The Story of the Faustian bargain: Trading soul and salvation for vast power
Commonly referenced in Western Europe and around the world, the story of the Faustian bargain—in which a remarkable individual trades soul and salvation for vast power—has appeared throughout history in poems, plays, newspapers, and novels describing characters’ dilemmas. In The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, the narrator falls in love with a machine-generated image of a woman named Faustine. He claims to be a criminal fugitive who escaped to live on an island, and he makes a bargain to sacrifice his soul to be with his love Faustine forever. Upon further examination of his journal, however, we see he is in fact a coward trying to redeem his previous life and create a new image rather than allegedly sacrificing himself nobly for love. Although he himself may be unaware, the narrator’s journal serves to mask his deeper immoral desire for immortality and power.
The first indications of the narrator’s self-seeking motives arise from his previous background. We learn from his journal that he arrived on the island as a means to escape his fugitive status, and perhaps start a new life. He explains, “I hope to write as a kind of justification for my shadowy life on this earth” (18). Thus, even before he has the opportunity to die nobly, he intends to use the journal as justification. Rather than feeling ashamed for his crimes, he is fearful what others think of his image and paranoid of getting caught. When he discovers what he thinks are visitors on the island, his first reaction is that they’re coming for him. He is undoubtedly self-centered, and responds to his past deeds by escaping them. His pursuit of Faustine serves as a distraction from his fear. When he feels like he wants to escape, he says, “but I am not so worried about the dangers I am facing—I am most concerned about the mistake I made—it can deprive me of the woman forever” (23). Just as he fearfully carried himself from his previous life to the island, Faustine provides another pursuit, or means of escaping, psychologically.
The narrator’s isolated and psychological state on the island suggests that allegedly sacrificing his soul to be with Faustine is an act of suicide. Like Faus, in the German legend, he is immensely bored with his current state. Not only that, he is hopeless and writes, “I had nothing to hope for” (19). Although he believed risking escaping to the island would end his previous troubles, or at least result in death, it is the end of his physical journey. Without being able to move anywhere, he feels trapped emotionally as well, “but will I ever be allowed to leave” (21). The narrator also feels like a victim to the island, and is imprisoned. His paranoia also indicates how tormented he is by being caught. His state of hopelessness and isolation further escalates with time on the island with the images. He writes he feels like a “dead man in the midst of the living” (47). Without the images, there would be no comparison for the narrator—no glimpse of humanity or sanity. Therefore, he is somewhat aware of his psychological condition, yet with the repeating images, is constantly reminded. He grabs hold to his perception of love for Faustine, since love is a powerful emotion and ultimate distraction. As he is dying, he finally feels like he has “the reward of a peaceful eternity” and this peace is what he has been seeking and has ultimately reached for both his body and spirit (124).
The narrator also seeks to be with Faustine to win against Morel, thus redeeming his previous image. As mentioned previously, the narrator is aware of his readers and worries how he is perceived. Unlike Morel, he provides a timeline to “give my readers a way to date” (45). He even aspires to go beyond winning Faustine and hopes to eliminate Morel completely. He writes, “I am obsessed by the hope of removing Morel’s image from the eternal week” (121). But why would the narrator want to remove him from the images if it was clear Faustine did not love Morel, as said in the journal? Perhaps it was evident that Faustine did in fact love Morel, but the narrator did not share that with his readers. Alternatively, the narrator perceived that there was no relationship at that time, but Morel was rather a competitor for the future. A similar question can be asked of Morel, the inventor. Did he create his invention for the noble love of science or rather for the immortal fame and reputation that would result from it?
Although the narrator shares his thoughts in a personal journal, it is unclear whether he is cognizant of his cowardice and selfish motives. In the narrator’s mind, he believes that his bargain does in fact redeem his image as well as grant him immortality and power. Through the narrator’s pursuit, Bioy Casares suggests society overvalues fame and power over death, especially in 1940 when the novel was published. In preparation for World War II, scientists dedicated their soul to building weapons for the war. Although their perceived motives for helping their country and advancing technology were noble, like Morel they were killing people for the sake of scientific progress or even fame. Similarly, as the narrator is transferring his soul to the images, he cries “but I still love you” as he remembers his home country Venezuela, “with its leaders, its troops with rented uniforms and deadly aim” (122). The narrator suddenly feels regret for betraying his other love, which illustrates his conflicted nature. Just like his self-seeking love for Faustine, his fear of being forgotten overpowers his love, and he was compelled leave his country to save himself.
Though as readers we may critique the narrator as being self-seeking, fearful, and deceptive, Bioy Casares forces us to examine ourselves and our surroundings. Furthermore, what others present to the world may be different than their true personality, whether they’re conscious of it or not. Before World War II, propaganda inspired people to join the war out of patriotism. Furthermore, scientific progress was greatly celebrated and many technologies developed were useful following the war. In some ways, it’s impossible to predict future impact in the present, though one can try. Another question Bioy Casares raises is how much we overvalue fame and power over life as humans. For the narrator, death is impending, so choosing immortality over dying in the near future seems logical. During war, however, many soldiers die for love of their country and perhaps for an honorable image. Thus, is the point of life for some to die an honorable life? Perhaps it’s from past pain, hopelessness, fear of the present, or from competition, as the narrator experiences. No matter what our inner motives may be it’s possible to mask them and project a more permanent image of ourselves through text, photos, or social media.
Comparing Carter’s and Goethe’s Versions of the Story
When reading through Goethe’s version of “The Erl-King,” then Carter’s, it is striking how different many of the core elements are between the two stories. Major changes Carter has made include the introduction of a female character and the narrative voice which becomes first person rather than the third person narrator Goethe uses. Although obvious, the length of Carter’s story has a profound effect on the entire meaning of the story and the overall message; Goethe by presenting the myth in a short poem can present the morals of the story very simplistically. The fact that the Father should trust his Son is clear to the reader and the general warning that the Erl-King is dangerous is equally clear. In contrast, any morals in Carter’s 9-page story are almost impossible to derive; she makes the plot more complex through stronger characterisation, which is only possible through an extended story. However, Carter by no means forgets the origins of the original myth and often references it through slightly archaic and not so contemporary syntax such as ‘The Erl-King will do you grievous harm.” Carter also makes the reader aware that her story is based off an original myth through classic fairy tale lines such as, “What big eyes you have.”
