Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Faust is appealing to the middle class because it addresses the new opportunities that the middle class was coming into. It addresses things like philosophy, religion, science, classical Greek Culture, and love. Goethe establishes the character of Faust, who is not unsatisfied with life and makes a deal with the devil to give up his soul in exchange for essentially magical helper in order for Faust to try to achieve the pinnacle of human satisfaction and pleasure. The bargaining chip is Faust’s soul. Faust goes on this journey of life living a party play boy lifestyle in which he falls in love with a young innocent girl, Gretchen, who he ultimately seduces, and he falls in love with classical Greek Helen, who evades him. In the end Faust is damned to Hell, but due to Gretchen’s pleadings in heaven and Faust’s overall movement towards good throughout the play he is granted entry into heaven.
Faust is a scholar who has lost his zeal for life. The government wanted to show the middle class people that too much enlightenment leaves one feeling empty and lifeless. In a time period when “crazy” and “dangerous” things like Encyclopedia’s were being made the average person now had access to general knowledge giving the middle class more power, and plays like Faust were a good source of propaganda to help detour the middle class from becoming a threat to the government and aristocrats.
The government also did a good job by showing that a path that strives towards goodness will save you in the end and that heaven is merciful. It is great Public Relations spin if you ask me.
Goethe’s Faust was written over a 60 year time period in Germany and published the year after he died. It reflects the changing tactics that the government used, to censor and influence the people, especially the middle class of this time. Goethe did a good job hooking a large audience with his work by depicting scenes of lawlessness that might appeal to the darker side of people. Topics like wealth, knowledge, revenge, and sex were all used to show the path not to go down. Goethe’s version differed from previous versions because he finishes the play with Faust going to heaven because he overall sought good over bad on his path through life and through his deal with the devil.
I like Faust because of its complexity and I find works of art that are propagandic in nature to be fascinating. I think it shows a glimpse into the cultural issues that were present at the time and enjoy that it was able to be official sanctioned because of how well it was put together.
MEPHISTOPHELES: Poor son of Earth, how couldst thou thus alone
Have led thy life, bereft of me?
I, for a time, at least, have worked thy cure;
Thy fancy’s rickets plague thee not at all:
Had I not been, so hadst thou, sure,
Walked thyself off this earthly ball.
Why here to caverns, rocky hollows slinking,
Sit’st thou, as ’twere an owl a-blinking?
Why suck’st, from sodden moss and dripping stone,
Toad-like, thy nourishment alone?
A fine way, this, thy time to fill!
A blessing drawn from supernatural fountains!
In night and dew to lie upon the mountains;
All Heaven and Earth in rapture penetrating;
Thyself to Godhood haughtily inflating;
To grub with yearning force through Earth’s dark marrow,
Compress the six days’ work within thy bosom narrow,–
To taste, I know not what, in haughty power,
Thine own ecstatic life on all things shower,
Thine earthly self behind thee cast,
And then the lofty instinct, thus– [With a gesture:] at last,–
I daren’t say how — to pluck the final flower!
Yes, thou findest that unpleasant!
Thou hast the moral right to cry me “shame!” at present.
One dares not that before chaste ears declare,
Which chaste hearts, notwithstanding, cannot spare;
And, once for all, I grudge thee not the pleasure
Of lying to thyself in moderate measure.
But such a course thou wilt not long endure;
Already art thou o’er-excited,
And, if it last, wilt soon be plighted
To madness and to horror, sure.
Enough of that! Thy love sits lonely yonder,
By all things saddened and oppressed;
Her thoughts and yearning seek thee, tenderer, fonder,–
A mighty love is in her breast.
First came thy passion’s flood and poured around her
As when from melted snow a streamlet overflows;
Thou hast therewith so filled and drowned her,
That now thy stream all shallow shows.
Methinks, instead of in the forests lording,
The noble Sir should find it good,
The love of this young silly blood
At once to set about rewarding.
Her time is miserably long;
She haunts her window, watching clouds that stray
O’er the old city-wall, and far away.
“Were I a little bird!” so runs her song,
Day long, and half night long.
Now she is lively, mostly sad,
Now, wept beyond her tears;
Then again quiet she appears,–
Thou fool, go in and comfort her!
When such a head as thine no outlet knows,
It thinks the end must soon occur.
Hail him, who keeps a steadfast mind!
Thou, else, dost well the devil-nature wear:
Naught so insipid in the world I find
As is a devil in despair.
I really enjoyed your interpretation of Faust. You’re absolutely right, the middle class’s biggest advantage was the increase in the availability and accessibility of general knowledge and government was feeling threatened by this, fearing a loss of control. I think this struggle is apparent in Goethe’s Faust, in its portrayal of immoral actions, and their eternal consequences and a possibility of virtuous redemption. During this Era, the Government attempted to restrict the arts by not only banning many theatrical performances, but also limiting the amount of public theaters.