Goethe’s masterpiece and perhaps the greatest work in German literature, Faust has made the legendary German alchemist one of the central myths of the Western world. Here indeed is a monumental Faust, an audacious man boldly wagering with the devil, Mephistopheles, that no magic, sensuality, experience, or knowledge can lead him to a moment he would wish to last forever. Here, in Faust, Part I, the tremendous versatility of Goethe’s genius creates some of the most beautiful passages in literature. Here too we experience Goethe’s characteristic humor, the excitement and eroticism of the witches’ Walpurgis Night, and the moving emotion of Gretchen’s tragic fate.
The meaning of the word and name has been reinterpreted through the ages. Faust, and the adjective faustian, are often used to describe an arrangement in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success: the proverbial “deal with the devil“. The principal characters of Faust Part One include: Heinrich Faust, a scholar, sometimes said to be based on the real life of Johann Georg Faust, or on Jacob Bidermann’s dramatized account of the Legend of the Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus Mephistopheles, a Devil (Demon) Gretchen, Faust’s love (short for Margaret; Goethe uses both forms) Marthe, Gretchen’s neighbour Valentin, Gretchen’s brother Wagner, Faust’s famulus.