Another truth that runs through both stories is that the character of the Erl-King has many desirable virtues; he is not a simple antagonist or villain. For example the reader can only realise that Goethe’s Erl-King is evil through the medium of the small child, if the techniques of “!” and strong imperatives were not included when the child speaks, then the audience’s view of the Erl-King would be one of caring and generosity. The Erl-King offers ‘gold’ and ‘care’ which seems better than the Father’s constant ignorance towards the child’s fears. It could even be argued that the Erl-King saves the child and gives him happiness. Humanity does not understand death and is unaware of what happens after it, but Goethe’s Erl-King is the master of death and maybe knows that the child will be happier after death, whatever that may entail. The narrator in Carter’s tale even argues directly to the audience that the Erl-King could be considered good or at the very least not to blame for the crimes he commits. She describes his hair as ‘beautiful’ and his eyes as ‘life’ , these are descriptions that one would give to a stereotypical male hero of a fairytale, one who comes and saves a damsel in distress. Carter may be including these descriptions to pay homage to the incomprehensible character in Goethe’s version, a character that either saves or hurts the child; an answer the audience can never know. Carter also adds to the parallel between her and Goethe’s Erl-King by making the Erl-King possibly evil as well; her description also comprises of phrases like ‘his touch both consoles and devastates me’ which is highly similar to how the child in Goethe’s poem feels. In both versions the Erl-King is defined only by how other characters react to him, whether it is fear or sexual lust.
Despite Carter using some elements from Goethe’s original the different narrative voice creates a wholly different story. The exploration of feminism is brought in through this technique as the female narrator struggles to decide whether the Erl-King is good or bad. The best description of him is probably a ‘tender butcher’ which is interesting because it is the first time Carter presents a man as perhaps being unable to objectify women, although the Erl-King does it so obviously through his collection of birds. The birds represent women becoming play things of men when they were free spirits. But Carter suggests the Erl-King cannot help himself because he epitomises nature which is presented as dark; completely opposite to how romantic poets such as Keats presented it. Nature created him so he is nature in a humanoid form; it is only nature that scares the woman. The theme of threat is introduced as soon as she enters the woods, not when she sees the Erl-King; the line ‘bars of light’ foreshadow the fate nature has in store for her. This idea of Erl-King being in tune with nature is not included in Goethe’s poem and neither is the exploration into how a woman can become the dominator in the relationship through powerful acts, such as the murder of the Erl-King.
One final similarity between the texts is clear at the end of the story. The female narrator suddenly changes her style of relaying the story back to the reader; she begins to state what ‘she’ will do not what “I have done”. This gives the story an ambiguous end because we as a reader are unsure whether she did actually kill the Erl-King or only planned to; she could be in a cage at the end of the story. This ambiguity can be seen in Goethe’s version as well because we, as readers, do not know the true fate of the child.
The Tragic Hero and the Process of Life’s Destruction of the Protagonists in Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and Breaking Bad by Vince Gilligan
In both the story Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe, and the series Breaking Bad, by Vince Gilligan, there is a tragic hero that is in the process of destroying his life. Even though they do not measure up to the same situations, both of the tragic heroes are on the line of what is good and what is bad. In the series Breaking Bad, the tragic hero and main character’s name is Walter White. He is a science teacher that eventually begins cooking crystal meth to make sure his family is set for if he were to ever die from his lung cancer. Throughout the seasons of the series he develops into more of an antagonist than a protagonist, which is just what he was within the first few seasons, because he wants to make sure his image is protected and his tracks are covered. He results to hiring a hit man to keep himself safe from getting caught.
Eventually, he feels bad for all of the things he has done to people just to cover his tracks so his redemption began after he admitted that he stayed in the meth business because he favored it. In the story Dr. Faustus, the tragic hero and main character is Doctor Faustus. He is a professor that eventually begins learning black magic because he thinks that it is fascinating and will give him a better life. He does not believe that heaven or hell exist but he wants to make a deal with the Devil because the evil angel told him to “think of honour and of wealth,” and that is what he wants.
After Lucifer (the Devil) accepted his offer of his soul, Faustus signed a contract with his blood, this made him a servant of the Devil and his soul was taken. After he signed the contract, he began praying to God to redeem him of his sins and to save his soul so that he would not be a servant of the Devil. After writing about these two works, it really helped me to understand the story of Dr. Faustus being a tragic hero better. They also helped me to realize that even though the works are centuries apart the tragic heroes both had a downfall, had some large limitations on being a better person, and in the end, they both changed and wanted redemption.
Faust and Mccabe Case: Ethical Issues
Deb Faust has a problem. She is the financial vice-president and when classifying first time securities in the portfolio she realized she can increase her net income for next year by only including the trading securities that have increased in value. She realized she can also classify the securities that have decreased in value as long-term non-trading securities and her 2014 net income will not be affected. Her problem lies with her controller, Jan McCabe who disagrees with her. McCabe wants to do the complete opposite arguing that the company is having a good earnings year and by recognizing the losses now, it will help smooth income for next year. In future years, in case of a not profitable year, the company will have built-in gains.
Marketable securities held by a company are reported in the financial statements but how the company classifies and records these depends on how long the company intends to hold them. Marketable securities can be classified as trading or non-trading, available to sell or held till maturity. How the company reports these will change the market price of the securities and can affect financial statements. Securities are recorded in the balance sheet at their fair value however if there is a change in the fair value then that change is recognized as a gain or loss.
By classifying the securities how each wants to will have an effect on the net income. If they classify the gains as trading securities will cause that to show as a gain on the income statement just as classifying the losses as non-trading securities will defer until next year.
By proposing these different scenarios, each employee is acting unethically. Neither of these proposals are in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The IFRS uses a financial reporting framework to determine the measurement, recognition, presentation and disclosure of all material items appearing in the financial statement. By manipulating the securities reporting, this is not an accurate presentation of the financial statement. Not only does this inaccuracy affect employees, it is also going to affect the company’s officers, directors, shareholders and any potential investors that may see this financial statement and believe it is an accurate presentation of the company’s net income. This can also affect potential auditors who will most likely find this misstatement.
Faust and McCabe can certainly address the issue of selling the non-gaining securities with management and be sure they are aware of the potential issues with how they will be classified. These securities can be sold and this would not be unethical.
Faust and McCabe should take the steps in the ethical decision making model and think through their ethical dilemma. They can start by addressing what legal issues will arise if they list the securities as they propose. If they evaluate the consequences of their decision by listing the possible outcomes, will they could have a better picture of what could happen if they list the securities incorrectly? They also need to consider the other stakeholder’s in this decision and how they will be affected. They also need to consider their professional obligations with this proposed course of action.
