Faust, now a very old man, a hundred years old, paces in a large formal garden outside of his palace. He is obsessed by the fact that he has not acquired Baucis and Philemon’s cottage, or the nearby linden grove and chapel. He cannot bear the thought of shade that’s not his own. He wishes he were far away.
He was unable to transcend the world, and Faust is likewise frustrated in attempting to control the world. The thought that he possesses only a part and not the whole agonizes him.
A splendid, richly laden vessel appears in a nearby canal, bearing Mephistopheles and the Three Mighty Men. They disembark, and the vessel’s cargo is unloaded. The devil praises the trinity of war, trade, and piracy by which such treasures are acquired, and says that might makes right.
Faust’s kingdom is prosperous in large part due to its ruler’s bad alliance with the devil, who does not create value but violently steals what’s of value from others. As long as Faust relies on the devil, his efforts will be tainted.
Despite this success, Faust looks grave and somber. He desires what is not his—the cottage, the grove, and the chapel—so that he can build a panoramic platform from which he can survey in one inclusive look the masterpiece he has created. So it is that, tired of being just, he orders Mephistopheles and the Three Mighty Men to evict Baucis and Philemon from their cottage. The devil says that Faust’s will shall be done—they’ll just carry off the couple, set them down, and give them a nice new place—and he adds to the audience that this is an old story, ever the same.
Faust’s idea of earthly success here has to do with absolute control. Faust is not a brutal tyrant, however, as he wants to be just. It’s just that the autonomy of Baucis and Philemon is too much for him. He orders that the couple be evicted and their land seized—but peacefully, and with due compensation. He should know better, though, than to send the devil out on a peaceful errand.