Goethe’s Faust Part 2
by Paul Mathers
This was not part of the curriculum. Why? I have no idea. Space, most likely. A five foot shelf of books, it would seem, is both large and small. Although there is also the departure from a reasonable stage script. It is difficult to imagine staging Part 2 before the advent of film.
The second part of Faust more closely resembled Marlowe’s Faustus in some of the action and some of the more absurd moments. Goethe’ however, maintains his gravity. As I’ve said before, Marlowe’s version evolved into a puppet show. Goethe’s never shared that destiny.
Part 2 contains a lot more tomfoolery akin to the scene early in Part 1 between the young and aspiring scholar and Mephistopheles (indeed, the scholar makes a reprise). There is a great deal of shenanigans (and, I daresay, social commentary) when the Emperor makes an appearance (who I assume is Goethe’s version of the Pope in Marlowe’s). There is even a war. There is a Homunculus à la Dr. Praetorius from The Bride of Frankenstein.
James Whale used camera tricks, but this would not work onstage. So how would you stage the Homunculus scene? The obvious answer is, again, puppets. Although unintentional in this case, I find it noteworthy that a story about Satan using people’s desires to manipulate them so often finds itself in its production history featuring puppets.
There is also a section in which Faust calls for the resurrection of and subsequently marries Helen of Troy. This is a strange interlude in light of the end of the story, but we’ll return to that thought in a moment.
In the end, Faust has a fabulous estate, wealth beyond imagining, but is still vexed by the fact that two elderly poor neighbors live in a hovel with some linden trees. Is he vexed because they are poor? Not our Faust! He is vexed because he wants their land too. He sends Mephistopheles and some hired thugs to reason with the couple and (to further heighten the Biblical transgressions) a sojourner who happens to be there at the time. Rather than reason, the thugs slaughter and set the house (and linden trees) ablaze. Faust is upset by the means, however the scene illustrates that the means matter little to the condition of the heart of a sinner. We have a scene that, at least to me, recalls Marlowe’s Seven Deadly Sins scene. The anthropomorphic personification of Care creeps in through the keyhole where Need cannot enter. Care leads Faust to rewrite his will in an eleventh hour Ebenezer Scrooge sort of moment.
At long last it is time for Faust to go the way of all flesh. But there is a surprise upset, both to Mephistopheles and to the audience. Angels arrive to collect his soul. Mephistopheles objects, but doesn’t really have a whole lot of say in the matter (which seems a bit counter-intuitive. You would think his side would have all the good lawyers) and so his last moment is one of frustration. This goes some way to make up for the seeming injustice of the death-bed conversion of a dreadful man (I say somewhat facetiously as I am well aware that Faust is meant, to some extent, to represent the Everyman). They wing his immortal part up to Mary, who grants him access to the higher realms. There is, in the final moments, a hint of a reuniting with Gretchen as the power of love is glorified, indeed virtually deified. True Love is eternal (except for, you know, that Helen of Troy bit). As is Mary to some extent. The piece ends with these lines:
What is destructible
Is but a parable;
What fails ineluctably,
Here it was seen,
Here it was action
Lures to perfection