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Themes and Colors
Reason and Passion Theme Icon
The Human Desire for Meaning and Transcendence Theme Icon
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon
Parts, Wholes, and Limits Theme Icon
Intellectualism and the Value of Words Theme Icon
Politics Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Faust, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Pleasure and Love Theme Icon

As Margarete insightfully observes, Mephistopheles is bored with creation, for he has seen everything under the sun and moon, and he would like nothing more than to annihilate the world. Of course, Mephistopheles can’t annihilate the world, and so instead he entertains himself by leading human beings into temptation through pleasure—everything from the fiery wine he serves to patrons in Auerbach’s wine-cellar to the paper money he urges the Emperor to print and circulate in his realm. Pleasures like these, merely physical and ultimately meaningless, distract people from their quests for meaning and from purposeful, creative action. The people who enjoy such pleasures in the play, like the wine-cellar patrons and the gossipy water-bearer Lieschen, tend to be ordinary and self-satisfied. Such folk, Mephistopheles tells us with a wink, “never sense the devil’s presence, / not even when his hands are on their throats.” Interestingly, it is possible to draw an even more direct comparison between such pleasure-ruled people and the devil, as there isn’t much difference between Mephistopheles relieving his boredom with the “pleasure” of tempting people into frivolous pursuits, and the people engaging in those frivolous pursuits rather than engaging directly with the beauty and wonder of creation. Both acts are empty. Mephistopheles, essentially, ruins people by making them into mirrors of himself, of his own frivolous response to boredom.

Contrasted with mere pleasure in the play is love. Love perhaps begins as a desire for sexual union between two people—as it does between Faust and the ideally innocent Margarete, and later between Faust and the ideally beautiful Helen of Troy—but it also has the potential to become a spiritual experience, the experience of transcending oneself by merging with another soul. The play imagines love as extraordinary, even heroic, hurling those possessed by it into intense joy, imagined as contact with eternity. Yet most love in Faust ends in despair. Lovers must live in a society that will judge and destroy them (as it does to Margarete), and lovers also live in time, subject to violent change that can make sustaining their love impossible. That being said, the play does present one love that endures: that which extends from the Lord to his creation. This love is absolute and unchanging, and one might argue that the characters who reject simple pleasure and strive for more, for a more fundamental connection with other people and the universe, are in fact striving to fully experience that eternal love.

Pleasure and Love ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Pleasure and Love appears in each scene of Faust. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Pleasure and Love Quotes in Faust

Below you will find the important quotes in Faust related to the theme of Pleasure and Love.
Prologue in Heaven Quotes

Angels gain comfort from the sight,
though none can fully grasp Your Being,
and all the grandeur You have wrought
still has the splendor of its primal day.

Related Characters: Raphael (speaker), Gabriel (speaker), Michael (speaker), The Lord
Page Number: 267-270
Explanation and Analysis:

In this second prologue, the angels of heaven gather around God and praise him for the majesty of his creation: God has created the universe, something so vast and complex that nobody can understand it.

The passage is important because its explicit meaning seems to be somewhat contradicted in the poem itself. Here, we're told that none but God could conceive of the whole world in all its majesty. And yet we've just gotten done listening to a poet (something of a stand-in for Goethe, perhaps) who claims to have built an entire fictional world on the stage, whose complexity attempts to equal that of the real world created by God. So Goethe seems to acknowledge God's grandeur (thus remaining pious and humble) while also aspiring to replicate such grandeur in fiction. Goethe, one could argue, is something of a Faust character himself: taking on God's awesome power, in the sense that he makes himself the "God" of his own writings.


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I merely see how mankind toils and moils.
Earth’s little gods still do not change a bit,
are just as odd as on their primal day.
Their lives would be a little easier
if You’d not let them glimpse the light of heaven—
they call it Reason and employ it only
to be more bestial than any beast.

