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Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Faust Summary (part 1) - Summary of Faust I by Goethe (every act) German Masterpiece

Updated on January 16, 2014

Faust I, the first part of the tragedy (by Goethe)

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Short Introduction

You are now going to read a summary of one of the greatest works in literary history. Faust I and II (by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) are considered to be one of the greatest works in the world ever and in my opinion it is the greatest masterpiece ever created.

This is a summary of all acts in the first part of the tragedy.

Dedication (Zueignung)

Goethe wrote this dedication in form of a stance. His dedication already foreshadows some things and is dedicated to those who are not anymore amongst us and to the living ones.

Prelude in the Theatre

Director, Poet, Actor

The three person have a conversation about performances and how a theatre should be. The director wants to make a mainstream theatre to please everyone, but the poet thinks this is "ugly" and would kill the aesthetic nature of a play or the theatre.


Prologue in Heaven

Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, God, Mephistopheles

The three angels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael worship God for his creation, but the devil Mephistopheles can only complain. He says everything what God creates comes to an end and is therefore not worth the effort of having it. He says that the mankind is only erring and even though they have reason they act more animalistic than animals.

God asks Mephisto if he happens to know Faust. "Yes" is Mephisto's answer. Faust sets himself apart from the common man, because he always strives for more and never stops. Earthly pleasures are not enough for Faust and Mephisto claims that he can draw Faust from the right path. God accepts the bet (although the bet is not quite "official" - God merely says: alright go on) and as long as Faust is living on the earth, Mephisto may do what he wants with him in order to win the bet.


Night

Faust, Ghost (Earthghost), Wagner, Choir of Angels, Choir of Woman, Choir of Followers

The scene starts in Faust's working room, which is described as a narrow high-vaulted and gothic place. Faust has studied the four main faculties during his time (Faust lives most probably during the Renaissance), namely Philosophy, Medicine, Law and Theology. He is a luminary in these fields and he knows more than anyone else. Still he seeks more. The one sentence which marks the scholar tragedy and Faust's aim in life is:

So that I may perceive whatever holds

The world together in its inmost folds

He opens the mystical book of Nostradamus and sees the sign of the macrocosm. He feels quite connected to it, but turns the page and sees the sign of the earth ghost in front of him. He feels even more connected to it and summons the ghost. He is shocked and digsusted by the earth ghost's visage, but still he has a talk with him. At the end, the earth ghost tells Faust that he does not really see him, but only this what he is able to see of the earth ghost (Faust could not perceive the core, the true ghost).

Right after, his famulus (assistant) Wagner comes in and he distracts Faust from his depression. They talk about rhetorics and the Zeitgeist, but those things are a bit too high for the famulus and they part later. Wagner also wants to know everything like Faust. But he only wants to know everything, but Faust wants to experience the most inner core of nature and other things.

Faust falls in his depressions again and he sees no other way to experience higher spheres than to finish his life. He takes down a vial, a special vial, which contains a deadly poison. Faust know that he has to be one hundred percent sure to commit suicide and he has to make his own way to and in heaven, although he might not have deserved it, truly.

His attempt to commit suicide is impeded by the angelic chants, which mark the beginning of Eastern. Faust is reminded of his youthful days and the chants smooth his soul. The choir of Angels prevent Faust from ending his life and Faust says joyfully that earth has him back.


In front of the Gate (Vor dem Tor)

Random people, Faust, Wagner

Random people pass by and talk about the daily things. A troop passes too and sings a joyful song.

Faust is there too with his famulus Wagner. He talks very poetically about the beginning of spring and Wagner admires him and tells Faust that it is always a profit going with him.

The people think very highly of Faust, because he always helped them out. Moreover, we learn something about Faust's father. Faust's father was a doctor and during the Black Death, he created a drug that would make people healthy. Sadly, most of these people died, but the folk still admire Faust and his father. Wagner thinks this must be a great feeling to hear this from the people, but Faust is sad about this, because there is nothing to be proud of.