Both Faust and McCabe are demonstrating a lack of professional judgment in this case. They believe they are doing the best thing by the company but in fact this could turn into a very harmful situation for everyone. At their core, they believe this is ethical but by engaging in a poor accounting practice that will misstate a financial statement, they are indeed acting unethically.
This quote by former SEC chair Arthur Levitt from “The Numbers Game” links the practice of “earnings management” to an excessive zeal to project smoother earnings from year to year that casts a pall over the quality of the underlying numbers. Levitt identifies the cause as a “culture of gamesmanship” in business rooted in the emphasis on achieving short-term results such as meeting or exceeding financial analysts” earnings expectations. While there is a well-established concept in corporate finance that business decisions should be based on maximizing the wealth of shareholders, this concept could encourage unethical business behavior. Faust and McCabe may feel they are best serving the shareholders and the company by manipulating the securities but in the end this will not help the company and could possibly result in auditor findings and potential fines and penalties.
Lucy Prebble’s Enron and Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: Comparing the Construction of Theme of Excess Power and Its Abuse
Is Doctor Faustus or Enron more successful as a moral play?
The playwrights display lessons that the audience are to learn whilst watching the play. However, arguably the playwrights have different aims as to watch they are, Marlowe projects a moral warning about reaching higher than ‘heavenly power permits.’ Writing in the sixteenth century it naturally falls into the category of a morality play in part. Whereas Enron seeks to give an ultra- theatrical demonstration of how corporate madness works, Enron lacks the universal relevance that Marlow creates by presenting Faustus as an everyman. Instead the purpose of Enron is to make the audience question their trust and the reliability if the capitalist system that allowed the Enron disaster to happen.
Primarily, both plays offer a similar message about the danger of overreaching indeed, Marlowe creates a protagonist whose downfall occurs because ‘his waxen wings did mount above his reach’. ‘waxen’ suggests that Faustus’ is actually vulnerable and the knowledge he is shown as having, only places him on a flimsy pedestal, this is because wax is pliable and easily melts. Essentially man’s fragility is conveyed. Similarly, the danger of overstretching is shown in Prebble’s presentation of Skilling’s arrogance that ‘countries are meaningless.’ Both protagonists are seduced by the allure of power offering a moral message about the corrupting nature of greed. This is further exemplified in Enron as the LJM, the wielder of the power, is created in ‘a dingy place at the bottom of Enron’ creating the illusion that this hell, especially as the ‘box glows red and throbs.’ Red is closely associated with hell and danger particularly as it is set in the underbelly of Enron, however, the ‘throb’ has connotations with a heart; suggesting that hell has become the heart of the company, Enron, a company that much of the contemporary population trusted and invested in is reliant and worships hell.
Doctor Faustus in many parts follows the allegorical genre of a morality play that was the main genre that made the transition from the medieval to the Early Modern period, thus, suggesting that it aspires to be a moral tale. The staple of a morality play was that it had universal relevance by representing an everyman, Faustus is the epitome of this as he is ‘born, of parents base of stock.’ Therefore, the moral message of the play is accessible to all members of society whereas Enron seems more to be a window into the on goings of corporate business, that isn’t necessarily relevant to all society. Furthermore, the simplistic characterisation of the seven deadly sins and the angels is typical of a morality play where the moral message is clear as the characters adopt a Brechtian function by being created to portray a message oppose to prioritising in-depth character development, indeed the bad angel is used to illustrate the horror ‘hell’s pains perpetually’ the use of alliteration gives the illusion of hell going on eternally, whilst the harsh consonant sounds give insight the horror and unforgiving nature of hell. This is where the success of Faustus as a moral tale could come into question as Marlowe creates Faustus himself as a multifaceted character that can be sympathised with as well as despised. He can be admired for his yearning for the knowledge of ‘the Delphian oracle’ this reference to where the ancient Greeks sought divine knowledge, shows Faustus as aspiring for greater intelligence, arguably this could be Marlow subtly laying blame at the feet of the church for restricting everyman’s access to knowledge by keeping the bible in Latin. Nonetheless, Faustus’ cold-hearted tricks of fixing ‘two spreading horns’ on Benvolio and then condemning men to ‘the lowest hell,’ inspires hatred towards this flippant behaviour, this is a result of excess power.
It could be argued that Fastow is employed by Prebble for similar reasons as Marlowe’s use of Faustus, to offer a warning about greed and obsession with personal gain as he exclaims ‘what the f**k do you want’ to the revered Lehman brothers. This disrespect and ugly use of language shows Fastow as having an inflated sense of self-importance. However, I would argue that its main intent is to offer a condemnation of business and the capital system, as Fastow exclaims ‘This is an area where we are expected to be creative. The system encourages it.’ The short sentences seem final; creating a damning portray of the loopholes that the current system allows. Whilst it is It is difficult to feel sympathy for the men whose deregulation policies did so much damage, Prebble reminds us of the global complicity in money worship.
There is a moral message in both plays however, ‘Faustus’ end be such as every Christian laments to think on’. Faustus contains a strong message regarding man’s ability to wield power successfully whether this be interpreted in a Christian mindset stating that God’s position shouldn’t be challenged or applying to renaissance thinkers unto which individualism was appearing. In this renaissance period, new knowledge was rife and Marlow offers a warning about how everyman chooses to employ this new power than knowledge brings. It offers a timeless moral message that can be applicable to all status of man and all eras. Meanwhile, Enron shows the danger of excess power however the presentation of the Lehman brothers as Siamese twins and Arthur Anderson as a ventriloquist, add to the idea that this play is designed to make a mockery of the corporate system instead of issuing a message regarding the behaviour of an everyman.
Heaven and Hell as polarized ideas in Dr. Faustus
In Doctor Faustus, good and evil are presented as two polarized ideas: God and Heaven on one side, and Lucifer and Hell on the other. Contrasting representations of this division also appear, such as the old man and the Good Angel opposed to Mephistopheles and the Bad Angel. Initially, this struggle between good and evil is Faustus’ major internal conflict as he is deciding whether to make the blood bond. However, by the time Faustus views the seven deadly sins, evil persists as the dominant force and is the path that Faustus follows to his final damnation.
