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Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Temptation addresses the traditional themes of the Faust myth in the politicized context of Cold-War-era Soviet Europe. The limits of individual human knowledge and power remain prominent in Václav Havel’s play, as do secondary themes of love and sincerity, the idea of the spirit, and the price of power. By creating a contemporary context, Havel adds a specific, concrete dimension to the themes that have been treated more universally by writers such as Christopher Marlowe, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the librettists of the grand opera.

Havel’s Temptation concerns the place of the individual, and of personal ambition, in a political world that is governed by rules that limit freedom of expression. The individual, however clever and insightful, eventually falls victim to frustrated desire when it comes into conflict with some powerful organization. Trapped by the research limitations of an institute devoted to self-confirming hypotheses and the affirmation of conventional wisdom, Foustka seeks escape not in an alternative science but on another plane of existence; with no outlet for his personal desires in the real world, he looks for one in a spiritual realm that probably does not exist at all in the concrete terms of his imaginings. Foustka’s revolutionary impulse is displaced into mysticism; his dissent becomes not an attempt to change the world, but to escape from it. The play’s conclusion indicates that such an escape is illusory at best and at worst is self-destructive, impossible. In the real world of political power, no individual in a society can, with impunity, escape from the society of others. Individual knowledge is limited by the inability of one person to comprehend fully the lives of others. Those others cannot...

(The entire section is 573 words.)