Later we will talk about details. Now we will try to give
an overview over the piece. In the scene "Prologue
in Heaven" there is a discussion between the Lord
and Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles is a cynic, who does
not want to, and is not able to understand the conception
of humanity as the Lord has created it. In the eyes of
Mephistopheles, mankind would live better if Lord had
not given them reason.
Der kleine Gott
der Welt bleibt stets von gleichem
Und ist so wunderlich als wie am ersten Tag.
Ein wenig besser würd er leben,
Hättst du ihm nicht den Schein des Himmelslichts
Er nennt's Vernunft und braucht's allein,
Nur tierischer als jedes Tier zu sein.
god retains his same old stamp and ways
And is as singular as on the first of days.
A little better would he live, poor Wight,
Had you not given him that gleam of heavenly
He calls it Reason, only to pollute
Its use by being brutaler than any brute.
In another mode one could say that Mephistopheles does
not see any sense in the desire of man to know, to advance,
because it is not only useless, but it makes man suffer
even more. In the eyes of Mephistopheles a cow lives
a lot better than man because it has no problems. You
may say that in the real world there are no cattle-type-people,
or people like Mephistopheles. However, the author believes
that this is not the case. There are many people, who
are not interested in anything, who laugh at other people,
who try to do something new. There many people of the
Mephistopheles-type, who say that it is not worth it
starting something new and for that reason is useless.
These people may also say 'it is better that things
stay as they are'. The problem is, that people who are
searching, who try to change things often do not know,
what they want. People like Faust are not satisfied,
they are searching for something, but they do not know
what it is they are looking for. In the eyes of the
Lord, this is exactly what makes Faust an example for
all mankind. Faust's search is a 'complete search'.
If the cattle-type-person (if we may call it that way)
does not search for anything and is satisfied is the
ideal of Mephistopheles. For the Lord the ideal is the
person who searches and is never satisfied.
Kennst du den Faust?
Do you know Faust?
Yes, my servant!
Fürwahr! er dient Euch
auf besondre Weise.
Nicht irdisch ist des Toren Trank noch Speise.
Ihn treibt die Gärung in die Ferne,
Er ist sich seiner Tollheit halb bewußt;
Vom Himmel fordert er die schönsten Sterne
Und von der Erde jede höchste Lust,
Und alle Näh und alle Ferne
Befriedigt nicht die tiefbewegte Brust.
Forsooth, he serves you most peculiarly.
Unearthly are the fool's drink and his food;
The ferment drives him forth afar.
Though half aware of his insensate mood,
He asks of heaven every fairest star
And of the earth each highest zest,
And all things near and all things far
Can not appease his deeply troubled breast.
Wenn er mir auch nur verworren
So werd ich ihn bald in die Klarheit führen.
Weiß doch der Gärtner, wenn das
Das Blüt und Frucht die künft'gen
Although he serves me now
I soon shall lead him forth where all is clear.
The gardener knows, when verdant grows the
That bloom and fruit will deck the coming
Was wettet Ihr? den sollt
Ihr noch verlieren!
Wenn Ihr mir die Erlaubnis gebt,
Ihn meine Straße sacht zu führen.
What will you wager? Him you
yet shall lose,
If you will give me your permission
To lead him gently on the path I choose.
Mephistopheles is not stupid, he is just a cynic. He
understands that Faust desires the unreachable, but
in this attitude cannot see his greatness. On the contrary
the Lord who calls Faust his servant. The ideal of Mephistopheles
is the cattle-type-person, content if the stomach is
full. The Lord on the other hand sees perfectly, that
the behaviour of his servant is confusing, but he sees
the greatness in this behaviour. Faust does, in a certain
way, also has the problem of identity. The cattle-type-person
evidently does not have any problem with his identity,
because his structure is so simple, his aim is so well
defined, that he knows not the problem of wanting something,
which is impossible to have. However the more complex
a person is, the more contradictory he is. Faust is,
as we will see, a very complex person.