The struggle between good and evil begins with Faustus’ divided conscience. The Good and Bad Angels represent the conflict between his devotion to knowledge and his longing for power. They most blatantly exemplify the traits of good versus evil when the Good Angel tells Faustus to “think of heaven and heavenly things” (2.1.20) while the Bad Angel tells Faustus to “think of honor and wealth” (2.1.21). However, at the end of the play, the Good Angel and the Bad Angel no longer appear. This absence represents Faustus’ commitment towards evil, symbolized through the blood bond. No longer does he reminisce about turning to God, nor does he lament the path he has chosen until the end. Rather, he resorts to a wasteful use of his powers through playing pranks and satisfying royalty, such as his tricks on the Pope and the conjuring of Alexander the Great.
The most important part of the good versus evil conflict occurs at Faustus’ turning point from good to evil. The dilemma between which paths to follow has settled towards evil by the time the seven deadly sins are paraded in front of him. Before this event, Faustus has good intentions. For example, he promises that he will “fill the public schools with silk, wherewith the students shall be bravely clad” (1.1.90-91). He is persistent in his search for knowledge even though he is naive about the eternal torment that awaits him in hell. Faustus is even repulsed enough by the physical manifestation of evil that he asks Mephistopheles to change his appearance. He commands the devil to, “Go, and return an old Franciscan friar; That holy shape becomes a devil best” (1.3.25-6). Faustus cannot bear to see the reality of hell; rather, he misinterprets it to be less evil that it actually is and even nonexistent at times. This blissful innocence can be seen in his succinct reply that hell is a myth immediately after Mephistopheles’ terrifying description of hell.
However, after making a blood bond with Mephistopheles, Faustus delights in the seven deadly sins, even when seeing them firsthand. He describes his anticipation to Lucifer: “That sight will be as pleasant to me as Paradise was to Adam the first day of his creation” (2.3.103-4). In comparison to his disgusted reaction towards Mephistopheles’ devil figure, his acceptance of evil has become evident here and will later free him from his initial claims of benevolent aspirations, demonstrated with his later pranks and frivolous feats.
Three main factors contribute to this change of nature from good to evil after the presentation of the sins. One of these is that the forbidden, ultimate knowledge which he so desires at the beginning of the play is revealed to him as being elementary and redundant. In reply to Mephistopheles’ answers on astronomy, Faustus says, “Tush, these slender trifles Wagner can decide. Hath Mephistopheles no greater skill? … Tush, these are freshmen’s suppositions” (2.3.49-50, 55). The strongest blow may occur when he is denied the knowledge of the world’s origin. At this point, Faustus cries out in distress for his soul to be saved but is denied salvation. As a result, he realizes that his contract with the devil is irreversible.
This awareness of damnation becomes the second main contributor towards his acceptance of evil. In the middle of Faustus’ plea to Christ, Lucifer appears and destroys any hope for repentance by stating that “Christ cannot save thy soul for he is just. There’s none but I have interest in the same” (2.3.81-82). After this crucial moment, Faustus believes that no matter how hard he tries to repent, he has already sinned once and is thus permanently damned to eternal hell. Believing he cannot be saved, he tries to drown his pending damnation through pranks. For example, after having fooled the horse dealer, he laments that he is simply a man destined to die soon. His only consolation is in “confound[ing] these passions with a quiet sleep” (4.1.135). All of the practical jokes and feats that he performs serve merely as distractions to purge his mind from thoughts of repenting, as he knows he has chosen the path of evil.
One event that clearly shows his conformance with evil is his insistence for Helen near the end of the play. Remarkably, he openly acknowledges that he is guilty of one of the deadly sins, the only time that he does so. By demanding Mephistopheles to “let [him] crave of thee, to glut the longing of [his] heart’s desire” (5.1.80), he is clearly aware of the path he is taking, yet proceeds to commit the evil deed. Irrelevant now is whether he can be saved as he has willingly submitted to evil. Faustus tells Helen to “make [him] immortal with a kiss” (5.1.92) and exclaims how “her lips suck forth [his] soul” (5.1.93). The immortality that he is asking for is rather the eternal torment of hell, and it is possible that he sees how evil his soul has become. Furthermore, his first thought after his evil act is to ask Helen to give him his “soul” again. Thus, this realization of his irreversible damnation liberates him from any responsibilities to do good and encourages him to commit sin repeatedly.
The third influence that plays a part in Faustus’ turning towards evil is from the overwhelming presence of evil compared to good. Oddly enough, God does not appear throughout the play, while Lucifer and Mephistopheles consistently arrive at critical moments of Faustus’ doubts. The presence of the devils is important as it prevents Faustus, who initially regrets his decision, from renouncing their contract. For example, as Faustus contemplates repentance, Mephistopheles appears and threatens to tear Faustus to pieces. There is no reply from God nor is there any other counter to this evil. The closest influence we have to rival the powerful impact of evil is that of the Good Angel and the Old Man. Both are helpless at affecting Faustus’ conscience. The Good Angel asks Faustus to repent, to which he responds by immediately “cast[ing] no more doubts” (2.1.26) in favor of signing the contract. The Old Man is condemned to torment “with [the] greatest torments that our hell affords” (5.1.77). Thus, calls for evil drastically outweigh any appeals for good, primarily because God does not exert any direct influence.
Faustus is torn between good and evil as he decides to exchange eternal life for power. This conflict quickly changes after he makes the blood bond and mocks the seven deadly sins. Even when given the choice for good, Faustus continually accepts evil as he is convinced of his immutable damnation. Perhaps it is not really a conflict of choice for Faustus, but rather an inevitable demise towards evil.
Power and the Unknown in Dr. Faustus and The Tempest
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s The Tempest present similar definitions of “power” through the differing circumstances of their protagonists. Power, in these plays, can be thought of as “control of the unknown.” If one character has control of something another character has no understanding of, the first character can gain power over the second. While Faustus and Prospero are both presented as highly educated and powerful magicians, Prospero is generally able to exert power over all The Tempest’s characters because he is constantly aware of what is happening, while the play’s other characters are unaware of what is occurring. Faustus, on the other hand, fails not because he is overly ambitious or proud, but because he believes himself to be in control while he is actually under Mephostophilis’ power, kept unaware of what is being done to him. Looked at together, the plays seem to offer an argument for prudence and caution when faced with the opportunity to gain power, rather than arguing against ambition as might be assumed in the case of Faustus.
