Goethe Faust

The Devil! Temptation! One man's journey to overcome the limitations of humanity! Can you believe such a novel was written in the 19th century? Faust, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), is written in two parts. Part 1 was completed in 1808, and Part 2 was published in 1832. However, the first appearance of Faust was in 1790 as Faust, a Fragment (1790).

Mockup Schule

Explore our app and discover over 50 million learning materials for free.

Goethe Faust


Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

The Devil! Temptation! One man's journey to overcome the limitations of humanity! Can you believe such a novel was written in the 19th century? Faust, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), is written in two parts. Part 1 was completed in 1808, and Part 2 was published in 1832. However, the first appearance of Faust was in 1790 as Faust, a Fragment (1790).

Faust, Faust in book from, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Faust is a play and a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Faust is based on the stories of the real 15th-century alchemist Johann Georg Faust (1480-1540). Faust by Goethe is a play and a poem that dives deeply into the nature of humankind.

Faust, Content Warning, StudySmarter

A Summary of Faust by Goethe

The play begins with a prologue set in heaven. In heaven, Mephistopheles, another name for the Devil, is astounded by the amount of corruption found among humankind. All the other Angels are too busy worshiping The Lord to see what is happening below. Therefore, Mephistopheles, who enjoys sin and evil, decides to make a bet with the Lord. Mephistopheles bets that he can make Dr. Faust, a servant of The Lord, turn to evil and sin.

Agreed! But 'tis a short probation.About my bet I feel no trepidation.If I fulfill my expectation,You'll let me triumph with a swelling breast:Dust shall he eat, and with a zest,As did a certain snake, my near relation."

(Mephistopheles, Prologue in Heaven)

In this excerpt from the prologue, Mephistopheles alludes to the story of Adam and Eve who were tempted by the snake to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. As Adam and Eve, biblically, are the first man and woman, Mephistopheles is saying humanity is easily tricked into sin.

Faust: Part 1

In Part 1, the reader is introduced to Dr. Heinrich Faust, a scholar and alchemist in his study. He is contemplating his life and feels deep despair which he describes to the reader in a monologue.

A monologue is a long speech given by a single character in a play.

Dr. Faust realizes he has accomplished all he can within his studies of philosophy, jurisprudence, medicine, and theology and now simply wishes to live in accordance with Nature and to seek wisdom in nature. Dr. Faust then attempts to summon a spirit and is given a sign by an Earth-Spirit. In a fiery glow, the Spirit speaks to Dr. Faust. The Spirit is not happy with Faust's arrogance and leaves Faust alone once more. Wagner, Faust's assistant, walks into the study and begins to discuss learning from text such as Greek Tragedy, but Dr. Faust is in no mood to discuss such matters.

Faust, Despair, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Dr. Faust is in despair.

After Faust sends Wagner away, Faust decides he will kill himself by drinking poison. However, just as he is about to, he hears a chorus of women singing, followed by a chorus of disciples and Angels proclaiming Easter Sunday. Dr. Faust finds a new resolve to live. A bit later, Wagner and Faust walk outside the city gates and are met by a beautiful, sunny day.

Later that evening, however, the perfect spring day becomes ominous as a black poodle begins to follow Faust. Faust is sure the dog has fire swirling behind it, and when the dog follows Faust home, it grows into a fiery monster. Dr. Faust uses his magic and a spell invoking the Words of the Four to force the dog to reveal its true nature. Vapor rises and Mephistopheles steps forward. Through a series of riddling words, Mephistopheles reveals himself. After a back-and-forth discussion about the despair Dr. Faust feels in his life, Mephistopheles takes Dr. Faust through a hallucination showing how his life can go.

Mephistopheles leaves but soon returns. Dr. Faust wants to believe in a high power—which Mephistopheles sees as an opportunity. After an agreement, Mephistopheles and Dr. Faust sign a contract in blood. The contract states that Dr. Faust must become a servant of the Devil in hell if he is satisfied by Mephistopheles's ability to help Dr. Faust reach transcendence. Dr. Faust doubts Mephistopheles will be able to achieve this.