But let's get back
to the last part of the quote above:
What will you wager? Him you yet shall
If you will give me your permission
To lead him gently on the path I choose.
... path I choose. What is Mephistopheles actually
saying with this? Mephistopheles bets that it is possible
to "break" Faust, that it is possible to bring
him to a point that he abandons his search, that it
is possible to convert Faust into a cattle-type-person.
That is, what he calls "the path I choose".
Once signed the contract Faust says to Mephistopheles.
Werd ich beruhigt je mich
auf ein Faulbett legen,
So sei es gleich um mich getan!
Kannst du mich schmeichelnd je belügen,
Daß ich mir selbst gefallen mag,
Kannst du mich mit Genuß betrügen-
Das sei für mich der letzte Tag!
Die Wette biet ich!
If ever I lay me on a bed of
sloth in peace,
That instant let for me existence cease!
If ever with lying flattery you can rule me
So that contented with myself I stay,
If with enjoyment you can fool me,
Be that for me the final day!
That bet I offer!
Und Schlag auf Schlag!
Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
Verweile doch! du bist so schön!
Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen,
Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehn!
Dann mag die Totenglocke schallen,
Dann bist du deines Dienstes frei,
Die Uhr mag stehn, der Zeiger fallen,
Es sei die Zeit für mich vorbei!
Another hand-clasp! There!
If to the moment I shall ever say: "Ah,
linger on, thou art so fair!"
Then may you fetters on me lay,
Then will I perish, then and there!
Then may the death-bell toll, recalling
Then from your service you are free;
The clock may stop, the pointer falling,
And time itself be past for me!
In other words Faust suffers from his desire to achieve
the unachievable. Mephistopheles is amused by this desire
and for the Lord, this is his greatnes. The Lord does
not believes that it will be possible for Mephistopheles
to 'break' Faust and that he would then lose his bet.
The Lord wants man to continually advance, to search,
to reach for the stars. The Lord wants man as a being
that does not fall asleep. In this way Faust can be
seen as a representative of the entire mankind, as an
example for the man that the Lord has created.
We can also see in Faust a person who defends himself
against any kind of limitation no matter what his personal
limitation, or social conditions or circumstances. Evidently
people who pass the limitations run the risk of committing
a crime or doing things that cannot be morally justified.
Faust commits crimes like Mephistopheles mentions in
the quote above. The Lord is not impressed by this argument.
The most important for him is that man and mankind does
not fall asleep.
Des Menschen Tätigkeit
kann allzu leicht erschlaffen,
er liebt sich bald die unbedingte Ruh;
Drum geb ich gern ihm den Gesellen zu,
Der reizt und wirkt und muß als Teufel
mankind's activity can languish all too
A man soon loves unhampered rest;
Hence, gladly I give him a comrade such as
Who stirs and works and must, as devil, do.
One should not see Faust as a person only in search
for his own personal happiness, he is a much more complex
personality. He is presented as a person, who is not
only unsatisfied with his personal situation but also
with the condition of mankind in general.
Soll ich vielleicht in tausend Büchern
Daß überall die Menschen sich gequält,
Daß hie und da ein Glücklicher
Shall I perchance in a thousand volumes
That men have tortured themselves everywhere,
And that a happy man was here and there?-
Although his search for personal happiness fails, although
he commits crimes, like for instance pushing Gretchen
in the abyss of prison, he is in the bottom of his heart
a responsible person. His imprecise search of the unknown
includes the whole of mankind. There is another Faust
in German literature, the one by Nicholaus Lenaus. There
appears a verse that describes the state of mind of
Faust quite precisely.
O greife weiter, weiter, Sturm,
Und nimm auf deine starken Schwingen
Den höchsten Stern, den tiefsten Wurm,
Uns endlich alle heimzubringen!
Oh, go on further, further
and take on to your strong wings
the highest star, the lowest worm,
to take us all home.
These verses do not describe the state of mind of a person
in search of his personal happiness. These verses describe
that state of mind, who tries to improve the whole world.