While the plays’ plots show it is not quite so simple, both protagonists equate knowledge with power, and so pursue learning on their quest to become more powerful. Prospero, when telling his daughter the history of how they arrived on their island, says he grew distant from his position as Duke of Milan because he was “rapt in secret studies” (1.2.176), and did not resist his usurpation because his library “Was dukedom enough” (1.2.212). Though he may be downplaying how much he values his actual dukedom to make sure Miranda remains ignorant of his ambitions, this does reveal his devotion to his studies. He does not explicitly state why he values knowledge so much, however. This is explained later by other characters. Faustus also professes a love of knowledge, but is more explicit about why, frequently equating it not only to power, but also to magic. He says that through studying his books, a “world of profit and delight / of power, of honor, of omnipotence / is promised to the studious artisan!” (1.1.51-3), explicitly showing that his purpose in studying is to gain power, specifically magical power as suggested by “omnipotence.”
Possessing knowledge, however, is only part of what is required to gain power. First, the characters have to use their knowledge in a way that takes advantage of someone who does not possess the same knowledge. Prospero is cautious and never states exactly why he is so concerned with his studies, but Caliban reveals this information when he is planning with Stephano and Trinculo to overthrow Prospero. He tells them to take control of the magician’s books because without them “He’s but a sot” and “hath not / One spirit to command” (3.2.1488-9). This reveals that Prospero, much like Faustus, uses the knowledge from his books in order to gain power. This is displayed in his relationship with Ariel. Prospero does not do much magic in the play, instead commanding his servant spirit Ariel to perform magical tasks. However, in order to command a spirit that has powers such as commanding storms, Prospero must have some sort of power of his own. When Ariel briefly complains to Prospero and asks for freedom, Prospero recounts the story of how he freed the spirit from a trap he was put in by a witch, and threatens him, saying “If thou more murmur’st, I will rend an oak / And peg thee in his knotty entrails till / Thou hast howl’d away twelve winters” (1.2.432-4). While Ariel has powers Prospero does not, the powers Prospero does possess allows him to wield Ariel like a tool. The play does not expand upon the nature of Prospero’s power over the spirit, but it is clear that Prospero has the knowledge required to free Ariel and to imprison him again, while Ariel, although very powerful, does not have this knowledge. This puts Prospero in a position of power over Ariel.
Faustus’ relationship with Mephostophilis appears similar to Prospero’s relationship with Ariel, in that Faustus does little magic himself, but commands the demon to perform magical tasks. However, Marlowe’s play, unlike Shakespeare’s, actually shows the magician’s process of summoning and attempting to control his spirit. In this process, Faustus, unlike Prospero, finds himself unwittingly under the control of the spirit. Faustus’ main problem is that he becomes extremely excited by the prospect of being a powerful magician. “’Tis magic,” Faustus says to his friends Valdes and Cornelius, “magic that hath ravished me,” already convinced of his own magical power despite the fact that he has not yet performed any magic (1.1.109). When Mephostophilis appears, presumably as a result of an elaborate ritual, Faustus says “Such is the force of magic and my spells,” showing that the demon’s appearance has further confirmed his existing belief in his power (1.3.30).
This, rather than the moment he accepts the demon’s bargain, is the moment in which Faustus dooms himself. He is too blinded by excitement and the idea of the power he thinks he has to appropriately process what the demon says to him. “I came now hither of mine own accord,” Mephostophilis tells Faustus, “For when we hear one rack the name of God… We fly in hope to get his glorious soul” (1.3.43-8). The demon lets the audience know that Faustus, despite his elaborate ritual, did absolutely no magic. The demon came simply because Faustus blasphemed, and saw it as an opportunity to steal a soul. This means that the knowledge Faustus possessed either did not function properly, or is untrue. Therefore, Faustus has no power over Mephostophilis, because he does not have control over any knowledge the demon does not.
Prospero has a similar moment in the backstory of The Tempest when his brother plans to usurp his dukedom. Rather than resisting his plans and grabbing for more immediate power, he shows prudence and chooses not to resist. Letting himself lose power allows him to come back later, regain his status, and put his daughter in a position of power. If he had chosen to resist his brother at the time, this end may not have been possible. He may have put himself at a greater disadvantage or in greater danger by resisting his brother. Faustus, rather than taking the new information he is presented with into account like Prospero did, effectively ignores Mephostophilis’ statement. He takes the path Prospero chose not to, and decides to grab for immediate power, instead of updating his knowledge in the face of a force that can overpower him and figuring out what else he can do to gain power. When Mephostophilis tells Faustus about the torment of eternal separation from the joys of Heaven, Faustus tells the demon to “Learn… of Faustus manly fortitude, / And scorn those joys…” (1.3.84-5). Even after Mephostophilis has refuted the idea that Faustus has done any magic, Faustus not only ignores the demon and continues to believe in his own power, but also believes that he is superior to the demon. Faustus implies that Mephostophilis is somehow weak for feeling the pain of damnation, and that he is capable of resisting such pain. Since nothing Mephostophilis does dissuades Faustus from believing in his own power, the magician unknowingly allows himself to be manipulated by the demon, thinking he has power over Mephostophilis when the demon does what he commands, as Prospero does when he commands Ariel.
Unlike the relationship between Ariel and Prospero, however, the demon is the one with control over Faustus. Mephostophilis, as an entity trying to gain power over Faustus, seems to be giving Faustus a strangely large amount of information about hell and damnation, which could alter what the magician chooses to do. He probably feels justified in doing so, though, as he may be aware of the amount to which Faustus is blinded by his own illusions of power. The demon helps these illusions grow every time he obeys the magician’s commands. The demon does, however, withhold important information that allows him to maintain control over Faustus’ soul when the magician starts to doubt the wisdom of his choice. Several times in the play, Faustus expresses concern over the fate of his soul, and is visited by a Good Angel and an Evil Angel. Initially, the Evil Angel tempts him into studying magic by telling him he can be “as Jove is in the sky, / Lord and commander of these elements,” contributing to his excitement about gaining power (1.1.75-6). Once Faustus makes his deal with Mephostophilis, though, the Angel’s statements become more ambiguous. When Faustus asks “prayer, repentance, what of these?”, the Evil Angel responds “illusions, fruits of lunacy, / That make men foolish” after the Good Angel tells Faustus these are “means to bring thee unto heaven” (1.5.16-9). The Evil Angel could be directly contradicting the Good Angel, confirming the current idea of Predestination and saying Faustus is doomed to Hell no matter what he does, implying that it is a “foolish illusion” to believe that repentance can bring Faustus to Heaven. However, there is nothing in the Evil Angel’s comment that directly states that salvation is impossible. His claim that prayer and repentance are “fruits of lunacy” could also be another way of feeding Faustus’ desire for power, suggesting that the only way to save himself is to abandon the earthy power, which would be “foolish” for one that values power. Faustus, still blinded by power despite his worries, always ends up listening to the Evil Angel’s suggestions, possibly confusing the ideas that “salvation is impossible” and “salvation takes away your power and potential” for one another. If any character in the play has the knowledge of whether or not Predestination is true, it is Mephostophilis, who, as a powerful demon, would likely have knowledge of who enters Hell and why. The demon purposefully withholds such information from Faustus. It could be the key to freeing Faustus from the demon’s bargain, like Prospero’s secret knowledge that could free Ariel, but Mephostophilis chooses instead to keep Faustus ignorant as to whether or not he can save himself, and Faustus, clinging to his desire for power, chooses to interpret the Angel’s ambiguous comments as “salvation is impossible” to sustain this desire. Because of this, Faustus more closely resembles Ariel than Prospero, despite the fact that both protagonists are ostensibly powerful magicians who control spirits, because Faustus is enslaved to Mephostophilis due to his lack of knowledge.