Related Characters: Mephistopheles (speaker), The Lord
Page Number: 280-286
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mephistopheles (an incarnation of the devil) visits heaven and greets God. Mephistopheles tells God that he feels sorry for humanity (or at least he's pretending to feel sorry), as humans have been blessed and cursed with the gift of reason (the "light of heaven"). Because of their intelligence and ambition, however, humans are able to cause each other great pain and suffering; they use intelligence to do evil.

It's interesting to think about where Mephistopheles is right and where he goes wrong in his judgment of humanity. Certainly, Mephistopheles is right, in Christian terms, to suggest that knowledge is the source of evil: it was eating from the Tree of Knowledge, after all, that brought Adam and Eve out of Paradise. Furthermore, Mephistopheles's point about wisdom being used for evil seems even truer today than it did during Goethe's lifetime (think of all the geniuses who've used their talents to build bombs and cheat people out of their money). And yet where Mephistopheles sees wisdom as the source of evil and nothing else, God seems to see wisdom as a potential path to redemption and salvation. In this passage, we see the basic theme of Faust: the insufficiency of knowledge, or rather, the path from knowledge to salvation.

Part 1: Night (Faust’s Study 1) Quotes

How all things interweave as one
and work and live each in the other!

How grand a show! But still, alas! mere show.
Infinite Nature, when can I lay hold of you
and of your breasts?

Related Characters: Heinrich Faust (speaker)
Related Symbols: Nature and the Earth Spirit
Page Number: 447-456
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we get a better sense of what, exactly, is lacking in Faust's life. Faust reads a book in which he comes across a passage about the macrocosmic nature of the universe. Faust learns that the universe is all one harmonious whole--every tiny part of the world has its grander purpose and locks in with the other parts.

Faust's newfound knowledge of the universe, however, doesn't bring him much happiness. It's not enough for Faust to learn that the universe has a purpose; Faust wants to experience that purpose first-hand, instead of trusting that the purpose exists. In short, Faust doesn't want to be a cog in a machine anymore--he wants to understand and touch the machine itself.

Note the physical nature of this passage--Faust talks about "laying hold" of Nature, whom he personifies as a beautiful woman. It's certainly possible to suggest that Faust is simply deprived of love and human companionship: he's trying to find passion and eros in science and philosophy, and so of course he comes up short. And yet Faust's observations about Nature could suggest that knowledge itself has an almost erotic quality: the mixture of power, domination, and love that Faust feels as he talks about nature shows us that Faust is trying to fit all of human contact and experience into his crazed experiments.

Part 1: Faust’s Study 3 Quotes

Take my word for it, anyone who thinks too much
is like an animal that in a barren heath
some evil spirit drives around in circles
while all about lie fine green pastures.

Related Characters: Mephistopheles (speaker), Heinrich Faust
Page Number: 1830-1833
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Faust and Mephistopheles have arranged a contract (setting in motion the events of the rest of the poem). Mephistopheles notes that Faust has agreed to the corrupt bargain (in which Faust will be granted unlimited power, until the moment when he wishes to "linger," at which time he'll lose his life and soul) because Faust is dissatisfied with his own knowledge and enlightenment. Mephistopheles reminds Faust that intelligence is a prison: the ignorant man can more readily embrace the glories of God (the "green pastures," perhaps an allusion to the Bible's famous 23rd Psalm), while Faust is too smart to embrace God whole-heartedly.

The passage is a good reminder of how Mephistopheles is both a figure of good and a figure of evil. Mephistopheles wants to take Faust's life for himself, and yet he also seems to understand Faust deeply: he recognizes, for instance, that Faust's study has brought him knowledge but not spiritual enlightenment. Mephistopheles is both Faust's worst enemy and his best friend in the play.

Part 1: Auerbach’s Wine-Cellar in Leipzig Quotes

Simple folk never sense the devil’s presence,
not even when his hands are on their throats.

Related Characters: Mephistopheles (speaker), Heinrich Faust, Frosch, Brander, Siebel, Altmayer
Page Number: 2181-2182
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mephistopheles and Faust go to a wine-cellar, where a party is underway. Mephistopheles proceeds to explore the cellar and manipulate the other guests, using his command of language and his "devilish" twisting of logic and reason. As he prepares to trick the guests into sinning, Mephistopheles makes an observation to Faust: people are always unwilling to believe that they're being manipulated by the devil, even when it's overwhelmingly obvious that they are.

