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

Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Study Guide

Goethe

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

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Summary

Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1: Before Menelaus's Palace at Sparta

Helen has just returned to Sparta after the Trojan War, attended by her servants—the Chorus of Trojan women, led by Panthalis. Helen doesn't know what her husband, Menelaus, plans to do with her and wonders if he has brought her home as his wife or as his captive. She knows only that he has ordered her to get the equipment ready for a sacrifice. She enters the palace but soon runs out again. The only person inside is an ugly and imperious old woman—a woman who now joins them. The Chorus recognizes her as a Phorkyad, but she says she's a slave who has been promoted to housekeeper. She warns that Menelaus intends to sacrifice Helen and hang the Trojan women. But, if they want, she can rescue them by taking them to a beautiful castle in the northern highlands that belongs to "a fine figure of a man." The Chorus of Women begs Phorkyas to save them; Helen suspects the old woman is "an evil spirit ... who turns what's good into its opposite." Nonetheless, she agrees to Phorkyas's plan. A thick fog enshrouds Helen and her servants. When it lifts, they are standing inside gray castle walls.

Part 2, Act 3, Scene 2: Courtyard of a Castle

When the mist clears, Helen and the Chorus are in the bleak courtyard of a gray stone castle, and Phorkyas is nowhere to be seen. Helen demands she return and produce "that simply marvelous/Lord of yours." Instead, a group of handsome pages and squires bring an ornate chair for Helen and seat her in it. Then Faust appears dressed as a medieval noble and accompanied by a man in chains. The prisoner is Lynceus the Watchman, and he's in chains because he didn't alert anyone to Helen's approach. Helen asks Faust to free Lynceus, and Faust does. Kneeling before her, Faust presents Helen with everything in his castle. Helen likes listening to Lynceus and Faust and thinks it must be difficult to "speak with so much art." Faust tells her, "It's easy when the words come from the heart." Soon the two are in love and finishing each other's sentences. They are interrupted by Phorkyas, who rushes in to say that Menelaus's army is approaching. Faust calmly calls in his own army and tells Helen not to worry: he will protect her. He says she's too beautiful to be locked up in a castle; he'll take her to Arcadia instead.

Part 2, Act 3, Scene 3: Arcadia

The Chorus is sleeping in an arbor among rocky cliffs. Phorkyas wakes them and tells them Faust and Helen are living happily in a cave and have a son who plays the lyre just like Apollo. They hear music coming from the cave, and soon Helen, Faust, and their son, Euphorion, come out.

Euphorion dances with the Chorus, then runs off into the woods. When he returns, he has captured a girl. To escape him, she bursts into flames and runs off. Quickly, Euphorion follows, climbing higher and higher. As he climbs, he sees he's on an island and wants to escape it. Tired of the peace and quiet, he longs for war and adventure. Believing he can fly, he launches himself into the air and falls to his death at his parents' feet. Helen and Faust agree "Soon after gladness/Grimly comes pain." From below, Euphorion's voice calls to his mother not to leave him alone in the dark. The Chorus sings an elegy for Euphorion. Then the music stops. After telling Faust she can't stay without her son, Helen fades away, leaving him holding her gown. Phorkyas tells him to hold it tight, and the gown dissolves, becoming a cloud that carries Faust away. Phorkyas picks up Euphorion's clothing and lyre and wanders away from the deserted servants. Free of her influence, the Chorus melts into nature, becoming spirits. Eventually Phorkyas stands up and takes off her boots, mask, and veil. It turns out "she" is actually Mephistopheles.

Analysis

Despite Faust's heroic descent into the underworld on his quest to find Helen in Act 2, Scene 3, it turns out that he needed Mephistopheles after all in order to find her. In Act 3 readers learn why Mephistopheles merged with the Phorkyads. He needed to appear as an ugly old woman in order to gain the trust of Helen and her servants and to convince them to follow him to Faust's castle. It is likely that merging with the mythological witches also allowed him to overcome his inability to connect with classical Greek spirits. Despite his disguise, however, Helen can see the evil in Phorkyas, just as Gretchen saw through Mephistopheles in Part 1. Readers can also see hints that Phorkyas is Mephistopheles before her revelation at the end of the act. She indulges in Mephistopheles's typical irony, for example, telling Faust and Helen to enjoy themselves flirting while Menelaus's army approaches, and she speaks in asides to the audience.

Helen of Troy is, of course, the legendary Greek beauty over whom the Trojan War was fought. Whereas in Part 1, Faust fell in love with a real woman, Gretchen, now he has fallen in love with the ideal of womanly beauty. This is in keeping with the dichotomy between the microcosm of the first part and the macrocosm of the second. Part 2 is sweeping in its scope in both place and time. It begins in Germany, moves to classical Greece, and ends in Germany again. Faust goes from a young man to a very old one, from a man sleeping in a field who apparently has nothing to a virtual king in a castle. In order to cover all this ground, Goethe's treatment of the love between Faust and Helen is so superficial that readers might wonder if it even really happens. After all, the two marry and have a son before the Chorus has even awakened from its magical trip to Arcadia. Then, in the course of the scene, Euphorion seems to mature from a boy to a young man ready to go off adventuring.

Part 2, Act 3 owes a great deal to the traditions of ancient Greek theater. The scenes are all set outside a large structure—a palace, a castle, a mountainside with a cave in it just as the actions in Greek plays were set outside the skēne. Like the typical Greek protagonist, Helen is accompanied by a Chorus that reacts to the action of the play. The reaction of the Chorus provide a great deal of humor in Scenes 1 and 2 of Act 3, especially as it expresses the Chorus's gullibility, constant changes of spirit, and interest in pretty men. As in Greek theater, the Chorus Leader converses with and advises the protagonist and narrates action the audience can't see. At the end of the act, supernatural power saves the day; in this case, lifting Faust magically into the sky and whisking him off to Germany.

Readers have to wonder what the legendary beauty Helen of Troy sees in Faust. One thing, of course is that Mephistopheles has made it seem as though Faust has saved her life. Faust's generosity toward her probably helps, too. But Helen actually seems to fall for the poetic way Faust and Lynceus speak. Later, Goethe follows up on this notion with an homage to the English Romantic poet Lord Byron (1788–1824) in his description of Euphorion. Faust and Helen's son plays a lyre and makes music that enchants the ever-susceptible Chorus. When he crashes to the ground at his parents' feet—in an echo of the mythical Icarus—Goethe describes his body as "resembling in death a well-known figure." Goethe has in mind the famous painting of Lord Byron on His Death-bed (c. 1826) by the Belgian artist Joseph Denis Odevaere. In the painting, Byron is shown wearing a laurel wreath, a lyre has dropped from his hand, and a classical Greek landscape can be seen through the window. When Euphorion's body vanishes and his spirit rises, it is reminiscent of the last words of Byron's Childe Harold:

But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,
And my frame perish even in conquering pain;
But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire.

These could also have been Faust's last lines at the end of the play—had he stayed alive long enough to speak them.

One way to view Helen and Faust's marriage is as an allegory for the merging of Greek and German Classicism. Certainly it does not have the passion of Faust's relationship with Gretchen, a relationship born of Goethe's Sturm und Drang period.

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