Although based on a legend transmitted through the popular literature and drama of German-speaking Europe from the late 16th century onward (and which found an English-speaking audience through translation of the texts and Christopher Marlowe’s dramatic adaptation), Goethe’s own version of Faust lives at the heart of the German literary canon. The play’s “pact with the Devil” narrative tells the story of Dr. Faust, who, seeking deeper knowledge than the academy can provide, strikes a bargain with Mephistopheles which requires him to serve Faust and to show him all of the truths in the world. However, should Faust ever become complacent, his life would be forfeit. A series of fantastic, and tragic, events follows, and in the end Faust finds that his life is at risk.
Goethe calls upon a variety of meters to tell his tale, which combines elements of contemporary European society with classical themes. He worked on the play intermittently over the course of nearly 50 years beginning in the 1770s (from which a copied manuscript survives), and after releasing his early efforts as Faust, ein Fragment in 1790, decided that the full play should be published as two parts: Part I, published in 1808, and Part II, published posthumously in 1832. Goethe’s Faust would become highly influential, inspiring music, theater, opera, film, and literature (including Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita) from the 19th century to the present. UC Berkeley Library owns numerous editions of the text, including the initial 1790 publication which was included in a multi-volume set of Goethe’s collected works and is housed in The Bancroft Library. A new project funded by the German Research Foundation called Faustedition has made Faust even more accessible by putting the full text online, and allowing line-by-line reading of variations across editions. Importantly, the project also includes an online archive of Goethe’s handwritten papers and letters, transcribed and searchable, which are related to the development of Faust.
The German language and its literature have been a fixture at Berkeley since the university’s founding. Today, the German Department offers courses at all levels and encompassing the breadth of the Middle Ages to the 21st century. In addition to Modern German, earlier forms of the language including Old Saxon, Old High German, Middle High German, and Early New High German are all taught. Goethe’s writings continue to be studied and read extensively.
Contribution by Jeremy Ott
Classics and Germanic Studies Librarian, Doe Library
Title in English: Faust
Author: Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1749-1832.
Imprint: Leipzig: Christian Friedrich Solbrig, 1790.
Edition: 1st [?]
Language Family: Indo-European, Germanic
Source: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) | German Research Foundation
Other online editions:
- Faust. Eine Tragödie von Goethe. Zweyter Theil in fünf Acten. (Vollendet im Sommer 1831). Stuttgart und Tübingen, J.G. Cotta, 1833.
Select print editions at Berkeley:
- Goethe’s Schriften. 8 vols. Leipzig, G. J. Göschen, 1787-90.
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