Faust notices a dog. A black poodle to be more exact. He asks Wagner if he also sees flames where poodle is walking. Wagner says no and thinks it must be some optical illusion. Faust takes the poodle with him.


Study Room I

Faust, Mephistopheles

Faust is in his study room. He translates the beginning of the Christian Scriptures. He translates "word" from latin into german as "Tat" (act). The poodle is there too and he sometimes disturbs Faust. He then casts a spell to figure out the true core of the poodle, but it fails. When Faust tries a stronger spell the poodle transforms into no one else than Mephistopheles. Mephisto introduces himself to Faust and asks kindly to leave. Faust says the door is open he may go if he likes, but there is a druid sign above the door and Mephisto cannot escape (and he MUST leave through the door - law of the devils and ghosts).

Mephisto summons some ghosts which sing a nice lullaby for Faust and he falls asleep. Mephisto summons another ghost which helps him to nullify the force of the druid sign. Mephisto leaves and Faust wakes up, wondering what has happened.


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Study Room II

Faust, Mephistopheles, Student

Right after the scene before, Mephisto knocks the door and comes in. Faust makes a bet with Mephisto. Should Mephisto make Faust truly relish life and still Faust's drive to strive he would win the bet and get Faust's soul. As long as the bet is on going, Mephisto will serve Faust with all his magical powers and be a constant companion.

Faust signs a contract with his blood and Mephisto says that they have to leave this place and go somewhere else. A young man is waiting for Faust, because he wants to ask him whether he can be his student or not. Faust does not want to speak to him, but Mephisto offers to do this for him and meanwhile, Faust shall get dressed.

Mephisto, disguised as Faust, speaks about sciences, theology, law and medicine, but he only plays with the student and confuses him.

After the student has left, Faust and Mephisto leave the study room and go into to the world. Mephisto uses his coat to fly.


Auerbach's cellar in Leipzig

Faust, Mephisto, Siebel, Frosch, Altmayer, Brander

Faust and Mephisto go to a bar. Mephisto sings a song to the other people in the bar who threatened him before and afterwards, he uses his magical powers to make any wine flow out of the table. Those people spill some wine and the wine turns into flames. They become aggressive, because they think Mephisto is playing a bad trick on them and want to murder him. He uses another magical ability and distorts their perception. Mephisto and Faust leave and soon after this the effect wears off and the four of them are left completely baffled and confused.


Witch's kitchen

Faust, Mephisto, various animals, Witch

Mephisto and Faust visit a witch, which will help Faust to become younger. When they arrive, she is not here yet and Mephisto talks with the animals. In the meantime, Faust finds a mirror in which he sees a woman, but he cannot see her correctly. Faust is immeditately baffled by the beautiful look of her.

The witch prepares the brew which Faust is going to drink. He finds this very awkward the way she does that, but in the end, Faust becomes younger. Another side effect is that he will see in any women the concept of the woman he saw in the mirror, previously.

Street I

Faust, Margrete, Mephisto

Faust meets Gretchen. He asks her if he can accompany the beautiful young lady, but she answers that she is neither a young lady nor beautiful. In the original German play, they only exchange 2 sentences and Margrete (or Gretchen) leaves.

Faust is completely taken by her character and beauty. He has nothing else anymore in his head than to get her. He tells Mephisto that he must help him to get her. Mephisto says that he spied, when she was confessing to the pastor. She went for nothing, because she is this pure and innocent, Mephisto's powers are nullified. Faust is extremely obsessed of her and the first time in the play, he actively wants something from Mephisto and Faust also acts more arrogant. For example, Mephisto says he would need at least 14 days to make something happen, but Faust says to this that he would only need 7 hours. Mephisto really has to slow Faust down with his drive to get Gretchen.

In the end, they are going to Gretchen's room, when she is not there and Faust needs a present for her which Mephisto is going to get.