When looked at together, these plays seem to be offering an argument for caution and prudence for people who want to maintain their positions of power. Seen in the context of The Tempest, Faustus does not fall simply due to his ambition or hunger for forbidden knowledge. Faustus is no more ambitious than Prospero, and both seem equally driven to learn, but despite these similar traits, Prospero ends the play regaining his power while Faustus is sent to Hell. This is not because Faustus is ambitious, but because he allowed his ambitions to blind him to their consequences, while Prospero is able to look at his ambitions from a longer term perspective. This allows Prospero to calculate ways to gain power without losing anything he cannot regain. One can only speculate, though, what would have happened if Ariel had been more powerful and tricked Prospero into freeing him in order to gain power over the magician. Prospero may have shown the caution he did when threatened by his brother, but the prospect of power may have been too hard to resist, despite any risks. This also recommends exercising caution in the face of manipulation.
Through the Eyes of Dr. Faustus
Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus presents a protagonist who sells his soul to the devil for god-like knowledge and power. The tension in Faustus surfaces from the protagonist’s self-damnation, for he is constantly reminded and aware of his numerous avenues to salvation. His fundamental tragedy is that he refuses his humanity. He convinces himself that, by refuting his personhood and selling his soul to the devil, he can become all knowing. Though he gains the magic promised him by the devil, he slowly becomes aware that he is now void of identity altogether. Faustus does not become less human because he has become a god; rather, he becomes less human only in that he denies his place in humanity. He removes himself from the community of man in favor of a commune of soullessness and debauchery. In fact, if conceit and foolishness are what bring about Faustus’ tragic fall, it is the forsaking of his own God-given human soul that enables the fruition of such conceit and foolishness in the first place. Without his humanity and faith to give his life meaning, Faustus is left without purpose for existence, turning to the pleasures of magic and art as substitutes for his lost personhood.
In the Prologue, the Chorus explains that pride leads Faustus to discount his theology and turn to magic. Faustus’ life of fruitful scholarship has enriched him with knowledge: “Excelling all whose sweet delight disputes / In heavenly matters of theology” (18-9). Yet, Faustus finds no contentment with his studies. Though he might “heap up gold, / And be eternized for some wondrous cure” as a physician, such prospects fail to appeal to him (1.1.14-5). He says:
Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man.
Wouldst thou make man to live eternally,
Or, being dead, raise them to life again,
Then this profession were to be esteemed. (1.1.23-6)
His discontent is that he is only “a man,” bound by the laws of Earth and limited by his finite existence. His mistake, of course, is that he ignores his theology, which tells him that man’s most profound spiritual needs are answered only in Communion with God, be they knowledge of man’s origins or the miracle to, as Faustus says, “raise [the dead] to life again.” There exists, then, a division in Faustus. On the one side are the desires for knowledge present in all men. On the other side of the division lie the means by which he might gratify those desires: acceptance of his humanity and participation in God’s plan. The wall that separates these parts is constructed of his pride and foolishness.
This dissection becomes more apparent when Faustus continues expressing his restlessness and desire:
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine you call this Ch ser, ser,
“What will be, shall be” Divinity, adieu!
These metaphysics of magicians
And necromantic books are heavenly,
[…] Oh, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honor, of omnipotence
Is promised to the studious artisan!
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command. (1.1.48-59)
This may be viewed as the exact moment Faustus refutes his faith and turns to the false promises of magic. He arrives at the conclusion that all men are fated to die by ignoring the most important tenet of his former faith–that the gift of Communion with God is everlasting life. Further, he speaks of commanding all things “that move between the quiet poles,” a hope borne from his belief that the “metaphysics of magicians / And necromantic books are heavenly.” If the books of magicians are “heavenly,” it is still impossible for those texts to be more heavenly than the gospels with which Faustus is aware. Moreover, had Faustus not denied his proper place among men, he would already be in possession of all “that move[s] between the quiet poles,” for God has granted man dominion over those earthly things. Again, it is denial of his personhood, of his place in relation to other men and God, that precedes his downfall.
Once he denies God’s charity and chooses covenant with Mephistopheles instead, Faustus’ hunger for knowledge does not, as Faustus hoped, become satiated. He asks Mephistopheles a series of questions about hell and the universe, until eventually, frustrated with half-answers, he sighs, “Well, I am answered” (2.3.66). Faustus’ frustration becomes apparent:
Faustus: “[…] Tell me who made the world.”
Mephistopheles: “I will not.”
“Sweet Mephistopheles, tell me.”
“Move me not, for I will not tell thee.”
“Villain, have I not bound thee to tell me anything?”
“Ay, that is not against our kingdom, but this is. Think thou on hell, Faustus, for thou art damned.”
“Think, Faustus, upon God, that made the world.” (2.3.66-73)
The reason, of course, that Mephistopheles cannot answer the most important questions of the universe is that the answers have meaning only with reference and respect to the human condition, as well as reverence for the purview of God. True answers to Faustus’ questions require Mephistopheles to admit that the truth lies with God, not in black magic. Faustus’ theology informs him of this fact, as he laments, “Think Faustus, upon God, that made the world.” Again, it is his pride that subdues his instinctive faith, preventing him from renouncing his devilish pact and restoring his place among men.
