Literature Study GuidesFaust Parts 1 And 2Part 2 Act 1 Scenes 1 3 Summary

Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Study Guide

Goethe

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

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Summary

Part 2, Act 1, Scene 1: A Pleasant Landscape

Faust is sleeping restlessly in a field at twilight. Ariel and a group of nature spirits take his troubled memories away; they "bathe him in the dews of the Lethe river" to "restore him to the blessed light." Faust sleeps deeply and wakens refreshed when "Apollo's car drives up." He is fascinated and delighted by the "paradise" he sees around him.

Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2: The Imperial Palace

As Part 2 actually begins, in his throne room the young Emperor discovers his fool has just fallen down dead. An elegant but "grotesque ... clown" has taken his place: Mephistopheles, who has wit and riddles aplenty. The Emperor accepts Mephistopheles as his new fool, which troubles his courtiers. The Emperor's advisors—the Chancellor, the Minister of War, the Treasurer, and the Steward—bombard him with reports on problems in the empire and the world. Mephistopheles suggests they get an expert who can mine for gold. This reliance on nature and the mind troubles the advisers. An astrologer supports what Mephistopheles suggests, which troubles the court; they lump astrology together with alchemy and magic. The Emperor challenges Mephistopheles to produce the gold. Meanwhile, he returns to celebrating Carnival.

Part 2, Act 1, Scene 3: A Great Hall

The Herald announces a carnival celebration that is not "in the German style" but much less organized. The Emperor dances wildly at his own festivities, and all manner of common folk are in attendance, as are a very mixed bag of other people and beings, including poets, characters from Greek mythology, and even supernatural beings like nymphs, gnomes, and giants. The crowd keeps growing and getting rowdier. The Emperor (Pan) loves it. A charioteer brings in Plutus, the god of wealth, who magically makes molten gold bubble up in cauldrons. The Herald thinks it's a trick, but Plutus wins him over by turning his staff to flame and using it to quell the crowd. He's horrified, though, when everything and everyone starts catching fire. But Plutus calls down rain, which puts out the fires, and all is well.

Analysis

The Part 2 epigraph—"Here on earth/Is opportunity enough"—is another quote from Faust, who speaks these words in Act 4, Scene 1 (High Mountains). It expresses a very different attitude from the restlessness and discontent that typified Faust's attitudes in Part 1.

Although the action in Part 1 did move around a bit, it centered mostly on the village in which Gretchen lived. In Part 2, however, Faust embarks on a journey through Germany and classical Greece, moving from adventure to adventure. This is very much in the tradition of legendary journeys such as the Odyssey. Faust will set out from Germany in Act 2 and return to complete his own personal inner journey in Act 4. The plot will encompass love, loss, war, and Faust's rise to power. It begins in a natural paradise, and ends in a spiritual one. There are also parallels with another famous journey—Dante Alighieri's journey through hell, purgatory, and finally heaven in The Divine Comedy (completed shortly before Dante's death in 1321). Each journey begins with the protagonist unaware of how he reached the place in which he finds himself; in each, he must sleep before continuing. Faust, however, is in a fruitful meadow, while Dante (the poet himself is the protagonist) is in an arid desert. Faust's journey is also somehow haphazard—again much like Odysseus's voyage, in which a new and different adventure waits around each promontory. This is very unlike Dante's orderly progression through the circles of hell, purgatory, and paradise. Both Faust and Dante are accompanied by inhuman guides. Again, though, there is a difference: Faust's guide is the devil, whereas Dante's is the spirit of the poet Virgil. In each case the protagonist loves a woman who intercedes for him. In Faust's case, it is Gretchen who becomes his guide toward heaven in the final scene of the play. In Dante's case, Beatrice actually plays a much more active role as Dante's guide throughout Il Paradiso.

From the start Part 2 is very different from Part 1. Nature and the supernatural play much greater roles. The tragic tone that often arose in Part 1 is replaced by a playful tone characterized by exaggeration, witticisms, irony, and even visual humor. The interaction of the Emperor and his councilors is a good example of exaggeration; the empire would not continue if it were really run that way. Mephistopheles's comments when he appears as the Emperor's new fool are full of wit and irony. The mayhem of Scene 3 is a good example of visual humor as the poor herald tries to make sense of everything going on around him.

It is worth pointing out that Part 2 has seldom been staged. The settings, countless unnamed characters, and reliance on special effects make it more suitable for computer graphics than for the stage. Consequently, it is generally read as a closet drama.

So far Faust and Mephistopheles have not appeared together in the same scene in this part. Faust is alone in the field with the spirits of nature in Scene 1. Mephistopheles gets himself a powerful position at court in Scene 2; the fool, of course, traditionally has a great deal of influence on a monarch as it is thought that his prattling is full of wisdom. This is true, for example, of Touchstone in Shakespeare's King Lear. Readers realize, though, that in Scene 2 Mephistopheles is setting the scene for Faust to come in and save the day for the Emperor by finding and acquiring gold. And it is indeed Faust who turns up in the third scene masquerading as Plutus, the god of wealth. It seems he has become a sorcerer.

The fire is likely a metaphor for poetry. Its sparks are the sparks of inspiration that spread its art to others. Being spread by the god of wealth, therefore, it functions as a metaphor for how wealth can be used to support the arts.

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