Evening

Faust and Mephisto are secretely in Gretchen's room. Faust is extremely excited and enthusiastic and he describes the room so accurately and dynamic that the reader exactly "knows" how it must be like. This is also called "genuis locus". Mephisto places a small box with valuable jewellry.

Promenade

Mephisto is raging, because Gretchen showed the expensive jewellry to her mother who then called a pastor. The pastor took the valuable jewellry with him and Mephisto becomes very upset with that.

Neighbour's House

Gretchen goes to Martha and shows her a valuable necklace, which she kept. Martha tells her that she can come as often as she likes to her and wear her necklace. She also says that Gretchen should wear her necklace to special events and then more and more often, so it is not so obvious and suspicious that she has gotten something very expensive.

Mephisto knocks the door and Martha opens it. Mephisto tells her a story, which is of course a lie. He tells her that he was with his husband in his last moment's before he died, who left the family to serve in another country. He died there, but he has not left anything for her.

In the end, they make an appointment to meet in the evening and Faust will be there, too.

Street II

Mephisto tells Faust some news. He says that they will meet up in the evening. The only thing is he has to say that Martha's husband really died.

Faust does not like the idea of telling a lie or something he is not quite sure of. Mephisto counters with the argument that Faust is going to tell Gretchen that he loves her truly, what is a lie, because Faust cannot know whether he is going to love her forever or not.

Garden

Faust, Mephisto, Margrete (Gretchen), Martha

Faust is walking with Margrete and Mephisto with Martha. Those two couples have conversations amongst each other. Gretchen tells Faust that once, she had a little sister, but she was doomed to die, but she could not bear this and took care of her. Later, she had to drown her, sadly. Gretchen also takes a star flower and plucks the petals to see if Faust loves her. It comes out to be a yes and Faust enthusiastically emphasizes this.

Martha asks Mephisto how it is to be a soldier and to travel and asks him later whether he is in love or not, because she tries to flirt with him. Mephisto does not seem to give a clear answer or to get her at all.


Summer house (Gartenhäuschen)

The two of them are in a summer house, but they are interrupted by Mephisto and Martha and they have to part.


Forest and Cavern

Faust, Mephisto

Faust is alone. He is in a naturey place, where he becomes very philosophic again. He goes in a cave and on a mysterious wise, things are unravelled to him. He is not that desperate anymore.

When Mephisto appears, they have an argument.

Gretchen's room

Gretchen/Margrete

This is a short scene. Gretchen is in her room and she sings a song. Basically, she has completely fallen in love with Faust.

Martha's garden

Faust, Mephisto, Gretchen, Martha

Gretchen asks Faust whether he believes in God or not. She thinks that Faust is not really a religios man, but she wants him to be religious. Faust does give an answer, but he does not answer it with yes or no. Gretchen does not really understand what he wants to stay and just accepts his answer as it is.

This is the famous "Gretchenfrage" (Gretchen's Question).

At the well

Gretchen, a friend of Gretchen

At the well, Gretchen meets a friend of hers. They talk and the friend tells her that another girl in the village has become pregnant at a tender age (16 or so), but she does not have a husband. She is described as a godless bitch. Gretchen fears that the same is going to happen to her, since she become intimate with Faust (which is not told explicitly in the play).

Dungeon (By the Ramparts)

Gretchen is in front of a picture of Mater Dolorosa. She feels bad and asks her to heal her from her shame and death.

Night

Gretchen's brother returns from war. He has heard that someone had sex with his little sister without him being her fiancée or husband. He returns to his village and tries to find that person (who is Faust).

Faust tells Mephisto that he has fallen completely in love with Gretchen. Mephisto thinks the love he feels is only temporarily and not for all eternity. He then sings a little zither which is about a girl going into a man's room and leaving as a maid no more. The brother Valentine listened to them and he realized that Faust was the one who dishonored his sister.

He fights against Faust and Mephisto uses his maigcal powers to paralize Valentine. Faust stabs him and they vanish.

Of course, this fight made a lot of noise and soon after they two guys vanished a mass of people gathered. Amongst them was Gretchen.