However, this is not to say that Faustus does not have moments of doubt. On the contrary, Faustus’ instinctive faith surfaces many times throughout the span of the play. He hungers for something to compensate the loss of his spirit, and in Faustus’ most doubtful moments (moments of hope for the audience), Mephistopheles is there, offering trivial distractions and a momentary fix. As Faustus considers the Good Angel’s promise that it is “Never too late, if Faustus can repent,” Lucifer intercedes with a fanciful show of the Seven Deadly Sins (2.3.79). Though meant as a satirical distraction, their words are significant to understanding the importance of Faustus’ denunciation of his humanity:
I am pride. I disdain to have any parents. […]
I am covetousness, begotten of an old churl in an old leathern bag. […]
I am Wrath. I had neither father nor mother. […]
I am envy, begotten of a chimney sweeper and an oyster-wife. […]
I am gluttony. My parents are all dead. […]
I am Sloth. I was begotten on a sunny bank. (2.3.110-51)
Though each sin exhibits its own individual characteristics, all of the sins share one critical attribute: each sin either has no parents or is illegitimate. They are all like Faustus in that they have been disinherited; they have either been cut off from or rebelled against their patronage. If Faustus is guilty of each of these sins at some point in the duration of his twenty-four-year covenant with the devil, then this passage suggests the cause of such sin. Faustus, in an attempt to be alone among men as a god, has found himself simply alone. Without faith in the human condition, Faustus is truly lost.
Indeed, the scene with the Seven Deadly Sins marks a significant transition point in Faustus. The Sins represent the end result of lost personhood, and now, we are to see Faustus’ journey through such self-hell. Void of spiritual sustenance, he turns to sin to satisfy his hunger pains. Each event demonstrates the extent of Faustus’ loss. At the beginning of Act 3, Wagner says:
To know the secrets of astronomy
Graven in the book of Jove’s high firmament,
Did mount himself to scale Olympus’ top,
Being seated in a chariot burning bright
Drawn by the strength of yoky dragons’ necks.
He now is gone to prove cosmography,
And, as I guess, will first arrive at Rome
To see the Pope and manner of his court
And take some part of holy Peter’s feast
That to this day is highly solemnized. (3.0.1-11)
Though he has “scale[d] Olympus’ top,” the wonders of the universe fail to satisfy Faustus for very long; one must value one’s own place in the universe before the grandeur of that universe might ever be appreciated. Even before Faustus has sufficient time to rest, he wishes to go on another–probably pointless–journey. He and Mephistopheles go to “see the Pope and manner of his court / And take some part of holy Peter’s feast.” Faustus can only take “some” part of the feast because he has denied himself Communion with God. He turns, instead, to childish pranks to aggravate the Pope, who implores his Friars to “prepare a dirge to lay the fury of / this ghost” (3.1.75-6). Perhaps, for the first time since his introduction, we are now meant to see Faustus truly as a devil. He has completely forsaken his identity as a man, only to gain nothing and be left with his lesser demons and sins.
It is telling that, even in moments of greatest effort, Faustus is unable to fulfill the most menial of his wishes. Nothing he can conjure is real or substantial. At the court of the Emperor, Faustus is asked to raise Alexander the Great and his paramour. Faustus replies:
But if it like Your Grace, it is not in my ability to present before your eyes the true substantial bodies of those two deceased princes, which long since are consumed to dust. (4.1.45-7)
He cannot raise the “substantial bodies” of the deceased princes, only their apparitions. After Faustus sells his conjured horse to the Courser, the Courser returns to Faustus:
[…] I, like a venturous youth, rid him into the deep pond at the town’s end. I was no sooner in the middle of the pond but my horse vanished away and I sat upon a bottle of hay. (4.1.146-9)
The horse Faustus conjured is unreal and cannot even traverse water; the baptism was too much for Faustus’ regressing powers. The horse is unreal. Alexander is unreal. Even Faustus himself is becoming unreal, for the Horse-Courser pulls off one of Faustus’ legs. He has bargained away his real soul for something not very real at all.
Faustus’ sin is at its peak in Act 5, as he foolishly tries to stave the void in his soul. The Old Man, strong in his conviction, once more attempts to save Faustus:
Old Man: “Ah, stay, good Faustus, stay thy desperate steps!
I see an angel hovers o’er thy head,
And with a vial full of precious grace
Offers to pour the same into thy soul.
Then call for mercy and avoid despair.”
Faustus: “Ah, my sweet friend, I feel thy words
To comfort my distressed soul.
Leave me awhile to ponder on my sins.” (5.1.52-9)
Despite this apparent hesitation, Faustus is too far gone. The minute Mephistopheles reacts (“Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul.” 66), Faustus immediately rejects the notion of a “sweet friend” who might genuinely care to comfort his “distressed soul.” He begs Mephistopheles:
Torment, sweet friend, that base and crooked age
That durst dissuade me from thy Lucifer,
With greatest torments that our hell affords. (5.1.75-7)
Faustus wishes punishment for he who truly loves him; he is, at last, at the furthest possible point from salvation. He is now completely dominated by his soullessness, wishing only to avoid pain, having given up on hopes to gain knowledge and crying for Mephistopheles to grant him Helen in order to “glut the longing of [his] heart’s desire” (5.1.82).
In the final scene, Faustus cries out, “Be changed into little waterdrops, / And fall into the ocean, ne’er be found” (5.2.115)! He, in his last moments, wishes to escape what he has become. He is not at all repentant, nor is he sorry. He simply wishes his identity vanished, a dramatically fitting conclusion for a man whose tragedy is rejecting his God-given identity in the first place. Rather than accept his humanity as a divine gift, he shrugged it as a burden. Faustus wished to be alone among men as a god. In the end, he was simply alone.
Marlowe, Christopher. “Doctor Faustus.” English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology. Eds. David Bevington, et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. 250-85.
The Manifestation of Nationalism Through Literature
As Benedict Anderson makes evident in Imagined Communities, literature and the nation are often intertwined in a multitude of ways. In the case of Goethe’s Faust, a single work of literature became so meaningful to the German people that they made it their national text, and use it, whether consciously or unconsciously, to help them decipher what it means to be German. The story of Faust itself conveys truths about nationalism and nationhood; throughout their journeys, Faust and Mephistopheles encounter various portrayals of nations, and Faust also endeavors to create his own nation. Among the principles that the text conveys are the idea of the nation as a people bound by their past as well as the present, the existence of the nation as an expression of a homogeneous community, and the symbolic importance of women to the national imagination.
