The Emperor and his Court have already entered the dimly lit Knight’s Hall. They are arranged as if to watch a theatrical production. Mephistopheles enters, followed by Faust with a tripod containing a bowl of incense, announced by the astrologer. Grandiosely from the proscenium (that part of a stage in front of the curtain), Faust invokes the Mothers, touches his key to the bowl, and summons Paris.
In contrast with the Walpurgis Night’s Dream, which was an empty satirical illusion, the summoning of Helen and Paris is imbued with an almost religious dignity. This is indicative of Goethe’s admiration for Classical Greek culture. The incense alludes to the Catholic Mass.
Paris appears, and the women in the audience praise him for his youthful vigor and his delicious lips, but the men criticize his coarseness, stiffness, his lowborn air, his femininity, and his boorishness. Then Helen enters. She’s pretty but not his style, Mephistopheles says. Faust, however, is enraptured with the beauty he’s summoned. He says it makes his world desirable and firmly grounded. He declares his devotion to, love for, and idolization of Helen, along with his madness. Men in the audience lavishly praise Helen, but the women criticize her, for bad proportions, ungainly feet, and for looking ugly next to Paris.
The courtiers don’t really understand the beauties of Helen and Paris. Goethe is suggesting that reason and passion have become so disconnected in the modern world that people are no longer capable of admiring Classical ideals of beauty, where reason and passion are intermixed. Faust has never encountered ideal beauty before, only innocence in Gretchen, and he at once falls in love with Helen. The devil appreciates only the ugly.
The astrologer observes that Paris is boldly seizing Helen, perhaps even abducting her. Faust orders the ghost to stop but he does not. Faust vows to rescue Helen and possess her himself. Faust leaps up and attempts to seize Helen. He touches his key to Paris. An explosion results that leaves Faust lying on the floor. The phantom figures have dissolved.
Faust, whose desire for transcendence is reawakened by Helen, suddenly feels that he can’t find meaning in life without her. He can’t just contemplate her beauty, but must possess it. As she is right now, however, Helen is a mere image from the past. Faust will have to bring her into his world if he is to love her.
Mephistopheles hoists Faust onto his shoulders. That’s life, he says, and adds that to be encumbered with a fool can’t even help the devil. Darkness and noisy confusion ensue as the curtain falls. This is the end of Act I of Part II.
Just as the Emperor leaves his duties to chase pleasure, so does Faust impulsively resolve to leave his position at court to chase beauty. He is still quite spiritually blind and egotistically self-serving.