Later, in a street, Faust walks past a lovely young woman, Margarete. He takes her by the arm and offers to escort her home, but she frees herself, saying she doesn’t need an escort, and leaves. Faust exclaims that she is a real beauty, all modesty and virtue.
Margarete is an embodiment of ideal innocence for Goethe. This is suggested in her very first appearance in the play, where she rebukes Faust’s romantic advances.
Mephistopheles enters, and Faust demands that the devil get him that girl. The devil says that she is returning home from confession. She is an innocent with nothing to confess, so the devil has no power over her. Just because you try doesn’t mean you can pluck the flower, Mephistopheles says. Faust calls him “Professor Dogmatist,” and tells him that if the girl isn’t lying in his arms by midnight, he’ll part with the devil forever.
The devil can only act on those who have already admitted sin into their souls, as the innocent Margarete has not. Faust, then, who is not bound by such laws, must seduce the woman himself. But the feeling of love is very strong, and is associated throughout the drama with transcendence, so Faust insists the devil aid him.
Mephistopheles tells Faust to be practical: it’ll take at least two weeks to coordinate the affair. Faust responds that if the devil could just get him alone with the girl for seven hours he would not need the devil’s help in seducing her. Mephistopheles suggests in turn that Faust shouldn’t rush pleasure, but Faust says he doesn’t need to whet his appetite. The devil has had enough, and declares that the girl can’t be taken by storm, only by strategy.
Goethe emphasizes the weakness of the devil and magic in general, which cannot instantly satisfy the will, but which can only work slowly by rational cunning, craft, and deception. Compare the slowness of Margarete’s seduction with the speed of Faust’s salvation at the end of the play.
Faust narrows his ambitions, and asks for a mere souvenir of the girl, a handkerchief from her breast or garter to excite his passion. Mephistopheles proposes that he take Faust to the girl’s room instead, when she is at a neighbor’s house, so that he can anticipate the taste of future joy. Very well: Faust orders that the devil get a present for him to take to her. The devil knows some excellent locations with lots of ancient buried treasure and goes off to do a little looking.
The rational scholar in Faust has been transformed by youth and love into a raging inferno of passion, a truly Romantic lover in his explosive haste. The devil is associated throughout the play with gold, which glitters but has no intrinsic value, just like the devil’s own illusions.