Ernest Renan’s What is a Nation? is an overview of one important definition of a nation. In the course of his analysis, Renan develops this definition in a series of points. It is his belief that people wishing to become a part of a larger nation must display active consent toward doing so. He also argues that members of a nation should share both a common past and the desire to exhibit commonalities in the present. He states, “A nation has a soul, a spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other in the present. One is the possession of a rich legacy of memories; the other is the desire to live together and to value the common heritage.” Consider Faust’s nation and its inhabitants; two members don’t seem to fit in. Philemon and Baucis are in many ways Faust’s antitheses; they are perfectly content to stay where they are, worship God, and live a relatively meager existence. For this reason, it is clear to both parties that the old couple does not consent to be a part of Faust’s nation, and in lines 11275-77, Faust calls for their relocation: “Then go and push them aside for me! –/ You know the land, with my approval, / Set aside for the old folks removal.” Because Faust, Philemon, and Baucis do not share a past and have no desire to live together in harmony, they cannot effectively form a nation together.
In order for one nation to grow strong and prosperous, there must be other nations to which it can compare itself. In Faust Part 2 Act II, Faust and Mephisto travel through Greece, and while they observe the area, Mephisto remarks about the sins of the Greek people, saying, “They lure the heart of man to happier sins: /While ours, one always finds, are gloomy things.” (Goethe 6974-75) This comparison is telling, not in the opinions it details, but the very fact that it exists. Goethe presents a very clear ‘us versus them’ situation in this act. This coincides with the ideas presented in Anderson’s Imagined Communities; Mephistopheles assumes the overarching qualities of both his own people and this foreign entity, even though he can’t possibly personally know any significant percentage of the people about which he is passing these judgements. Anderson argues that this is the foundation of what a nation is; there is a sense of familiarity and brotherhood that is felt throughout a nation. Nationhood turns strangers into family, and, as Anderson states, “Ultimately, it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willing to die for such limited imaginings.” This clarifies why it is so easy for Mephisto to discern alleged differences between the two nations.
Faust closes with a scene in the heavens where several important women from the bible, as well as Gretchen, appear. In the final lines of the work, the mystic choir proclaims “Woman, eternal, / Beckons us on.” (Goethe 12110-11) This line from a famous work of German history can be compared to sayings from another, darker time in Germany’s past: Yuval Davis discusses the slogans of Hitler youth, stating “For girls the motto was – ‘be faithful; be pure; be German’. For boys it was – ‘live faithfully; fight bravely; die laughing’. The national duties of the boys were to live and die for the nation; girls did not need to act – they had to become the national embodiment.” Women are often seen as the faces of national movements, as is shown in Faust; in the end, it is the woman who is calling Faust and Germany forward into the future.
The nation is complicated, multifaceted, and constantly changing, but there are some core elements that solidify its existence. As evidenced in the quintessential German text, Faust, a nation must be made up of consenting individuals, who share a past and, additionally, desire to share a present, perhaps because they feel a strong sense of fraternity among themselves, despite the impossibility of their actual acquaintance with one another. Furthermore, Goethe reveals that his ideal nation looks to its women for symbolic guidance. As such, this famous work of literature functions as a path to a deeper understanding of the German nation.
The Examination of Mysterious Insanity and Gretchen’s Fall
In its own haunting and mysterious way, the line between sanity and insanity can be incredibly blurry at times. Goethe’s masterpiece, Faust, is filled with this mysterious case of insanity. In this first part of Goethe’s great work, the embittered thinker, Faust, and Mephistopheles, the devil, enter into a contract. Soon, Faust is living a rejuvenated life and winning the love of the beautiful Gretchen. However, in this compelling tragedy of arrogance, unfulfilled desire, and self-delusion, Gretchen heads inexorably toward an infernal destruction. A question thus comes into play; who is responsible for Gretchen’s fall? In order to accurately assess this question, we must analyze the words and actions of Mephistopheles, Faust, and Gretchen herself.
The first one to be considered for Gretchen’s fall is Mephistopheles, the Devil. Mephistopheles makes a deal with the Lord to tempt Faust. In response, Faust wagers that Mephistopheles will not be able to show him an eternal moment that would ever satisfy his thirst for knowledge. Faust soon finds his eternal moment in his love for a young girl, Gretchen. Although the devil sees it as a hard task when asked to get Gretchen for Faust, he helps Faust win her over: “We’d waste our time storming and running; we have to have recourse to cunning” (Goethe 10). Hence, Mephistopheles ignites a plan using wit and deceit. He knew Gretchen was a good person, he even said, “innocent, sweet dear!” (Goethe 94) referring to her. In accordance with the plan, the Devil leaves jewelry to her, which Gretchen wears and adores (Goethe 33). This temptation of the jewelry causes her to hide it from her parents, sneak around with Faust, murder her child with Faust, and, ultimately, go mad. Mephistopheles is a reasonable candidate for being responsible for Gretchen’s fall to insanity.
Faust is also responsible for Gretchen’s fall since he seduced her, leading to most of her misfortunes. Even after Gretchen refuses to be with Faust as she says, Faust kept on insisting: “I’m not a lady, am not fair; I can go home without your care” (Goethe 81). Faust asked for Mephistopheles help him so as could get Gretchen: “Get me that girl, and don’t ask why”(Goethe 10). After winning her heart, Faust gives Gretchen a sleeping potion to give to her mother, yet the potion turns out to be poisonous, leading to the mother’s death. Gretchen eventually becomes pregnant and goes insane, drowning her newborn baby in the process. In another instance, Faust adds to Gretchen’s misery by killing her own brother in a fight (Goethe 116). Faust, consequently, is profoundly reckless and is responsible for her fall.
Finally, Gretchen herself is plausibly responsible for directly compromising her own sanity. When Martha presents her with jewelry, she agrees to wear it. Gretchen also falls in love with Faust after he seduces her, despite her inner feeling that Faust’s friend Mephistopheles has an evil motive. Gretchen says to Faust, “The man who is with you as your mate deep in my inmost soul I hate” (Goethe 109). Gretchen is, however, attracted to Faust, and once they are together, she says, “Yet I confess I know not why my heart began at once to stir to take your part” (Goethe 101). Gretchen’s words show how she fell for Faust despite the latter talking vulgarly to her. Gretchen’s naivety and loneliness contributed to her falling for Faust. Eventually, her actions led to the deaths of her mother and her newborn child. Later, it contributed to her downfall when she became insane and went to prison (Goethe 145). Because her choices are intimately linked to her fate, Gretchen is a major contributor to her own fall.
So who is responsible for Gretchen’s fall to insanity? After considering Mephistopheles, Faust, and Gretchen, we can see that Gretchen is the most to blame for her fall. Most of Gretchen’s problems came about due to naivety and poor decision-making. Overall, Faust helps to illustrate that people’s actions affect others–and that people are responsible for their own failings.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, and David Luke. Faust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Print.
“Responsibility.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.