Discussion: Dealing with the Devil

In the introduction to this section, you were introduced to the revolutions of this period — the author of the intro highlights two — the Industrial Revolution and the wave of political revolutions that overturned the old regimes of Europe and Latin America. This is a period of tremendous change — but it can be argued (and has been) that the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries are exactly what you’d expect after the Enlightenment ramped up reason as a basis for shaping human endeavors and, at least in the hands of some of its thinkers, challenging the old way of doing things. One result of this is a notion of the tremendous potential for human progress in almost every area — technology, social reform (sometimes in the form of revolutions) and the generation of wealth and expansion of human knowledge.

So things changing a lot shouldn’t be a surprise. But there were those who questioned the forward rush of progress — or at least the hubris that fueled at least some of it and the often unintended consequences of progress. Things like the implosion of the French Revolution or the unintended consequences of the Industrial Revolution (such as the tremendous expansion of the slave trade to which the invention of the cotton gin was a contributing factor) did explose the grey areas of revolution.

Faust explores a lot of things — and you’ll again be able to choose from among a number of options for your response. But keep the strains of revolution in mind as you tackle these.

Again, your initial post will need to be substantive — which means detailed, thoughtful, and supported by specific details, even quotes, from the play. One goal of your post is to demonstrate your knowledge of the play — it’s kind of a reading quiz on Faust.

300-400 words for first two questions. 150-250 words for last two questions.

Choice One: Faust vs. Mephistopheles

The intro to Faust mentions that Mephistopheles often functions as a critic of Faust, and, through him, of the age. Explore this idea — compare the two, and identify moments when Mephistopheles seems to challenge Faust’s assumptions about himself and the world.

Choice Two: Knowledge vs. Desire

Faust seems to driven by two urges — the desire for knowledge and the desire for sensual pleasures. Reflect on this. For example, are they two facets of the same underlying needs, or are they conflicting aspects of his personallity? How does each influence how you understand Faust? Those are only suggestions — feel free to provide your own interpretation of these drives in Faust’s character.

Choice Three: Gretchen

Reflect on the role played by Gretchen’s storyline in the play. Possible areas to explore: Why is she included? How does what happens to her effect your understanding of the plays’ main themes — what Goethe is trying to say?

Choice Four: All the World’s a Stage

Sorry — felt compelled to work in a Shakespeare quote. Goethe’s play has been considered…challenging…to stage, and he himself didn’t necessarily imagine it on the stage. One challenge arises from the way he so thoroughly ignores the Aristotelian Unities of time, place and action that Moliere adhered to so closely.

Below are links provided and reading materials:


“The Age of Revolutions” (369-381)

Faust (401-511)


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