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
Pleasure and Love Quotes in Faust
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.
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.
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?
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.
Simple folk never sense the devil’s presence,
not even when his hands are on their throats.
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!
My heart is heavy,
all peace is gone,
I’ll never find it,
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.