Mephistopheles's behavior is interesting, because he's being so upfront about the fact that he's manipulating other people, even when he speaks to Faust. Faust seems to know that Mephistopheles will try to tempt him into weakness--in other words, he knows perfectly well that the devil is present in his life with his "hand on his throat." In short, the passage shows Mephistopheles seeming to treat Faust as an equal, rather than just another mortal victim. As the poem goes on, Mephistopheles will continue to show Faust the ways of evil, effectively showing his human companion how the devil goes about his business.

Part 1: A Garden Quotes

Don’t be afraid! Look in my eyes,
let them and let these hands that now clasp yours
express what tongue can never say:
complete devotion and a sense of bliss
that must endure eternally!
Eternally!—Its end would be despair.
There must not be an end! Not ever!

Related Characters: Heinrich Faust (speaker), Margarete/A Penitent
Page Number: 3188-3194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Faust falling for a beautiful, humble girl named Gretchen. Gretchen is an unusual match for Faust, since she's rather simple and ordinarily-educated (she doesn't have even a fraction of the knowledge and training that Faust does). And yet Gretchen has something that Faust can never have: she's happy and innocent--one could say that Faust and Gretchen are, respectively, like Adam after the Fall of Man and Eve before the Fall (notice that the scene takes place in a garden!).

In this scene, we see Faust wishing for happiness and eternity: because of his feelings for Gretchen, he wants to be happy with her forever. Such a desire is precisely what Faust promised never to feel when he made his agreement with Mephistopheles. And yet the poem doesn't end here: there's still a sense that Faust, in spite of saying that he wants to be with Gretchen forever, doesn't actually believe it completely. Faust is, as always, disjointed--his words don't quite match his feelings. There's still a part of him that's tired of life and eager to move on to the next thing.

Part 1: Gretchen’s Room Quotes

My heart is heavy,
all peace is gone,
I’ll never find it,
never, again.
My breast is yearning
to be with him;
could I but clasp
and hold him tight,
and kiss him
as my heart desires,
under his kisses
I’d swoon and die!

Related Characters: Margarete/A Penitent (speaker), Heinrich Faust
Page Number: 3402-3413
Explanation and Analysis:

Gretchen is a tragic character, because she seems to love Faust whole-heartedly, and yet her love for Faust will bring her only pain and anguish, not happiness. Already, Gretchen finds herself abandoned by her lover: Faust has left Gretchen, at least for the time being. In Faust's absence, Gretchen is distraught: she cries that she'll be in constant pain unless she can see Faust again. If she could only kiss him, she goes on, she would die of happiness.

Gretchen's unbridled love for Faust signals her innocence and ignorance of the world--she barely knows Faust, after all (though the shortness of her relationship might just be part of the artifice of the play). Gretchen is, for all appearances, a totally innocent character, whose sweetness and kindness will be harshly punished (as we'll see soon enough).

Part 1: At the Well Quotes

How readily I once declaimed
when some poor girl did the wrong thing!

I’d cross myself, act high and mighty—
and now I’m prey to sin myself!
And yet, o God, what brought me to it,
was all so good, and oh so sweet!

Related Characters: Margarete/A Penitent (speaker)
Page Number: 3577-3586
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn that Gretchen's affair with Faust has brought her to a state of sin. Previously, she was a sweet, innocent girl--but now that she's been with Faust, she's "sinned" by having pre-marital sex with him. Her childish state of innocence is gone forever. Gretchen seems to lament her loss of innocence, even as she celebrates its cause (her beloved Faust, and presumably sex itself). She loves Faust, and yet seems to hate him for dragging her away from her own piousness.

