Goethe’s Faust – Walpurgis Night – One Scene Which Will

Goethe’s Faust – Walpurgis Night – One Scene Which Will Seem Out of Tune.

Faust goes to a party while his love, Margaret, suffers in prison. Why?

The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume I. Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English. In Twenty Volumes. (1913). Francke, Kuno

Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Columbia University

‘The atmosphere of the love-tragedy is entirely different from that of the Faust-legend. Mephistopheles as the abettor of Faust’s amorous passion has no need of magic. The role of Faust—that of a man pulled irresistibly by sexual passion, yet constantly tormented by his conscience—is repulsive, but very human. As he stands before the prison gate he says that “the whole sorrow of mankind” holds him in its grip. But this is a part of what he wished for. He wished for universal experience—to feel in his own soul all the weal and all the woe of humankind. At the end of the First Part he has drained the cup of sin and suffering.

Imbedded in the love-tragedy is one scene which will seem out of tune with what has just been said—the Walpurgis Night. Here we are back again in the atmosphere of the legend, with its magic, its witchcraft, its gross sensuality. We hardly recognize our friend Faust when we find him dancing with naked witches and singing lewd songs on the Brocken. The scene was written in 1800 when Goethe had become a little cynical with respect to the artistic coherence of Faust and looked on it as a “monstrosity.”

It was a part of the early plan that Faust should add to the burden of his soul by frivolously deserting Margaret in the shame of her approaching motherhood and spending some time in gross pleasures. The visit to the Witches’ Sabbath on the Brocken was afterward invented to carry out this idea. In itself the idea was a good one; for if Faust was to drain the cup of sorrow, the ingredient of self-contempt could not be left out of the bitter chalice. A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is not so much remembering happier things as remembering that the happy state came to an end by one’s own wrongdoing. Still, most modern readers will think that Goethe, in elaborating the Brocken scene as an interesting study of the uncanny and the vile, let his hero sink needlessly far into the mire.

At the beginning of the Second Part Goethe does not reopen the book of crime and remorse with which the First Part closes. He needs a new Faust for whom that is all past—past, not in the sense of being lightly forgotten, but built into his character and remembered, say, as one remembers the ecstasy and the pain of twenty years ago. So he ushers him directly into the new life over a bridge of symbolism. The restoring process which in real life takes many years he concentrates into a single night and represents it as the work of kindly nocturnal fairies and the glorious Alpine sunrise. Faust awakens healed and reinvigorated, and the majesty of Nature inspires in him a resolve to “strive ever onward toward the highest existence.”‘

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