Faust

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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.
Politics Theme Icon

If the play portrays intellectual life as misguidedly valuing narrow research and mere words over substance, political pursuits in Faust tend to be compromised by greed, shortsightedness, and corruption, with disastrous results. This is nowhere clearer than in the episode of the Emperor who succumbs to Mephistopheles’ flattery and his own greediness when he decides to address his realm’s economic problems by searching for hidden gold rather than by designing a more sustainable solution.

The Emperor, surrounded as he is by courtiers who flatter him for their own self-interested purposes, never learns from his mistakes. Soon after his search for gold he agrees to print paper money at the behest of Faust and the devil. This is a short-term solution to economic woes, and one that only ends up compounding the problem—riding the false sense of prosperity created by the paper money, the Emperor falls into a life of luxury and wanton pleasure which diminishes his capacity to rule, and this, in turn, gives rise to anarchy and bloody rebellion.

Compare the Emperor’s troubles with the episode of the pygmies and cranes which unfolds on Classical Walpurgis Night, where the physically tiny pygmies mindlessly conquer, fight, and die for control of a newly created mountain—an episode which literally suggests just how absurd political actions can be when their masterminds and supporters lose sight of their own tiny stature in the universe.

Unguided by authentic wisdom, by a sense of how one’s actions relate to the thoughts and acts of the rest of the world, politicians blind themselves to the long-term by focusing on the short-term. By the end of the play, Faust alone understands that political rulers must give everything they have in guaranteeing prosperity for their subjects and justice for the societies they lead—though he dies before he can realize his Utopian vision.

Politics ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Faust related to the theme of Politics.
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.

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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.