Faust: A Tragedy in Two Parts

Faust: A Tragedy in Two Parts

Faust: A Tragedy in Two Parts

Faust: A Tragedy in Two Parts

Synopsis

A fresh new translation of 'Faust,' the greatest work by Germany's greatest writer, brings us the immediacy, power and passion of Goethe in modern language.

Excerpt

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) stands with a few other eminences such as Dante and Cervantes close to Shakespeare at the summit of literary excellence. But this consensus, while maintaining his grand reputation, does little to illuminate his essential genius for today’s English-speaking audience. Translation from the German, as discussed below, is only part of the problem. To make his case for our time and place is more difficult largely because of the sheer breadth of his reach, the desire and attempt which we may think inordinate in this age of narrow specialization to encompass everything relevant in life — all fields of knowledge and endeavor from the arts to science and philosophy, and in every form of prose and verse.

Goethe’s greatest work is Faust, a tragedy in two parts and comprised of 12,111 lines of varied verse, over 60 diversified scenes, and a variety of characters from Greek antiquity as well as medieval Europe and contemporary Germany. Part One, the shorter, simpler, more recognized part, contains the Gretchen story and the famous blood pact between Faust and Mephistopheles. Part Two is symbolical and allegorical and experimental; even Germans find it unintelligible without hundreds of scholarly footnotes, a notion which Goethe himself scorned.

So why do, or should, we read Goethe’s Faust today? As perhaps the last major attempt to bring the most disparate historical and mythological elements — in all their irrationalilike a dramatic whole, it stands as a supreme monument; given the universality of theme, and the scope and richness of its content, together with an impression that things are being seen sub species aeternitatis, there are gems of thought and imagery shining everywhere in kaleidoscopic, multifaceted, multifarious splendor.

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