Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Study Guide


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Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Part 1, Scenes 3–4 | Summary



Part 1, Scene 3: Faust's Study

Faust, feeling in good spirits, brings the dog to his study. But soon he is feeling down again and opens the New Testament, looking for inspiration. He sees the sentence "In the beginning was the Word" and is dissatisfied with the notion that the word is the source of everything. He tries other options: mind, then power. Finally he decides on deed. Meanwhile, the poodle won't stop barking, and Faust tells the dog to leave. The animal begins to swell up, and Faust reaches for a book of spells to help him defend himself. Spirit voices call from outside the room, warning that "Old Scratch" is in there. Faust tries to expel any demon that might be in the dog, which is now as big as a hippopotamus. But none of Faust's spells have any effect. He finally shows the beast a crucifix, and the dog swells further and dissolves into mist that fills the room. Finally, it turns into Mephistopheles, dressed as a student. Unafraid, Faust asks his name, but the devil refuses to give one. Instead, he asks Faust to let him leave; a pentagram drawn in the doorway is preventing him from doing so. Faust doesn't want to let him go, but the spirits sing Faust to sleep, and Mephistopheles calls on the rats to break the chalk pentagram. When Faust wakes up, he's alone and wonders if he dreamed the devil was there.

Part 1, Scene 4: Faust's Study

Mephistopheles returns to the study and invites Faust to come out for a good time. Faust says he's too old to be so easily amused but too young to be content with nothing. The devil tells Faust to stop feeling sorry for himself and to start enjoying life. He offers to travel "life's long road" together—as Faust's slave, fulfilling his every wish. Faust wants to know what the catch is and learns that, if the two meet in the afterlife, it will be Faust's turn to be the slave. Faust believes that any delights the devil produces will disappear, calling them "fruit that rots as you try/To pick it." But Mephistopheles suggests that all Faust really wants is "a share ... in life's good things" and "peace and quiet." Faust replies that if he ever "loll[s] at ease," feels "satisfied with [him]self," or is tempted by "visions of luxuries," Mephistopheles is welcome to take his life. The devil accepts the bet, and they write up a contract sealed with a drop of blood. The conflict of the play is thus created.

Before they can leave, a Student arrives, and the devil masquerades as Faust to meet with him. Upon seeing the dismal study, the Student thinks maybe he doesn't want to be a scholar after all, but Mephistopheles talks him into it. They discuss what field the Student should study, and he decides on medicine—especially since a doctor, as the devil points out, "For greeting reaches for those parts/It takes a layman years to come at." As he leaves, the student asks Mephistopheles to write in his album, and in Latin Mephistopheles writes Genesis 3:5: "You shall be as God, knowing good and evil." Then Faust and Mephistopheles leave.


In these scenes Faust and Mephistopheles finally meet. Already Faust is less depressed. If nothing else this is a change for him. He is still certain, though, that nothing will completely satisfy him, which allows him to make his own wager with the devil. Moreover, the nature of what Faust desires is unlikely to allow him to feel "at ease": "frenzied excitements," painful "gratifications," "love and hatred violently mixed," and so on. Still, his willingness to make the wager attests to the extent of his desperation to escape boredom and depression. Of course, the terms of Mephistopheles's agreement with Faust are not exactly those of his wager with the Lord; with Faust it's not a matter of good versus evil but of longing/striving versus satisfaction. The audience might wonder if this creates a loophole in the wager made in the Prologue in Heaven. In fact, it corresponds to Goethe's basic theme.

In the fifth scene, Mephistopheles's spirits sing to Faust of lovers and dancers in a sunlit landscape of arbors, vineyards, lakes, and mountains. This landscape will be Faust's reality in Part 2. There's another reference to Part 2 in the sixth scene, when Mephistopheles says to Faust, "First we'll mix with little people, then with great." Their adventures in Part 1 take place among commoners, and in Part 2 they take place among rulers, nobility, and characters from classical myth.

Once Mephistopheles reveals himself, the tone is often light. Mephistopheles tends to use down-to-earth language and a lighter tone. But even Faust has left behind his seriousness. This can be seen in the obviousness of the rhyme and rhythm of several of their exchanges, as well as in their content. For instance, he teases the devil about not being able to leave. Faust becomes serious again when he confesses how "ill at ease" he is among others, but Mephistopheles's reassurances quickly restore his good humor and the light tone.

Before the poodle is revealed to be Mephistopheles, Faust speaks to it as if to a confidant. He returns to a topic he has brought up before: theology. Using the first clause in John's gospel, he speculates on whether all things really originated with "the Word," or with something else. Faust's version is the epigraph Goethe chose for Part 1, so it is clearly important. Later, when Mephistopheles returns for a second visit to the study, he becomes the one to discuss theology, this time with the Student. He calls theology "a science/Where it's easy to lose your way" and in which it's hard to distinguish between the "toxic" and the "medicinal." He even tells the Student to believe in words rather than in ideas. What he says describes much of what Faust seems to feel about religion—that its words can't be trusted and that over time one drifts away from one's faith. These ideas reflect Goethe's own disillusionment with organized religion and his exploration of the limitations of language for ultimate expression.

In his interaction with the Student, Mephistopheles has followed in his aunt's footsteps. She was the snake who tempted Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge so that she would be on a par with God, and now Mephistopheles has tempted the Student to study medicine in order to grope girls at will. Quoting his aunt in the Student's album makes this all the clearer. This parallels what he hopes to do with Faust, but the wise older man will be a tougher sell than the naive young student.

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