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Theatre / Faust: Second Part of the Tragedy

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"Faust mounted on Chiron", by Franz Simm (1899)

The second part of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust duology, published 24 years after Faust I.

By letting him drink from the waters of Lethe, Mephistopheles makes Faust forget about Gretchen and thus regain his spirits. After some wacky hijinks at the court of the Emperor (where Mephistopheles solves the Empire's financial crisis by inventing paper money) they visit Faust’s old study, where Doctor Wagner, formerly Faust's assistant, has finally succeeded in creating the Homunculus.

Hardly created, the Homunculus says goodbye to his maker and teams up with Faust and Mephistopheles to visit Ancient Greece, where they arrive just in time to attend Classical Walpurgis Night and change the outcome of The Trojan War so that Faust can marry Helen of Troy.

They live happily in Arcadia, but their happiness does not last, as Faust and Helen's son dies and Helen vanishes into Hades. Faust and Mephistopheles arrive back on the Emperor's court, using demonic tricks to save the Emperor's armies from an attacking usurper. The Emperor grants Faust a piece of land at the sea-shore, allowing Faust to fulfill his dream of reclaiming land from the sea so that people can benefit from it.

Years pass, and one day Faust, old and powerful, is vexed by the knowledge that a nearby hill and the house of an old couple standing on it do not belong to him. He dispatches Mephistopheles and his lackeys to force the inhabitants out of the house, but the house ends up on fire and the old couple ends up dead. Faust is struck blind and tormented by the Anthropomorphic Representation of worry, while Mephistopheles summons spirits of the dead to dig Faust's grave. Hearing the sound of work, Faust believes that he is hearing workers digging a new ditch and rejoices in how his subjects' life will continue to improve; in his joy, he wishes that the moment lasts forever—which, according to his contract, is when he dies and gives his soul over to Mephistopheles. However, angels intervene at the last minute, scare away Mephistopheles and his devils, and claim Faust's soul; the reason for this is that in fact, Faust was not rejoicing at an actual earthly joy being fulfilled, but the mere idea of a perfect future world of community, thus not fitting the criteria of Faust's deal.

Tropes in Faust II:

  • Actionized Sequel: An early example.
  • Allegory: The whole play is full of them, mostly consisting of a group of people appearing in a Play Within a Play - the most memorable of them likely being a civilisation of dwarves that oppresses griffons and giant ants and are then attacked by cranes. The fight ends when a rock falls from the moon and ends it all.
  • Call-Back: A lot of them throughout the play. The most upfront ones are found at the beginning of the second act, which takes place in the exact same room as the beginning of the first part. Several minor characters from the first part re-appear.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: It's constantly portrayed as associated with the devil. It's Mephisto who convinces the emperor to introduce paper fee. By the final act, Faust has destroyed a beautiful coast area in favor of a trading town.
  • The Darkness Before Death: Near the end of the play, when Faust is an old man nearing his death, a demon called Care breathes upon his eyes, and he becomes blind.
Feel it then now; as thou shalt find,
When with a curse from thee I've wended:
Through their whole lives are mortals blind -
So be thou, Faust, ere life be ended!
  • Distant Finale: The fifth (and last) act takes place decades after the rest. Goethe has stated that Faust is meant to be 100 years old in the last part. By that time, he has become a Grumpy Old Man.
  • Even Better Sequel: Among fans of Goethe's work, this is a popular opinion.
  • Fish out of Water: In Ancient Greece, Mephisto feels unwell in the presence of the creatures of Greek Mythology, and repeatedly emphasizes that he would like to be back in "the north" instead.
  • Gainax Ending: The last scene could be seen as this, introducing a multiplicity of new (mythological) characters.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Mephistopheles summons a troop of "lemurs" to dig Faust's grave. Now lemures are spirits of the dead from Roman mythology, but who could stave off the mental image of Satan commanding a horde of the ring-tailed variety?
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The waters of Lethe erase Faust's memories of Gretchen, but leave everything else intact.
  • Meaningful Name: In contrast to Faust I, almost every character in Faust II has a symbolical name.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: It is actually Mephistopheles' efforts to damn Faust that end up saving him, since his actions force Faust to confront his own flaws and to strive for more.
  • Our Homunculi Are Different: This one has the ability to fly around in his glass container.
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's been heavily discussed whether or not Faust has won his bet with Mephisto, and to what extent. Then again, God seems to think Faust won, so this would be, quite literally, word of God.
  • Sequel Escalation: In every conceivable way.
  • Shout-Out: The spirit Ariel in Act I, scene 1 is directly taken from Shakespeare's The Tempest, which suggests that the beautiful land Faust finds himself may just be Prospero's island.
  • Show Within a Show: Two examples:
    • The "spacious room" scene in the first act shows a masquerade in the emperor's palace.
    • Act III and IV both take place in a theater within the actual theatre stage, creating a world of Greek Mythology within the otherwise mainly Christian world of the play itself.
  • Stealth Sequel: The third act is one to Homer's The Iliad.
  • True Art Is Ancient: Discussed throughout the play. There's a reason why Faust seeks Helena, a figure of Greek Mythology, as a symbol of pure beauty.

Alternative Title(s): Faust II