The passage foreshadows one of the major events of the end of Part One: Gretchen's pregnancy. The passage is also an important indication of the way Faust's nature brings ruin to everyone he crosses paths with. Gretchen has the best of intentions, but these become twisted by Faust's greed and Mephistopheles' manipulations.

Part 2: Act 1: An Imperial Palace: Knight’s Hall Quotes

Does some more inward sense than sight perceive
the overflowing fountainhead of beauty?
My dread ordeal is gloriously rewarded.
How circumscribed and empty was my world before!
Now, with this priesthood, it at last becomes
desirable and has a lasting basis.

Related Characters: Heinrich Faust (speaker), Helen of Troy
Page Number: 6487-6492
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Faust comes face-to-face with the spirit of Helen of Troy, the famously beautiful woman who indirectly caused the Trojan War. Helen of Troy is the embodiment of the Classical ideal: the Greco-Roman model of what is beautiful and desirable. Faust is immediately drawn to Helen of Troy; he finds her enchanting, the very thing his soul has desired all along, and he falls instantly in love.

It's been argued that Faust, the embodiment of European Enlightenment and Romanticism, is naturally attracted to Helen, the embodiment of the Greco-Roman tradition, because the former could not exist without the latter. The passage has also been taken as a symbol for the "marriage" between modern Europe and its classic past: during Goethe's lifetime, there was a tremendous revival of interest in the classical era. Other critics, such as Franco Moretti, have interpreted the scene as a veiled metaphor for the wave of colonization and imperial domination that began during Goethe's lifetime: just as Faust comes to dominate the beautiful, exotic Helen, so did the great European nations of Goethe's lifetime come to dominate the other countries of the world, from which European culture was "descended."

Part 2: Act 5: Faust’s Palace (Before the Palace) Quotes

The worst of torments we can suffer
is to feel want when we are rich.
The tinkling bell, the lindens’ scent,
make me feel buried in a crypt.

Related Characters: Heinrich Faust (speaker), Baucis and Philemon
Page Number: 11,251-11,254
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Faust's domination of the kingdom is almost total. He's won control of the land, using Mephistopheles' help. And yet he remains unhappy. He's won the kingdom for himself, and yet he can't quite savor his victory: he doesn't feel that he truly "owns" or otherwise possesses his own property (which he wants in order to pursue his goal of "pushing back the waters"). Faust imagines that he'd be truly happy if only Philemon and Baucis were evicted from their property.

Faust isn't exactly a tyrant, but he seeks total domination of the material world, so he can't stand that Philemon and Baucis stand in his way. He is ever ambitious and restless, as usual, and so always desires more, even when what he desires belongs to someone else.

Part 2: Act 5: Faust’s Palace (The Large Outer Courtyard) Quotes

If only I might see that people’s teeming life,
share their autonomy on unencumbered soil;
then, to the moment, I could say:
tarry a while, you are so fair—
the traces of my days on earth
will survive into eternity!—
Envisioning those heights of happiness,
I now enjoy my highest moment.

Related Characters: Heinrich Faust (speaker)
Page Number: 11,579-11,586
Explanation and Analysis:

Faust has studied almost every field, but in the end, it's political science and city planning that strike him as presenting an opportunity for true, fundamental happiness. Faust wants to drain a large marsh, creating a huge, green space in which people will be able to work happily and freely. Faust wishes that he could drain the marsh and free the "unencumbered soil" beneath it--such an achievement would lead him to be totally, completely happy; it would be his defining achievement as a mortal man.

In this scene, Faust approaches death, because he's finally said the fatal words, "tarry a moment, you are so fair," that signal his satisfaction. And yet, as we'll come to see, Faust's soul is saved (even though he dies) because he never actually succeeded in enacting his vision of the ideal city. Faust wants to savor a moment in his utopian kingdom, and yet because that moment never actually comes to be--the utopia remains unbuilt--Faust is ultimately saved from the terms of his bargain. His constant restlessness and ambition, which initially led to his deal with the devil, now act as his salvation. There is something eminently Romantic in the manner of Faust's death: he dies striving for greatness, rather than having achieved it himself.