Goethe writes Faust, a closet drama

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 -1832) was a prolific German writer whose extensive work included epic and lyric poetry, memoirs, treatises on botany, anatomy and color, an autobiography, prose and verse dramas, four novels, 10,000 letters and nearly 3,000 drawings. His poems were set to music throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by a number of composers. His best-known work is Faust, a two-part drama, which he wrote over a period of 57 years. It is a hybrid between a play and an extended poem. Performances of the two-part tragedy are still performed today at the Goetheanum in Switzerland.

John Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Goethe’s Youth

By the age of eight, Goethe already spoke some Greek, Latin, French, English, Hebrew and Italian. His passion at that time was drawing, and he soon became interested in literature. By age sixteen he was sent to the University of Leipzig to study law. http://www.imagi-ation.com/moonstruck/clsc20.html Because he hated having to memorize judicial rules by heart, he often attended poetry lectures instead. While in Leipzig, he became a regular patron at Auerbachs Cellar (Auerbachs Keller in German). http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/auerbachs-cellar-5th-in-world-fame/ The folk legend of Faust’s wine barrel ride at Auerbach’s made such an impression on him that he turned it into a closet drama.

Closet Dramas

Closet dramas ares not intended to be performed onstage. They are plays that are read out loud by a reader. Closet dramas written in verse became very popular in Western Europe after 1800. Nonetheless, Faust Part One and Faust Part Two are often performed onstage.

Faust plot

Faust, the main character, is an aging scholar. Frustrated with the limits to his knowledge, power, and enjoyment of life, he agrees to a pact with Mephisto, the devil. Faust agrees to exchange his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures during his lifetime. On earth Faust will be master. In hell, Faust will be the devils’ servant for the rest of eternity.

Faust Part One

Mephisto leads Faust through a number of adventures that culminate in a lustful relationship with an innocent young girl. It ends in tragedy for Faust. The girl is saved but Faust is left to grieve in shame. Faust Part One was published in 1808 and created a sensation.

Faust Part Two

Part two begins with the spirits of the earth forgiving Faust. Mephisto tries to seize Faust’s soul when he dies, but angels intervene due to God’s grace. Faust Part Two was only finished shortly before his death and was published posthumously.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

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