The keeper of the palace watchtower is looking out over Faust’s realm while night falls, singing all the while. Suddenly he sees, through a grove of lindens, sparks explode and a fire swirl in rage. He worries that Baucis and Philemon will be victims of the smoke. The fire destroys the grove and the nearby chapel. What was once a joy to see, says the keeper, now belongs to the past.
The devil and the Mighty Men barbarously set fire to Baucis and Philemon’s property, against Faust’s specific orders. Like Helen and Euphorion, the quiet domestic joy of this couple consequently vanishes from the earth. The devil ruins all he touches.
Faust appears upon the balcony, having heard the watchman’s sad song. His inmost being is offended to see the linden grove burn. Mephistopheles and the Three Mighty Men enter. The devil excuses the bit of trouble they’ve all caused, but says Baucis and Philemon were unresponsive to requests and threats. They didn’t suffer much, he says: they simply died of fright. A traveler was with them, and the devil and Mighty Men knocked him flat, leaving him to die in the fire.
The devil is flippant about having just murdered three people, for to him it’s just a prank to relieve the boredom of existence. However, this needless act of violence only plants in Faust’s heart the desire to build a more just and prosperous society—and it is this desire that saves him from damnation. The devil ruins himself here.
Faust is outraged and curses this senseless act of savagery. Mephistopheles and the Three Mighty Men simply respond that people should gracefully obey the commands of Force. All four exit. Alone, Faust watches the fire die down, and notices strange shadows drifting toward him.
Faust’s outrage with the devil’s violence is also outrage with himself, for relying on the devil’s services. He does not want to rule by force but with justice. The four shadows are the figures of Want, Debt, Distress, and Care.