Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Faust’s study

Faust’s study. Vaulted room with stained glass windows that shows the limitations of the world of the historical magician Faust, who lived in the sixteenth century. The clutter of scientific instruments shows Faust’s past interest in science as a method of unlocking nature’s secrets, and rows of dusty books point to the sterility of medieval learning. Faust looks for ways to escape by conjuring spirits and finally by signing a pact with the devil in this room.

*Auerbach’s tavern

*Auerbach’s tavern. Tavern in Leipzig, Germany, that was frequented by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as a student. A scene set here features loud communal singing, comic drunkenness, and a barroom brawl. Mephisto is seen riding a wine keg out the door, an allusion to a wall decoration at the historical Auerbach’s.

Gretchen’s room

Gretchen’s room. Simply furnished room containing a canapé bed, a leather armchair, a clothes cabinet, a mirror, and a spinning wheel. In his clandestine visit Faust contemplates Gretchen’s innocence and the domesticity reflected in the cleanliness and order of her room. The cabinet, where Gretchen finds the jewel box, and the mirror, where she admires herself, reflect her self-awareness as a woman. Her rhythmical spinning in a later scene emphasizes the driving force of her longing for Faust.

*Harz Mountains

*Harz Mountains. Steep, forested, rocky terrain in Germany that is the setting in which Halloween-like ghosts cavort. While vapors hiss and owls screech, witches dance and make love in an amusement park atmosphere lit by a reddish moon and little fires. Set on Broken, the tallest mountain in the Harz, Walpurgis Night is the witches’ Sabbath of medieval German folklore. Although the devil presides here, Walpurgis is a positive...

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Faust’s setting is expansive, both geographically and temporally, thus having more in common with ancient epics than with drama. One could say that the setting mirrors Faust himself: if the protagonist is an everyman figure, representing the totality of human experience, then the setting, too, seems to reflect all of humanity’s material and metaphysical realms.

It begins in Faust’s study, the typical abode of the late-medieval scholar, complete with all the gothic elements, including alchemical agents and magical components. From here, the drama expands to the local village, the countryside, various realms of the supernatural, into the Classical past, and finally into death. Like other Romantics, Goethe used the trappings of the medieval gothic in Part I, but many of his settings in Part II embraced that of the Classical. While neither part corresponds to an Aristotelian definition of a unified drama, Part II is divided into five acts, mirroring the form of Classical tragedy more than the seemingly haphazard organization of Part I.

The Prelude begins in Heaven, giving Faust a cosmic setting and an expansive feel. The Heavenly Host sing the perfection of the Lord’s creation and its totality. This scope is immediately juxtaposed with the dark and confined setting of Faust’s study, paralleling Faust’s gloomy nature and his desire to experience more out of the world. Faust’s world does not seem particularly ordered, and the setting often reflects Faust’s mood. It seems that part of Faust’s quest is shown in the play’s setting: he must discover that which is beyond himself—to discover the order and structure of Creation. The play also ends in Heaven, reestablishing and reemphasizing the divine order of the cosmos.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Atkins, Stuart. Goethe’s “Faust”: A Literary Analysis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958. Evaluates Faust first and foremost as a drama, showing each section’s dramatic as well as symbolic function, and seeks to demonstrate the organic unity of the work. Highly recommended.

Bishop, Paul, ed. Companion to Goethe’s “Faust, Parts I and II.” Rochester, N.Y.: Camden, 2001. Collected essays, including one devoted to the salvation of Faust.

Cooledge, Charles. The Religious Life of Goethe as Illustrated in “The Tragedy of Faust.” Boston: Stratford, 1933. Goethe’s own life confirms a Christian reading of Faust: departure from Christian faith; vain efforts to find happiness apart from religion; and the return to the Christian faith.

Fairley, Barker. Goethe’s “Faust”: Six Essays. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1953. A knowledgeable and well-written set of studies by a preeminent Goethe scholar. Recommended.

Gillies, Alexander. Goethe’s “Faust”: An Interpretation. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1957. An important and detailed analysis, with lucid, helpful comments. Recommended for the more advanced student.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von....

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Dieckmann, Liselotte. 1972. Goethe’s Faust: A Critical Reading. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. In her short study, Dieckmann provides a background for Goethe and the Faust legend, and is concerned with the style of the text, aligning it more with the French Symbolists than the Romantics. She examines the philosophies behind Faust and how Goethe’s style reflects these major themes.

Gray, Ronald. 1967. Goethe: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gray’s work is a critical biography of Goethe, and it traces the composition of Faust along with the author’s intellectual development and the historical context. Two chapters are devoted to the two parts of Faust.

Heller, Peter. 1966. “Faustian Striving: An Essay on Goethe’s Faust.” Masterpieces of Western Literature: Contemporary Essays in Interpretation. Ed. Alex Page and Leon Barron. Vol. 2, pp. 93-108. Dubuque, Iowa: WM. C. Brown Book Company. This essay aligns Faust with the modern hero’s dynamism and emotional drive and argues that with great strides also must come great failures.

Lange, Victor (Ed.). 1968. Goethe: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. This collection has several essays, including an introduction by Lange, that address “the modern” in Goethe’s life and work, including two essays on Faust.

Rennie, Nicholas. 2000. “Between Pascal and Mallarmé: Faust’s Speculative Moment.” Comparative Literature 52 (4): 269-290. Rennie contrasts Goethe’s (meta)physics with those of Newton, arguing that Goethe believed in the “Augenblick,” or an understanding of the totality in the moment.

Swales, Martin and Erika Swales. 2002. Reading Goethe: A Critical Introduction to the Literary Work. New York: Camden House. Swales and Swales place Faust as a tragi-comedy tour de force that predicts modernity.

Weigand, Hermann J. 1966. “Goethe’s Faust.” Masterpieces of Western Literature: Contemporary Essays in Interpretation. Ed. Alex Page and Leon Barron. Vol. 2, pp. 69-92. Dubuque, Iowa: WM. C. Brown Book Company. This essay explores the history of the Faust legend and surveys Goethe’s treatment and revitalization of the legend.