Places: Faust

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Faust: Ein Fragment, 1790 (English translation, Faust: A Fragment, 1980); Faust: Eine Tragödie, 1808 (English translation, The Tragedy of Faust, 1823); Faust: Eine Tragödie, zweiter Teil, 1833 (English translation, The Tragedy of Faust, Part Two, 1838)

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Philosophical

Time of work: Indeterminate

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedFaust’s study

Faust’s Fauststudy. Vaulted room with stained glass windows that shows the limitations of the world of the historical magician Faust, who lived in the sixteenth century. The clutter of scientific instruments shows Faust’s past interest in science as a method of unlocking nature’s secrets, and rows of dusty books point to the sterility of medieval learning. Faust looks for ways to escape by conjuring spirits and finally by signing a pact with the devil in this room.

*Auerbach’s tavern

*Auerbach’s tavern. Tavern in Leipzig, Germany, that was frequented by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as a student. A scene set here features loud communal singing, comic drunkenness, and a barroom brawl. Mephisto is seen riding a wine keg out the door, an allusion to a wall decoration at the historical Auerbach’s.

Gretchen’s room

Gretchen’s room. Simply furnished room containing a canapé bed, a leather armchair, a clothes cabinet, a mirror, and a spinning wheel. In his clandestine visit Faust contemplates Gretchen’s innocence and the domesticity reflected in the cleanliness and order of her room. The cabinet, where Gretchen finds the jewel box, and the mirror, where she admires herself, reflect her self-awareness as a woman. Her rhythmical spinning in a later scene emphasizes the driving force of her longing for Faust.

*Harz Mountains

*Harz Mountains. Steep, forested, rocky terrain in Germany that is the setting in which Halloween-like ghosts cavort. While vapors hiss and owls screech, witches dance and make love in an amusement park atmosphere lit by a reddish moon and little fires. Set on Broken, the tallest mountain in the Harz, Walpurgis Night is the witches’ Sabbath of medieval German folklore. Although the devil presides here, Walpurgis is a positive occasion for Goethe, as it is a pagan festival which has survived the onslaught of medieval Christianity. One feels close to the powers of nature here, and frank sensual pleasure provides escape from the medieval world.

Hall of Chivalry

Hall of Chivalry. A stage is set up in this stately palace hall for a court audience to watch as Faust conjures a Greek temple with the silent, ghostly figures of Paris and Helen, illustrating Faust’s desire to link his German heritage to this older tradition. Like his legendary counterpart, Goethe’s Faust also spends time at the emperor’s palace, where he is put in charge of spectacles for the court. Faust’s attempt to rescue Helen from Paris, a chivalrous, medieval act impinging on a classical scene, triggers a dramatic explosion on stage, which symbolically heightens the contrast of the two worlds.

*Aegean Sea

*Aegean Sea. Arm of the eastern Mediterranean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Under moonlight, where a foaming sea rushes against the rocky shore, sirens sing from the cliffs as sea nymphs ride the waves. Galatea presides, enthroned in the shell of Venus, over the scene crowded with joyful sprites. This is the culmination of Walpurgis Night, which began with a trip through Greek nature mythology and followed the Peneios River to a spot on the seacoast. The focus on water reflects Goethe’s belief that life originated in the sea, and Galatea represents fecund erotic beauty. This scene inspires reverence for the dynamic forces of nature, which appear as historical or mythological figures.

Castle courtyard

Castle courtyard. The imaginary Gothic castle over which Faust reigns in this scene is surrounded by elaborate medieval buildings. Courtiers and servants, lavishly dressed, demonstrate his power and wealth. Dressed in knightly attire here, Faust represents courtly medieval culture with its armor ready for war, and its troubadours, who pay homage to love and feminine beauty. Faust courts Helen, who with her retinue in Greek dress, is suddenly wafted forward into this time and space she never could have known. The scene symbolizes a marriage of the best aspects of the European Middle Ages with the cultural heritage of Greece.

Mountain gorges

Mountain gorges. In this final scene the natural landscape–a vertical cliff, a waterfall, and ascending crevices for three male anchorites–is complemented by a spiritual one, which includes angels vertically stratified and the Mater Gloriosa floating at the apex of the scene. It is a mysterious and sublime setting for the ascent of Faust’s immortal part. Although Catholic iconography is employed (Virgin Mary), the meaning transcends it. The masculine principle, representing Faust’s spirit, strives to be united with a feminine principle and advances not just by its own effort but also by the love Gretchen has for him and by an implied destiny that has characteristics of divine grace.

Sources for Further StudyAtkins, Stuart. Goethe’s “Faust”: A Literary Analysis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958. Evaluates Faust first and foremost as a drama, showing each section’s dramatic as well as symbolic function, and seeks to demonstrate the organic unity of the work. Highly recommended.Bishop, Paul, ed. Companion to Goethe’s “Faust, Parts I and II.” Rochester, N.Y.: Camden, 2001. Collected essays, including one devoted to the salvation of Faust.Cooledge, Charles. The Religious Life of Goethe as Illustrated in “The Tragedy of Faust.” Boston: Stratford, 1933. Goethe’s own life confirms a Christian reading of Faust: departure from Christian faith; vain efforts to find happiness apart from religion; and the return to the Christian faith.Fairley, Barker. Goethe’s “Faust”: Six Essays. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1953. A knowledgeable and well-written set of studies by a preeminent Goethe scholar. Recommended.Gillies, Alexander. Goethe’s “Faust”: An Interpretation. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1957. An important and detailed analysis, with lucid, helpful comments. Recommended for the more advanced student.Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust: A Tragedy. Translated by Walter Arndt and edited by Cyrus Hamlin. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. Contains introductory essays by both the translator and editor, as well as substantial interpretive notes. Also offers sections on primary sources for Faust, Goethe’s outlines and correspondence, reactions by contemporaries, twelve essays by modern critics covering different aspects of the work, and a select bibliography. Useful for all levels.Gray, Ronald. Goethe: A Critical Introduction. London: Cambridge University Press, 1967. A discussion of Goethe’s life and works, highly useful as an introduction to Faust. Two long chapters (7 and 8) discuss Faust in detail. Gray also compares the value of Faust as literature to Goethe’s lesser works. Includes a table of biographical dates, an index, and a select bibliography.Hamlin, Cyrus, ed. Faust. A Tragedy: Backgrounds and Sources. New York: Norton, 1976. Discussions of the Earth Spirit, the Gretchen tragedy, the salvation of Faust, and the Eternal Feminine.Mason, Eudo. Goethe’s Faust: Its Genesis and Purport. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. A representative survey of Faust criticism, with several discussions of Christian themes.Pelikan, Jaroslav. Faust the Theologian. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995. Theological reading of Faust, in particular Faust’s spiritual progression from pantheism and polytheism to monotheism.Watt, Ian. Myths of Modern Individualism: Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Robinson Crusoe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Ian Watt studies the origins and literary uses of Don Quixote, Don Juan, Faust, and Robinson Crusoe as pervasive myths of the modern individualist world.
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