Faust, Mephistopholes and Faust statue, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The Devil pays a visit to Dr. Faust.

After Mephistopheles tricks a student of Dr. Faust's to abandon his studies and spend his life pursuing women, Mephistopheles takes Dr. Faust on a journey to show Dr. Faust Mephistopheles's power. They ride the Devil's magic cloak to Leipzig. In Leipzig, Mephistopheles, with Dr. Faust by his side, engages in all sorts of chaos. First, they sell wine to the tavern of the Auerbach's that turns to fire. Then they stop in a witch's kitchen where Dr. Faust consumes an age-reducing potion and is tempted by a beautiful woman he sees in the mirror.

Outside, Dr. Faust sees Margaret, also known as Gretchen, and it's love at first sight. They have a brief encounter, and Gretchen is intrigued by this stranger. Faust wants Mephistopheles to help him win over Gretchen's love, and Mephistopheles agrees with pleasure. Mephistopheles sends lavish gifts to Gretchen's home while also planning a meeting between Faust and Gretchen at her neighbor Martha's house. They also sneak into Gretchen's room where Faust realizes his love is deeper than just physical.

They both declare their love for each other in Martha's garden. Gretchen flees to a cabin with Faust close on her heels. Faust runs into a cave worried he will ruin Gretchen's purity. Faust finally realizes life is worth living when you love someone. Mephistopheles finds Faust and tells him to go find Gretchen. Faust's passion motivates him to go find her.

Faust finds Gretchen and asks her to give her mother a sleeping potion. She does so and they consummate their love. Not long after, Gretchen finds out she is pregnant. Gretchen knows that the fate as an outcast and beggar is in store for her because of her baby born out of wedlock. As she is a faithful Christian, she prays to the Lord and to the Virgin Mary.

Faust, Pregnant woman, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Gretchen has Faust's baby out of wedlock.

When Valentine, Gretchen's brother, hears about his sister's state, he is determined to get revenge on Faust. Faust and Valentine fight, which culminates with Faust stabbing Valentine in the heart. Gretchen is horrified and in his dying breath, Valentine condemns her. Then, Gretchen flees to the church where she is met by an Evil Spirit that makes her feel deep guilt. The apparition is too much for Gretchen, and she faints.

Back at the house, Faust and Mephistopheles flee the crime scene and turn up a few months later. It is Walpurgis night, which is a celebration held in the Devil's honor on Brocken Mountain. Faust is confronted with evil and is enchanted by visions of Medusa and Lilith. Mephistopheles pulls Faust away from these visions and takes him to see a play known as "Walpurgis Night's Dream". During the play, Mephistopheles reveals Gretchen's fate. She has been imprisoned for murdering her newborn baby.

Faust is horrified and vows to free Gretchen. Mephistopheles and Faust ride on a black horse all through the night until they reach the prison. After stealing the jailer's keys, he frees Gretchen who refuses to leave with him. Her grief is overwhelming, and she'd rather face her upcoming execution. Mephistopheles threatens to leave Faust if he tries to convince Gretchen otherwise. Faust does not want this, so he leaves Gretchen, who is saved as Faust learns from heavenly cries.

Faust: Part 2

Several years pass and Mephistopheles and Faust become involved with the Emperor's court. The Emperor is concerned with the economic issues the Empire is facing. Mephistopheles offers a solution. He lets the Emperor know that there is hidden treasure left behind by Romans who were under Barbarian attacks. The Emperor reluctantly agrees to take part in Mephistopheles's solution. The solution entails Mephistopheles creating money, disguised as treasure, in the form of paper notes, which will have to be validated by the Emperor's signature. The Emperor is pleased with the solution and throws a Masquerade. Faust is disguised as Plutus, the Ancient Roman god of wealth. After creating terrifyingly entertaining illusions for the Emperor, Mephistopheles and Faust convince the Emperor to print more signed paper notes. The Empire feels temporary economic relief, despite the Emperor having no recollection of signing any paper notes.

