English 401
The Faust Theme


English 401
The Faust Theme

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Study Guide Book Introduction
Introduction to English 401: The Faust Theme

Faust, a figure
willing to risk damnation to gain superhuman power, has historically
intrigued artists, theologians, scholars, and lay people, and he
continues to fascinate us today. This course explores the Faust figure
in three diverse works of early-modern and modern literature. In some
ways these literary characters represent the specific times and places
of their authors, but they also display universal human qualities, such
as curiosity, ambition, pride, and fear.
Book Unit 1  Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus
Unit 1 for English 401
Book Unit 2  Goethe’s Faust
Unit 2 for English 401
Book Unit 3  Ibsen’s Peer Gynt
Unit 3 for English 401
Book Conclusion

The Faust Theme: Conclusion?

You have read three works in the Faust tradition, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Goethe's Faust, and Ibsen's Peer Gynt.
The protagonists of these works fit the traditional faustian model:
they are restless, active males with identifiable desires and faults.
Their choices of action or
inaction have ramifications for themselves individually and for the
persons surrounding them. These characters live
lives of extremes, throwing over one way of life to explore another.
Faust and Dr. Faustus are continually striving; Peer Gynt plunges from
adventure to adventure unable to commit himself. All of them exclude
loving relationships from their lives in order to pursue their personal

Each character's end is unique. Following tradition, Marlowe's
Faustus is damned because of his refusal to repent; but contrary to
tradition, Goethe's Faust is saved because of his continual striving and
because of the intercession of love. Peer strives also, but in a much
more mundane fashion. After having wasted his life, Peer appears to get a
second chance through Solveig's love. Has any one of them met his

With all three protagonists, we have been introduced to quests for
self-fulfillment, pleasure, power, freedom, and self-evasion. All three
protagonists are male creations of male writers who were leading artists
and thinkers of their day. When women occur in these works, they are
supporting players. The mythical Helena appears only very briefly in
Marlowe's and Goethe's works—and Ibsen makes a quick pun on Goethe's
closing line about the eternal feminine. In the case of Gretchen and
Solveig, the women play crucial roles in the heroes' final destinies,
but they remain secondary characters.

The challenges of the faustian legends continued to fascinate artists
after Ibsen. They created works in many different genres and adapted
the themes to their own cultures and times. Ibsen and other 19th century
authors began asking how the searches for knowledge and identity played
out in women's lives as well as men's.

Throughout the 20th century and continuing into the 21st, artists
explored variations on these themes, some asking if to strive
incessantly is evil or noble; if there is a fundamental difference
between the male quest and the female quest to discover the meaning of
life; and if we can "have it all." There is a short list of some of
these authors and their works in the Supplementary Materials List.

Is the quest for self-knowledge the same at the beginning of the
twenty-first century as it was at the end of the sixteenth century? We
hope you will be spurred on by this introduction to the Faust theme to
continue searching for an answer to  this essential question in more
iterations of this theme.
Page A Note on Practice Exercises
Practice Exercises
Page Practice Exercise 1: Textual Analysis, Units 1 & 2

Practice Exercise 1

Page Practice Exericse 2: Article Summary, Unit 2

Practice Exercise 2

Page Practice Exercise 3: Research Paper, Units 1 - 3

Practice Exercise 3

Acknowledgements Page Copyright and Credits
Copyright and Credit Information
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