Valentine talks to Gretchen and he makes her responsible for his death, Actually, it appears that Gretchen did kill him (and not Faust and Mepisto). Before Valentine finally dies, he calls his sister a whore and that for the time she stays on earth, she will be the whore of the town.

Cathedral

Gretchen is at a mass. An evil spirit talks to her (but she is not aware of this supernatural being).

She begs God for forgiveness, but the evil spirit tells her that she will never be forgiven and that "the blessed ones turn their faces away from her".

Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht)

In this scene, Mephisto invites Faust to a very strange party where all demonic beings, witches and all kinds of hell beings gather. Faust and Mephisto have fun there, dance and Faust meets weird personalities. At the end, he sees a person in who he sees the angelic face of Gretchen, buit Mephisto tells him that it is nothing more than a mere illusion.

Walpurgis Night's Dream or the Golden Wedding of Oberon and Titania

This scene is a retarding element in the play. It has nothing to do with the play. Lots of character appear. All of them represent a social class, a school of thought, opponents of Goethe and so on. All of them sing four lines that sum up their opinion and belief.

Desolate Day, Open Country

Faust learns about Gretchens imprisonment. He cries out loud and is very emotional about that. Also, there are no rhymes and no meter in this scene. This scene is an old scene from "Urfaust", the first version of Faust.

He makes Mephisto responsible for this tragedy and calls out to the Infinite Spirit to turn Mephisto into a dog. Mephisto becomes very angry with him and tells him that he was the one who accepted to sign the contract with him and who made these stupidities.

He wants from Mephisto that he saves the girl, but he clearly tells him that he cannot undo what has happened. Faust asks for his help to get him to the prison. Mephisto also offers him to befog the jailer's senses, while Faust gets the key and releases Gretchen. Magic horses appear and both of the get on their way

Night, Open Country

During their ride, Faust sees a group of witches doing something. Mephisto tells him to ignore them.

Prison

At the prison, Faust successfully gets to Gretchen. He tries to get her out of the prison, but he has to realize that the young girl (16 or 17 years old now) has gone mad. She gave birth to her child, but because she was not in the state of caring for her correctly (her mother has died in the night she slept with Faust. She got a vial with a liquid in it, which is from Mephisto, that should make her mother sleep deeply. She did indeed sleep very deeply and she will never wake up from it). She also feared social exclusion and decided to drown her child. She got imprisoned for child murdering and lost her sanity. She talks in a delirium to Faust and when she kisses him she feels no warmth and no passion in Faust's kiss. She does not want to leave, rather she wants him to stay such that both of them can die, since Gretchen was going to be hanged the following morning.

Mephisto urges Faust to make fast, because his spell will not last forever and time ir running out. Gretchen sees Mephisto and completely loses her mind. She can sense the devil in Mephisto and calls out to God that her soul is completely his and that he should judge and punish her. God "saves" her and Faust vanishes with Mephisto.

From the inside, someone calls Faust's name "Heinrich, Heinrich!"

Stefan Zweig – Fear

Hermann Hesse – the Steppenwolf

Hermann Hesse – Siddharta

Hermann Hesse – Demian

Hermann Hesse – Narcissus and Goldmund

Hermann Hesse – Glass Bead Game

Jean-Paul Sartre – Huis Clos

Molière – The Imaginary Invalid

William Golding – Lord of the Flies

Bernand Shaw – Pygmalion

Vsevolod Garshin – A red flower

Viktor Pelevin – The life of insects

Tolstoy – The Death of Ivan Ilyich

More Summaries

Novalis – Heinrich von Ofterdingen

Goethe – Faust I

Goethe – Clavigo

Goethe – Iphigenie auf Tauris

Goethe – Egmont

Goethe – Stella

E.T.A Hoffmann – The Sandman

Joseph von Eichendorff – Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts

Joseph von Eichendorff – The Marble Statue

Joseph von Eichendorff – Schloss Dürande

Georg Büchner – Woyzeck

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