Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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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 occasion for Goethe, as it is a pagan festival which has survived the onslaught of medieval Christianity. One feels close to the powers of nature here, and frank sensual pleasure provides escape from the medieval world.

Hall of Chivalry

Hall of Chivalry. A stage is set up in this stately palace hall for a court audience to watch as Faust conjures a Greek temple with the silent, ghostly figures of Paris and Helen, illustrating Faust’s desire to link his German heritage to this older tradition. Like his legendary counterpart, Goethe’s Faust also spends time at the emperor’s palace, where he is put in charge of spectacles for the court. Faust’s attempt to rescue Helen from Paris, a chivalrous, medieval act impinging on a classical scene, triggers a dramatic explosion on stage, which symbolically heightens the contrast of the two worlds.

*Aegean Sea

*Aegean Sea. Arm of the eastern Mediterranean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Under moonlight, where a foaming sea rushes against the rocky shore, sirens sing from the cliffs as sea nymphs ride the waves. Galatea presides, enthroned in the shell of Venus, over the scene crowded with joyful sprites. This is the culmination of Walpurgis Night, which began with a trip through Greek nature mythology and followed the Peneios River to a spot on the seacoast. The focus on water reflects Goethe’s belief that life originated in the sea, and Galatea represents fecund erotic beauty. This scene inspires reverence for the dynamic forces of nature, which appear as historical or mythological figures.

Castle courtyard

Castle courtyard. The imaginary Gothic castle over which Faust reigns in this scene is surrounded by elaborate medieval buildings. Courtiers and servants, lavishly dressed, demonstrate his power and wealth. Dressed in knightly attire here, Faust represents courtly medieval culture with its armor ready for war, and its troubadours, who pay homage to love and feminine beauty. Faust courts Helen, who with her retinue in Greek dress, is suddenly wafted forward into this time and space she never could have known. The scene symbolizes a marriage of the best aspects of the European Middle Ages with the cultural heritage of Greece.

Mountain gorges

(The entire section is 1,800 words.)