The Emperor is grateful to Mephistopheles and Faust and offers them a fiefdom, which is a piece of privately owned land. After a request from the Emperor to conjure up the ghosts of Helen of Troy and Paris goes wrong, Faust and Mephistopheles return to Faust's study. Wagner is still Faust's assistant and has created a Homunculus, a small man made of flames. Upon the arrival of Mephistopheles, Homunculus becomes alive and speaks. He tells Mephistopheles to take Faust to Walpurgis Night in Greece.

Walpurgis Night appears in both parts of Faust. Although they do share similarities, try to pay attention to how they are different. Both nights contain mystical images of women seducing Dr. Faust, however, it is only on the second Walpurgis Night that he gives in to temptation. Why do you think Goethe may have decided to add this plot choice?

During Walpurgis Night, a mix of mythological creatures roam the land. Faust, Mephistopheles, and Homunculus spread out. Faust goes to the Temple of Manto, the healer, which opens the door to the land of Hades, God of the Underworld. Faust wishes to find Helen. She is with Menelaus, her husband, who she is told will try to kill her. Mephistopheles, disguised as Phorkyas, takes her to the fortress of Faust, where Helen and Faust fall in love. Menelaus tries to attack the fortress but is unsuccessful, which allows Faust and Helen to have a child named Euphorion. Euphorion dies tragically when he attempts to climb the sky. Helen decides to leave Faust and join her child in the Underworld.

Faust has one final request from Mephistopheles, which is to create land by pushing the sea back. Faust needs property on the coast to rule; however, the Emperor has just declared war on the rebellious people in his land. Mephistopheles tells Faust to restore peace, which might win him a coastal fiefdom. Faust does so by summoning warriors—the Three Mighty Men—and using black magic. When this works, the Emperor awards Faust with a coastal fiefdom.

Years pass and a 100-year-old Faust is working on pushing back the sea. The only problem with his plan is that he is unable to get a hold of a piece of land owned by the couple Baucis and Philemon. Losing his patience, Faust gets the Three Mighty Men and Mephistopheles to seize the land and get rid of the couple. What takes place is extreme violence. Faust is burdened with guilt, which becomes personified in the form of a gray woman named Care. She blinds him, yet he refuses to succumb to her. Faust continues working on his plan.

Faust, Heaven, StudySmarterFig. 5 - Faust's soul is allowed into heaven.

Meanwhile, Mephistopheles is digging Faust's grave, and soon after, Faust dies. Faust sees a beautiful vision of happy people working on fertile fields as he dies. However, Faust's soul is as restless as ever. It begins to rise and angels attempt to intervene. Mephistopheles attempts to stop them but falls into temptation and has intercourse with them. This causes Faust's soul to become lost, and he is found in heaven where Gretchen pleads with the Virgin Mary to forgive Faust. Gretchen and Faust are given eternal salvation and are risen into heaven with the help of the Virgin Mary.

Genre of Faust by Goethe

Faust falls into two categories making its genre a bit hard to determine. Faust is both a Tragedy and an Epic Poem.

A Tragedy is a dramatic genre of play that focuses on the tragic events surrounding the protagonist and usually has an unhappy ending with the downfall of the main character.

An Epic Poem is a long, narrative style of verse that tells the heroic journey of the main character who is characterized by their superhuman powers and their grand adventures. Often Epic poems blend lyricism and the dramatic.

Faust details the tragic end of Faust who makes a deal with the Devil. He is plagued by misfortunes such as the death of Gretchen and the death of his son Euphorion. For this reason, it is considered a tragedy.

Faust is a bit different from most tragedies. Most tragedies have sad endings, but in Faust, Dr. Faust's soul is forgiven for his sins and sent to heaven, where he will live eternally with Gretchen. Faust has a happy, hopeful ending rather than a tragic one.

