Faust wants to know how things stand with Margarete. Mephistopheles applauds his passion and tells him that he will see his beloved tonight at Martha’s house. They must simply make a deposition declaring that Martha’s husband is buried in Padua. Faust doesn’t want to perjure himself (lie under oath), but the devil suggests that as a scholar Faust perjured himself often and boldly in claiming to know about God and the world when really he didn’t. Faust calls Mephistopheles a liar. The devil says he’s not alone, as Faust is about to lie to Margarete about being eternally devoted to her. Faust says he is sincere in his love, but concludes that he has no choice but to lie to Martha about her husband’s remains. The two exit.
Faust’s love affair begins with a lie about a dead husband and ends with the very real death of Faust’s own lover. This suggests that, in a world governed by time, love generally decays. The devil compares scholarship to perjury, which is a bad joke and little more, as lying and being mistaken in one’s claims are not the same thing. Mistakes, after all, can be the gateways to discovery. Even so this is another dig from Goethe mocking learning without experience. As noble as Faust’s love for Gretchen is, he has put himself in a situation where he can only pursue it by ignoble means.