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First Published in 1808, Goethe’s Faust is a text most English speakers will only ever encounter in translation. Faust was undoubtedly Goethe's greatest work into which he poured a lifetime of experience - the whole work took him his whole life, as the second part was only finished a year before his death. The play contains an amazing combination of religion, the supernatural, romance, tragedy and the utterly strange.
Faust is the play of the romantic movement. Goethe transforms the old legend of Faust's temptation into a universal metaphor for human existence and striving. Temptation and spiritual corruption run alongside a desire to salvage something good when the odds of so doing are negligable. This piece is arguably one of the greatest poetic dramas of all time.
Faust is an old man, a magus or a alchemist, wise, learned and apprently pious. We a see a conversation between God and Mephistopheles (satan) in which God remarks that Mephistopheles may try all he likes to tempt Faust - God is confident that Faust is too moral an individual to be tempted by anything. Mephisptopheles sets to work, appearing to Faust and conversing with him. Faust is weary of life, and Mephistopheles is soon able to convince him that he could sample something more.
When Faust is taken to the home of a witch, he looks into a magicl mirror and sees a beautiful young woman, who he at once desires. Mephistopheles has the witch make faust young again, and they set out to win the young woman. Margaret (or Gretchen as she is sometimes called in the script) is young, innocent and quite pure. She falls in love with faust, and is secudeced by him. When he kills her brother in a fight and flees, she is left to fend for herself. It is much later when Faust discoveres the true cost of his actions. Faust is very much at the mercy of Mephistopheles and cannot force his will upon the demon who is determined to corrupt him. Faust however retains a capacity to love and care, and although he has sinned by religious standards, the extent of his fall is an interesting question.
What fasncinated me most about this play is the depictions of magic - the witch/satanist is not an interpretation of witchcraft that sits well with me, but the scenes of spell crafting are undeniably powerful. Towards the end of the play, there is a witches sabbat - wild, alarming and quite stunning as they dance on a mountain top. There are angels, demons, spirits and strange beings, talking monkeys. It looks like a challenging play to stage.
Faust was originally written in German and in verse. Translation is a notably difficult art, and when it is necessary to capture rhyme, rhythm and flow as well as literal meaning, the task becomes hard indeed. There are several Faust translations available, all of which share the same core content, but which handle the poetic issues in differing ways. (You can read some older versions for free online if you want to have a look.) The most recent offering, and the version I have been reading, is a translation by Mark Scrivener, which is particularly orrientated towards stage productions. Older translations of Faust apparently are not easy to speak (although they read very well) and Scrivener's version seeks to capture the flow and grace of the original text, thus facilitating theatrical performance. Scrivener is a poet and playwright in his own right, and I think this background has done a great deal to enhance his translation. Again, if you want to look at this version, a search online will probably point you the right way.
Faust is not an easy text to read; the long stretches of philosophy laden verse are certainly not going to be to everyone's taste. If you have pateince and an interest in older texts, this verse play is well worth a look, and very rewarding if you stick with it. Its a play you need to read more than once I think, because although the main story is grippig, there are many scenes that need more thought and more careful scrutiny. I think it would be a play well worth seeing on the stage, but it is not eprformed all that often.
Sounds good, unfortunatly I don't read as much as I should (Ciao usually takes up all the time) :) James
Valletta 06.12.2001 12:59
I am German and haven't read "Faust" yet. So it's very interesting for me to see that English speaking people read things written by German people. Makes me feel a little bit patriotic:-)! Bye, bye, Anna!