Faust

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Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory Symbol Analysis

Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory Symbol Icon

Faust’s study symbolizes the failure of scholarship to satisfy the human desire for meaning. It is crammed with authoritative, dusty books that Faust, for one, dismisses as containing empty words. In fact, the study is so crammed as to cramp Faust and spiritually entomb him. It is no wonder, then, that some of his most desperate acts take place here, like his interrupted suicide attempt and his making a deal with Mephistopheles. The intellectual stagnation symbolized by the study is perhaps most forcefully presented in Mephistopheles’s speeches to the young student who pays him a visit there. The devil champions rote memorization over critical thinking, mindless acceptance of old and outdated intellectual authorities, and big words over meaning and substance. The restless, ever-curious Faust, on the other hand, feels much more at home in nature, where his imagination is free and his creativity can act upon and change the world.

Wagner’s laboratory is similar to Faust’s study in being a center for human learning, but it proves more productive. Wagner, after all, succeeds in creating the Homunculus, who, however unnatural, is very much alive—unlike Faust’s “dead” books. What accounts for this relative productivity is this: the laboratory is not a place where intellectual authority is blindly admired, but rather a place where the human mind interacts with and works on natural phenomena in the form of scientific inquiry. The laboratory, then, symbolizes the relative successes of science during the Age of Enlightenment. But it also symbolizes the rather stark limitations of science. Wagner cannot create Homunculus on his own, as the devil’s magical presence, it would seem, is required to turn a science experiment into a living being. Moreover, Homunculus himself, like Faust before him, promptly leaves the laboratory in favor of nature, the only environment in which he can hope to discover the details of the world’s workings and achieve a proper existence, as he later does in the Aegean Sea. The laboratory of the Enlightenment may produce the seed of knowledge, the play suggests, but it cannot bring that seed to fruition as nature can.

Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory Quotes in Faust

The Faust quotes below all refer to the symbol of Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Princeton University Press edition of Faust published in 2014.
Part 2: Act 2: Laboratory Quotes

[Homunculus’s vial is] rising, flashing, piling up—
another moment and it’s done!
A grand design may seem insane at first;
but in the future chance will seem absurd,
and such a brain as this, intended for great thoughts,
will in its turn create a thinker too.

Related Characters: Wagner (speaker), Homunculus
Related Symbols: Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory, Prisons and Keys
Page Number: 6865-6870
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to Homunculus, the tiny man that Wagner, Faust's former pupil and assistant, is developing in his laboratory. Homunculus is a human being, and yet he has no true parents, except for Wagner, who has produced Homunculus using "crystallization," rather than the usual process of procreation.

Homunculus has been interpreted as a symbol for the scientific innovations of Goethe's lifetime, an era during which interest in science exploded. Others have noted that the Homunculus--a bizarre, satanic, motherless human being--might symbolize modern, isolated human beings. Homunculus, in any event, represents the unnatural qualities of Wagner's experiments: Wagner has gone against "God's will" by creating a living, breathing creature on his own (although the devil's presence was seemingly necessary to give him the spark of life). Wagner, one could say, has eclipsed even Faust as a scientist and a thinker--he seems almost as restless and arrogant as Faust in his desire to understand the mysteries of the universe and overreach the bounds of human knowledge and pride.

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Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory Symbol Timeline in Faust

The timeline below shows where the symbol Faust’s Study and Wagner’s Laboratory appears in Faust. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Night (Faust’s Study 1)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
The scholar Faust sits restlessly at his desk in his narrow, high-ceilinged Gothic study. He regrets having studied Philosophy, Law, Medicine, and worst of all Theology, for he feels... (full context)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Politics Theme Icon
There is a knocking at the study door. Faust curses at being interrupted during his happiest moment of most plentiful visions. Faust... (full context)
Part 1: Faust’s Study 2
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Faust enters his study with the poodle, feeling that his better soul has been awakened by the night, and... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
The poodle begins barking and Faust invites it out of the study, only for the animal to transform into a large and horrible Spirit, hippopotamus-like with red... (full context)
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...he is excused to go, but points out a little problem: the pentagram on the study doorsill. He was able to come in because the magical Sign was badly drawn, and... (full context)
Part 1: Faust’s Study 3
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Faust is in his study when he hears a knock at the door: it is Mephistopheles dressed as a young... (full context)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
...dons a cap and gown to speak to the student instead, and Faust exits the study. The devil boasts to himself that Faust will soon be his, for Faust scorns the... (full context)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
The student enters the study. Mephistopheles, pretending to be Faust himself, welcomes him. The student says he is committed to... (full context)
Part 2: Act 2: A High-Vaulted, Narrow Gothic Room (Faust’s Study 4)
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Faust is in his former study, unchanged since his days as a professor. Mephistopheles enters from behind a curtain and finds... (full context)
Part 2: Act 2: Laboratory
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Wagner is in his alchemist’s chamber, a laboratory that is filled with a cumbersome apparatus designed for fantastic purposes. He is at the... (full context)
Part 2: Act 2: Classical Walpurgis Night: The Pharsalian Fields
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
...experiences a beauty very similar to the dream he had while sleeping in his former study earlier, complete with woodland springs and swans. (full context)