Faust - Introduction Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 33 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Faust.
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Walter Kaufmann is a noted German translator and philosopher. Kaufmann is most well known for his translations and insights into the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, a fellow German. As a philosopher, Kaufmann has written a great deal on the topics of religion, existentialism and related topics. Kaufmann's 1965 translation of Hegel's work was touted as one of his finest achievements to date. In addition to work on existentialism, Christianity, Judaism, death, morality and related topics, Kaufmann is also noted for his focus on philosophy and literature, which is where Faust comes into play.

Kaufmann is known for being painstaking and meticulous. The Introduction is sixty-two pages long, giving the reader an idea of Kaufmann's dedication. At times the information in the introduction, while important to the life of Goethe, is academic and often extraneous. It is important, however, to recognize that this particular work only encompasses Part One of Faust and excerpts from Part Two.

One of the most important things pointed out by Kaufmann in this section is that there are many renditions and adaptations of Goethe's Faust. Some people believe that Goethe's work is based on Gounod's opera when the opposite is true. There are also many renditions of Faust including famous plays by Marlowe, Rembrandt's etching, Thomas Mann's novel, and Berlioz's cantata.

Kaufmann speaks of Goethe's 200th birthday, during which Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary referred to Faust as "The title and hero of a drama by Goethe". Unfortunately, Webster's made a grave era by stating that the last scene in the work takes place in hell, which is not true. "After a sensual life he is carried off by the Devil, but in the final act he is regenerated and his soul is saved..." (Introduction, p. 7).

One thing many people overlook is the amount of humor in Goethe's work. Kaufmann asserts that Goethe's Faust is filled with humor "from the benign to the sardonic including in between the raw, the witty, the subtle and Olympian malice" (Introduction, p. 8).

Unfortunately, many translators have overused words like "thou" and "ye", which takes away from Goethe's sharp wit. Faust was also edited by certain religious figures and parties.

Chapter 2: Kaufmann details Goethe's life from his birth in 1749 through to his death in 1832 at the age of eighty-two. Goethe was a renaissance man before the term was even coined or recognized. In addition to his poetry and prose, Goethe was also a man of letters, composer, novelist, critic, and writer of scientific essays. Goethe also held many patents. It is not surprising that Kaufmann refers to Goethe as the most well known German in the world.

Chapter 3: Goethe's Faust went against German idolatry, which was noted as soon as the first volume was published. Nietzsche ridiculed Goethe's ideas, mocking the possibility of the story without supernatural intervention. It is also noted that while the story was completely Goethe's the man could not bear to allow the little seamstress to go unsaved.

Kaufmann gives a long discourse on Part Two, which is not included in this volume. Kaufmann discusses tragedy and comedy, neither of which resembles their current definitions. Kaufmann also compares Faust to other famous works, including Sophocles' "Oedipus Coloneus".

Goethe was amused by the scholars that took so much time and energy dissecting Faust. Goethe had a sort of pity for the men as each struggled to be profound. Kaufmann states that there are countless works regarding Faust, some of which are excellent and others that are brilliant.

Goethe finished the play in the year before he died at age eighty-two. Goethe told a friend that it seemed strange to finish a play that he had conceptualized in his twenties.

Chapter 4: The historical figure of Faust is examined. This chapter discusses the historical figure of Faust and points out that Goethe was not the first nor the last to immortalize Faust through works of literature.

The brief history of Faust is this: Faust was born in Knittlingen, Wűrttemberg, around 1480. Faust enrolled in the University of Cracow in Poland, where he studied magic. Faust became obsessed with his studies and began to tell others that whatever Jesus could do, he could also do. People begged Faust to teach. Faust began to teach but soon took advantage of his position to molest the boys in his care. Faust is also tied to the city of Erfurt, where he supposedly lectured on Homer. Faust presented his students with earthly representations of Homer's heroes; an act that could be considered wicked. Faust was eventually approached Konrad Klinge, a Franciscan monk. Klinge begged Faust to return to God.

Faust replied: "My dear sir, I realize that you are well disposed toward me, and I know myself what you have been telling me. But I have gone further than you think and have pledged myself to the devil with my own blood, to be in his eternity, body and soul. How then, can I return? Or how could I be helped?" (Introduction, Chap. 4, pp.16-17).

The monk tried to convince Faust that he could be saved but Faust would hear none of it. The monk caused Faust to be expelled from the city.

There are other tales regarding Faust, including his abilities as a fortune teller and a trip during which he was accompanied by the devil in the shape of a dog. Faust died in 1540.

The first book on Dr. Johann Faust appeared in 1587. The title page reads: "Historia of Dr. Johann Faust, the widely acclaimed magician and black artist, how he pledged himself to the devil for a certain time, what strange adventures he saw meanwhile, brought about and pursued, until he finally received his well deserved wages" (Introduction, Chap. 4, p. 17).

The theme of Faust was taken up shortly thereafter by the famed poet Christopher Marlowe. Kaufmann includes a portion of Marlowe's work.

Kaufmann also discusses other renditions of the legend of Faust and questions why Goethe's version constitutes world literature.

Chapter 5: Goethe's Character and Economy

Goethe strove to be like Shakespeare with his use of previously conceived ideas as well as history. Goethe, like Shakespeare, was much more interested in entertaining the audience on every level rather than giving in to the potential of underlying philosophy in the work.

Chapter 6: The Walpurgis Night and the Walpurgis Night's Dream

Kaufmann discusses the similarity between the two scenes and comments that the editing process, which was put into place to make the text more acceptable, actually caused some scenes in Faust to be obscene whereas they may have been considered to be distasteful in their original form.

Chapter 7: Part Two

Part Two was not finished until the end of Goethe's life. It never enjoyed the same popularity as Part One for many reasons. One reason was that Goethe found it necessary to write a synopsis of the last four scenes in Part One, which pleased some and annoyed others. It was also much less accepted on a critical level.

Chapter 8: Synopsis of Omitted Portions

Kaufmann presents a lengthy synopsis of omitted portions from Parts One and Two. Also included are summaries of each.

Chapter 9: Poetry in Faust and Inconsistencies

Kaufmann states that not all of Faust is poetic. In fact there are several sections that cannot be considered poetic at all and in fact these sections seem to be forced and contrived.

Chapter 10: Translations

Many scholars including Kaufmann believe that there exists no English translation of Faust that can come close to the brilliance of the original. Many translators take liberties with their translations, adding in things that have come from their own interpretation. Kaufmann uses Dante's "Commedia" as another example of inferior translations.

Chapter 11: Goethe Versus Faust

Although it is common for a writer and poet to project onto his characters aspects of his own personality, it must be said that there are marked differences between Goethe and Faust.

Chapter 12: Faust and Philosophy

Kaufmann addresses this topic as a fellow philosopher. Kaufmann states that Faust may be enjoyed purely for its entertainment value and does not suggest any underlying philosophy, although the theme of damnation and salvation is clearly present. It is thought that while Goethe's philosophy may be evident there is no proof that Goethe had any intention of sending a message to his audience.

Non-fiction portion of the text.

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(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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