karl Robert Mandelkow, Goethe im Urteil seiner
Kritiker : Dokumente zur Wirkungsgeschichte Goethes in Deutschland. 4 vols. Munich: Beck, 1989.
The individualist ethic of Goethe’s Faust reaches the peak of
its influence amongst established Goethe scholars in the Nazi
Hermann August Korff
Professor, University of Leipzig (1925-1954) Visiting Professor,
Harvard University (1934)
Visiting Professor, Columbia University (1938)
“The contrast between good and evil is not thereby dissolved. Faust feels deeply
what in an elementary sense is good and what is evil. But though he always
participates in the two as he participates in the play of pleasure and pain,
elementary morality does not have final power over him. It becomes a preserved
moment within a more total ideal that has a hyper-moral character because Morality is subordinated to the
morality is only one value next to other values and is no longer the highest personality of the individual.
“For that which is placed above morality is the personality, whose fulfillment is
the true goal of such a life.” What seems unethical is
actually the individual’s
“Great personalities consume the smaller ones. That is the law of nature. And adherence to a natural law
their unethical behavior only consists in the way in which they must obey their
without allowing moral
natural law without allowing themselves to be hindered by their still existing
moral affects.” (161-63)
feelings to get in the way.
Korff, Hermann August. Faustischer Glaube: Versuch über das Problem humaner Lebenshaltung. Leipzig: J. J. Weber, 1938. My
Nazi Goethe critics repeated the arguments of
scholars like Korff.
“Faust is the ingenious man who cannot be content
with having and possessing either material or
spiritual possessions. In this man there lives a drive Schott promotes a focus on
to become a genius of the world and of the deed. the world and deed.
The paltry contentment and the merely pleasurable
that are the essence of the philistine are foreign to
him, at least to the truly Faustian man. […] Yet, we
must express this more clearly and more
powerfully: here in the Faustian man there lives a
passionate will that surges from the primal depths Schott refers to the Faustian
and does not shy away from any means of fulfilling man as someone who should
the numerous tasks with which life confronts him – not shy away from devilish
even to the point of allying himself with the devil!” means for fulfilling his goals.
Schott, Georg. Goethes Faust in heutiger Schau. Stuttgart: Tazzelwurm Verlag, 1940. My translation.