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Faust — Part 1   By: (1749-1832)

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Faust Part 1 by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, the greatest of German men of letters, was born at Frank fort on the Main, August 28, 1749. His father was a man of means and position, and he personally supervised the early education of his son. The young Goethe studied at the universities of Leipsic and Strasburg, and in 1772 entered upon the practise of law at Wetzlar. At the invitation of Karl August, Duke of Saxe Weimar, he went in 1775 to live in Weimar, where he held a succession of political offices, becoming the Duke's chief adviser. From 1786 to 1788 he traveled in Italy, and from 179' to 1817 directed the ducal theater at Weimar. He took part in the wars against France, 1792 3, and in the following year began his friendship with Schiller, which lasted till the latter's death in 1805. In 1806 he married Christiane Vulpius. From about 1794 he devoted himself chiefly to literature, and after a life of extraordinary productiveness died at Weimar, March 22, 1832. The most important of Goethe's works produced before he went to Weimar were his tragedy "Gotz von Berlichingen" (1773), which first brought him fame, and "The Sorrows of Young Werther," a novel which obtained enormous popularity during the so called "Sturm und Drang" period. During the years at Weimar before he knew Schiller he began "Wilhelm Meister," wrote the dramas, "Iphigenie," "Egmont," and "Torquato Tasso," and his "Reinecke Fuchs." To the period of his friendship with Schiller belong the continuation of "Wilhelm Meister," the beautiful idyl of "Hermann and Dorothea," and the "Roman Elegies." In the last period, between Schiller's death in 1805 and his own, appeared "Faust," "Elective Affinities," his autobiographical "Dichtung und Wahrheit" ("Poetry and Truth"), his "Italian Journey," much scientific work, and a series of treatises on German Art.

Though the foregoing enumeration contains but a selection front the titles of Goethe's best known writings, it suffices to show the extraordinary fertility and versatility of his genius. Rarely has a man of letters had so full and varied a life, or been capable of so many sided a development. His political and scientific activities, though dwarfed in the eyes of our generation by his artistic production, yet showed the adaptability of his talent in the most diverse directions, and helped to give him that balance of temper and breadth of vision in which he has been surpassed by no genius of the ancient or modern world.

The greatest and most representative expression of Goethe's powers is without doubt to be found in his drama of "Faust"; but before dealing with Goethe's masterpiece, it is worth while to say something of the history of the story on which it is founded the most famous instance of the old and widespread legend of the man who sold his soul to the devil. The historical Dr. Faust seems to have been a self called philosopher who traveled about Germany in the first half of the sixteenth century, making money by the practise of magic, fortune telling, and pretended cures. He died mysteriously about 1540, and a legend soon sprang up that the devil, by whose aid he wrought his wonders, had finally carried him off. In 1587 a life of him appeared, in which are attributed to him many marvelous exploits and in which he is held up as an awful warning against the excessive desire for secular learning and admiration for antique beauty which characterized the humanist movement of the time. In this aspect the Faust legend is an expression of early popular Protestantism, and of its antagonism to the scientific and classical tendencies of the Renaissance.

While a succession of Faust books were appearing in Germany, the original life was translated into English and dramatized by Marlowe. English players brought Marlowe's work back to Germany, where it was copied by German actors, degenerated into spectacular farce, and finally into a puppet show... Continue reading book >>

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