In the intellectual history of Europe, Johann Wolfgang yon Goethe is central to the development of Romantic thinking, which was contemporary in his day. Goethe attempted to see the world in a new light; he reconsiders old questions of good and evil, as well as questions about human nature. The story of Faust allows such considerations. Romantics strive for something beyond their reach, beyond anyone’s reach. Contentment is not their goal. One place that we see Faust’s striving is in his conversation on “unrest” with Wagner (699-702).
Just as Wagner illustrates the normal academic who thinks that books hold all the answers he needs, Faust as a Romantic has come both to realize the limitations of what’s in books and to be unwilling to accept those limitations. Wagner thinks Faust should enjoy the reputation he has as a doctor among the peasants, but Faust knows the reputation is a sham. He and his father were in truth helpless against the ravages of the plague (although they obviously at least comforted the sick).
Faust’s aspirations permit him to make a bargain with Mephistopheles, especially since a part of the bet involves Mephistopheles’ belief that Faust will eventually enjoy contentment. Rather than seeking knowledge, which had been a goal of the Faust of German and English tradition, Goethe’s Faust seeks experience and feeling. This also makes his quest apart of the Romantic tradition. The Romantic hero must approach life’s mysteries by active participation, not by reflection.
When Faust and Mephistopheles see the witch for her medicine, what Faust wants is youth, so that he can experience what he may have missed while he was absorbed in his studies. And what he comes to want then is Margaret, the peasant maid who looks like a beauty to the revitalized man. The Romantic has spiritual goals, but they’re usually outside of conventional religions. We see this most directly in the scene between Gretchen and Faust. She wants him to be a Christian, but Faust’s spirituality cannot be contained by dogma.
To follow this Romantic thread, think of Christianity as a revealed religion, embraced by the European and German society of the time. It made many late eighteenths and early nineteenth century people feel safe and secure. You can see how this picture of comfort might fall outside of the Romantic’s striving, since he seeks a mystery beyond the conventional. The Romantic hero must be willing to break free of bounds, no matter the consequences. Another key romantic characteristic is a faith in nature as a creative source, as both a source of comfort and energy.
Faust expresses his enthusiasm early when he contrasts the value of experiencing nature with the deadness of books (685). What impresses him about Easter is the revitalizing force of spring rather than the story of Jesus (695-6). It is the exalted spirit of nature that he credits with allowing him to penetrate Gretchens heart, and that he credits with giving him the companion Mephistopheles 747-48 -48). Conclusion Besides a faith in nature, romantics idealize childhood and women, seeing in them a purity and honesty of emotions that are difficult to attain in the intellectual and adult worlds.
This romanticism can be seen in Goethe’s plotting, as he has the church bell remind Faust of his childhood so that the character does not commit suicide early in the play. Also, the love affair with Gretchen leads to the drama’s climax. References Faust Supplemented Study Guide: Retrieved from World Wide Web http://faculty. southwest. tn. edu/llipinski/ENGL2320T201/content/lesson18_handout. htm Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Faust, Publisher, Oxford University Press, 1998.
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