"I Am The Spirit That Denies"

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 200

Context: The Faust legend has long provided a rich vein for the artist to mine. In literature, both Marlowe and Goethe have dramatically depicted the story of Dr. Johann Faust, or Faustus, and Berlioz, Gounod, and Boïto have produced well-known operatic versions of the legend. The real Faust, a magician and astrologer, was born in Wurtemburg and died about 1538. In Goethe's treatment of the legend, Faust wagers that Mephistopheles may have his soul (1) if he ever ceases to strive for something more or better in this world, or (2) if he ever finds this earthly life so appealing as to say to any moment: "Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!" Mephistopheles tempts him with knowledge, pleasure, and power, but fails, and the soul of Faust is finally saved forever, as God had hinted in the prologue to the drama. When Mephistopheles first appears to Faust, he reveals himself as, essentially, God's opposite. God, the Supreme Good, created light out of darkness; Mephistopheles, Prince of Darkness, would return everything to that darkness again. What men look on as evil, Mephistopheles calls good:

I am the Spirit that denies!
And rightly too; for all that doth begin
Should rightly to destruction run; . . .

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