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Unformatted text preview: GOET HE Goethe is not very widely read in America these days, but in many other countries he is considered a world class author, along with Shakespeare, Dante and Homer. Consequently, he belongs on any world literature reading list and is worth some effort to appreciate. Goethe lived from 1749-1832. He was revered in his lifetime as a t rue genius, a master of many forms of writing, a lawyer, a scientist, a great humanist. Faust I and Faust I I are the culminating works of his long, fruitful life. FAUST'S ROMANT IC STRUCTURE Faust's structure is deliberately fragmentary, a series of scenes loosely strung together instead of tightly integrated acts. This loose structure is based on the Romantic rebellion against the French classical insistence on the unities of form. For example, Tartuffe takes place in one room at one time with a single focused action, that of Tartuffe t ricking Orgon. The romantics shunned this "artificial" form in favor of a more "organic" or natural form that developed out of the experiences of the characters themselves. This is fine in theory, and even makes good sense on stage when interpreted by actors. However, to a reader, Faust , like many romantic works, seems at first like bits and pieces tossed together. This was intentional, and was intended to represent the fragmentary nature of experience, but is not easy on the reader. I have prepared a synopsis of the story, below, to help you sort out the story line of Faust . FAUST IS ECLECT IC Faust is an eclectic, thoroughly romantic mixture of traditional Christianity, the Old Testament, medieval magic and alchemy, folklore and witchcraft, and a non- Christian evolutionary philosophy of human development. Parts keep looking familiar, yet the whole is not. For example, Margaret/Gretchen is a traditional Christian story character. A good girl is seduced into evil ways, commits sins, becomes insane, is condemned to die, repents at the end and is saved and taken off to heaven. We are all familiar with this story. It is the stuff of folklore and ballads and even saints' lives. But intertwined with Margaret's traditional story is the story of Faust who makes a bet with the devil, does all sorts of nasty and/or illegal stuff, and gets away in the end in the name of human evolution towards higher levels of being. This is not a traditional Christian story. In the earlier version of the Faust story, Doctor Faustus , by Christopher Marlowe, Faustus does not get away with his bet with the devil, but is hauled off to hell in the end. So be careful not jump to conclusions about what Faust means. Parts are traditional, parts are not. Always think about the entire play, instead of focusing too much on any single part. The Walpurgis Night, for example, is indeed a Witches' Sabbath, and those are typically nasty damnable things, as is this one, but Faust is able to go there, enjoy its fantastic illusions, and then escape with his skin and his sanity....
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This note was uploaded on 03/11/2010 for the course HUM eng taught by Professor Thompson during the Spring '10 term at Northern Virginia.
- Spring '10