Faust is also an epic because it is a long, narrative poem written in lyrical verse. It details Faust's heroic journey from the moment he signs a deal with the Devil to the moment his soul is saved by The Virgin Mary.

Analysis of Faust by Goethe

Faust by Goethe is a long, complex literary piece, so an in-depth analysis is needed to fully understand it.


Faust by Goethe contains a melancholy and despairing tone with an underlying sense of optimism. The tone is set early in the poem when the reader meets Faust in his study, and it's found throughout the play while Faust realizes the limits of his potential.

In Faust's monologue, he says certain phrases that amplify this sense of despair and melancholy such as:

"Ah, me! this dungeon still I see.This drear, accursed masonry,Where even the welcome daylight strainsBut duskly through the painted panes."

(Part 1.1)

Words such as dungeon, drear, accursed, and strains paint a heavy, dark image in the reader's mind that allows them to perceive just how unhappy Faust is.

However, throughout the play, one can find moments of optimism. Optimism comes in the form of heavenly salvation.

When Gretchen dies, Faust learns from a heavenly cry that she has been saved and granted entrance into heaven despite her sins of having a child out of wedlock and infanticide. At the end of the play, Faust is also saved and granted entrance into heaven despite his many sins.

In this way, Goethe is creating a tension between light and dark, which symbolizes good and evil—a main theme of the play.

Writing Analysis

Faust by Goethe was written in rhymed verse with a type of meter known as Knittelvers.

Knittelvers is a type of Germanic verse in which lines have the rhyme scheme of AABB and there are four stresses in each line. Most lines will contain eight or nine syllables, but there are many variations.

Goethe's version of Knittelvers in Faust is comprised of rhymed lines containing 5 or 6 syllables.

For this, all pleasure am I foregoing;I do not pretend to aught worth knowing,I do not pretend I could be a teacherTo help or convert a fellow-creature."

(Part 1.1)

Notice how the end of the first two lines rhyme and the ends of the last two lines rhyme. In addition, each line contains four stressed syllables and either 5 or 6 syllables.

Goethe also uses a number of literary devices and techniques in Faust such as vivid imagery, allusions, and metaphors.

An allusion is a reference to another literary work or symbol that the reader is expected to understand.

A metaphor is the comparison of two alike things to prove a point.

Here is an example:

My worthy friend, gray are all theories,And green alone Life's golden tree."

(Part 1.4)

In this line spoken by Mephistopheles to a student of Dr. Faust, there is evidence of Goethe's use of literary devices and techniques. First, he uses vivid imagery with words like "gray", "green", and "golden", which convey specific meanings. By calling theories "gray", Mephistopheles is referring to its lack of vivacity and its dullness, while a green tree evokes life and growth.

There is an allusion here to the Tree of Life, which is the tree in the Garden of Eden from the biblical story of Genesis. Another allusion found in the text is the death of Euphorion with the story of Icarus. Euphorion dies after his desire to fly leads him to fall to his death. Icarus was the son of Daedalus who invented wings that would allow humans to fly. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun or the wax in the wings will melt. Icarus ignored his father and the wax melted, causing Icarus to fall tragically to his death.

Lastly, a metaphor is drawn comparing the temptation to the Forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, and Mephistopheles's own attempts to tempt Faust into sin.

Themes in Faust by Goethe

Faust by Goethe contains many important themes. The most significant themes, however, are related to human mortality and limitations as well as human nature in the face of good and evil.

To determine a theme in a literary piece look for a recurring topic that can be found in the text. Pay attention to the dialogue, plot action, and even symbols. All of these can help you determine a theme. Can you find any more themes in Faust by Goethe?

Human Mortality and Limitations

Dr. Faust is dissatisfied with his life at the beginning of the play because he feels he has accomplished all that he can in life. Without the ability to continually create and achieve more for eternity, Faust settles into a depressed state. This makes him vulnerable to Mephistopheles's offer of achieving transcendence.

