Mephistopheles, a powerful spirit from down below, pays a visit to Heaven to have a chit-chat with God. Disagreeing on whether humanity's struggle for knowledge is futile or not, their exchange of views ends in a bet: Mephistopheles has free rein to tempt the eminent scholar Faust to stray from the path to salvation destined to him; the bet will be won if he succeeds in subjecting Faust to eternal damnation.
Down below on Earth, the immensely learned Faust is moping lonely in his study. All his learning has only left him disillusioned, nor has it earned him material comfort. Not even his commitment to magic has revealed him the answers he seeks. Thus, Mephistopheles has little trouble in persuading him to a deal: Mephistopheles will serve him on Earth, but should Faust ever experience a moment of perfect contentment, he will have lost his soul to Mephistopheles and presently follow him to Hell.
Faust approves and signs the contract with his blood. And off they go on an uncurbed tour to debauchery, in the course of which Faust gets rejuvenated and the hots for the innocent young Gretchen. Faust pressures Mephistopheles to get Gretchen into bed with him, which proves tricky business as Gretchen is annoyingly pious. Yet Mephistopheles realizes that Gretchen may just be the key that could win him the wager and Fausts soul.
Tropes in Faust I:
- Armor-Piercing Question: "Now tell me, how do you take religion?" Asked by Gretchen to Faust. Having made a Deal with the Devil, he has a hard time answering it. Became so influential that "Gretchenfrage" entered the German vocabulary.
- The Bet: Twice — God's wager with Mephistopheles, and Mephistopheles' with Faust.
- Beta Couple: Mephistopheles and Martha act as a parody of this, in contrast to Faust and Gretchen's dramatically serious relationship. Martha is actively interested in Mephistopheles, but of course he doesn't return her feelings, even though he does flirt with her (mostly because he is the type who can and will flirt with anyone including mortal human women, Ancient Greek lamiae and cute male angels).
- Blood Oath: The contract is sealed with a drop of Faust's blood.
- Cosmic Plaything: The framing device is a bet between God and the Devil.
- Depraved Bisexual: Mephisto, when he's not being portrayed as Trope Codifier for Flaming Devil.
- Deal with the Devil: Mephistopheles and Faust agree that Mephisto will serve Faust and fulfill all his earthly wishes, but if Faust should ever experience a moment of contentment, he will go to Hell at once and belong to Mephistopheles for eternity.
- Faint in Shock: Gretchen attempts to seek solace and forgiveness, but when confronted with the severity of her sins, she eventually cannot bear it any longer and faints dead away.
- Familiar: As his part of his deal with Faust, Mephistopheles agrees to be Faust's permanent companion and servant. In other words, he becomes Faust's familiar.
- Fountain of Youth: Faust is permanently rejuvenated by a magic potion brewed by a witch.
- God: As "The Lord", he has a speaking role in the Prologue in Heaven.
- God Karting with Beelzebub: Mephistopheles and God may disagree on some things, but that's no reason not to have a friendly chat. In the words of Mephistopheles,I like, at times, to hear The Ancient's word,
And have a care to be most civil:
It's really kind of such a noble Lord
So humanly to gossip with the Devil!
- Heaven: Setting of the Prologue in Heaven.
- Homage: The Witches' Kitchen and Walpurgis Night scenes contain various allusions to Shakespeare's Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
- It Will Never Catch On: Goethe did not doubt that this was his masterpiece, but during his lifetime nobody thought it could be played on an actual stage. While Faust II is still rarely seen on stage (mostly due to being torturously long when put on stage) Faust I is one of the most successful and popular pieces of German theater.
- Magic Potion: Mephistopheles and Faust visit a witch who brews a magic potion that makes Faust to appear like a young man.
- Must Be Invited: Mephistopheles can only enter Faust's study after Faust has invited him to come in three times.
- Off With The Head: Gretchen is beheaded for the murder of her child.
- Red Right Hand: Parodied. The Witch is surprised that she cannot see Mephistopheles' cloven foot. Mephistopheles explains that he has been using false calves for a long time. He does have a limp, though, as noticed by one of the patrons in Auerbach's Cellar.
- Show Within a Show: "A Walpurgis Night's Dream, or Oberon's and Titania's Golden Wedding", a farcical play enacted by the spirits on Mount Brocken during Walpurgis Night.
- Summoning Ritual: In Act I, Faust summons the mighty Earth-Spirit.
- The Trickster: Mephistopheles possesses many traits of this archetype. In his own words,I am part of that power which eternally
Wills evil and eternally works good.
- Wicked Witch: One that brews the rejuvenation potion, and a whole army of them celebrating Walpurgis Night on Brocken.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Wagner, Faust's naive young assistant, thinks the university is the greatest place on earth and looks up to Faust as his own role model. Little does he know how jaded Faust is, or that he is actually quite annoyed by Wagner.