Faust, Death, StudySmarterFig. 6 - Mortality and the limitations of humanity is an important theme.

However, it becomes clear that with unlimited power, Faust's life is still plagued with misfortune and dissatisfaction. Faust dies without ever having achieved a fulfilled life and only experiences satisfaction in a vision right before his death. Goethe is relaying the message that humanity is mortal for a reason and that happiness should be sought not in how much one can achieve, but in how one spends their life.

Human Nature in the Face of Good and Evil

In the prologue, Mephistopheles and The Lord are having a discussion about humanity and how humanity perceives good and evil. The Lord believes that despite humanity's imperfection, he believes that humanity has the potential to achieve goodness. Mephistopheles, however, believes that in the face of temptation, humanity will give up goodness and choose the bad. Therefore, when The Lord and Mephistopheles wager their bet, Faust repeatedly shows that even when faced with the temptation of evil, humans will retain some sense of what is right and what is wrong. In the end, Faust is rewarded with entry into heaven. Overall, Goethe is trying to say that humanity may fall into temptation and the bad, but will ultimately decide on the good at the end of the day.

Quotes from Faust by Goethe

Here are some quotes from Goethe's Faust that may help you understand the piece a little more.

Than in the year's monotony.That which the dainty spirits sing thee,The lovely pictures they shall bring thee,Are more than magic's empty show."

(Part 1.3)

As you read this excerpt, what literary devices and techniques stand out to you?

Mephistopheles is attempting to get Faust to sign a deal that would make Faust a follower of the Devil. Mephistopheles prays upon Faust's vulnerability. He knows how unhappy Faust is with his current limitations in life, and he promises Faust more than he could ever imagine to free him from this boredom.

My peace is gone,My heart is sore:I never shall find it,Ah, nevermore!Save I have him near.The grave is here;The world is gallAnd bitterness all."

(Part 1.14)

Here is an example of Goethe's use of rhymed prose in the meter of Knittelvers. However, notice the irregularity of the rhyme. Rather than the standard AABB rhyme, here Goethe is using ABCB in the first stanza and AABB in the second stanza. Also rather than the usual 5 or 6 syllables Goethe usually uses in every line, these lines have 4 or 5. The irregularities may have been done purposefully to show the way Gretchen feels as she thinks about Faust, which is in crazed love.

Faust - Key takeaways

  • Faust was written by Goethe in two parts (1808 and 1832) in the 19th century and was originally published as Faust, a Fragment (1790).
  • Faust follows the heroic journey of Dr. Faust who is tempted by Mephistopheles after Mephistopheles makes a bet with The Lord to prove humanity does not always choose good.
  • Faust is based on the real-life Johann Georg Faust who lived in the 15th century.
  • Faust is both a tragedy and an epic poem and contains themes such as the limitations and mortality of humanity and humanity's ability to decide between good and evil.
  • Faust is written in Knittelvers and has a rhyme scheme of AABB, although irregularities can be found throughout the play.

Frequently Asked Questions about Goethe Faust

Dr. Faust is frustrated by his mortal limitations, and when he is tempted by the devil who promises him transcendence, he agrees. The Devil leads Dr. Faust through a series of journeys that are marked by tragedies and misfortunes.

Faust follows Dr. Faust's heroic journey after he is tempted by Mephistopheles. Prior, Mephistopheles makes a bet with The Lord to prove mankind does not always choose good in the face of evil. 

Dr. Faust, who is in deep despair, is tempted by the devil who promises him transcendence and is sent on a serious of adventures that don't always turn out the way Faust expects.

The main theme of Faust is the imitations and mortality of mankind as well as the ability of mankind to choose good in the face of evil. 

Faust contains two parts.

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Entdecke Lernmaterial in der StudySmarter-App

Google Popup

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App