(Das ist meine Analyse der Kerkerszene (die Schlußszene) aus Goethes »Faust: Der Tragödie Erster Teil«. Wenn Sie Englisch nicht sprechen, können Sie die Folgenden auf Google übersetzen. Danke.)
Having read some of Goethe, but also having read Faust many times over two decades, I can humbly offer that the Kerker scene in Faust Part I is, like the first movement of the 5th symphony, perfect in its structure, immaculate in its detail, resonatingly powerful in its connections and conclusions.
Here, generations have found that theme rolls upon theme, idea falls upon idea, reality and possibility intertwine; the highest (and lowest) human things coalesce in one passionate drama with its detailed picture of existence that moves, and continues to move and improve, the greatest of minds the world over.
If you have read Faust, I must ask, and if you have not, I must tell: What facet of human existence does not figure in the Kerker scene? For the ordinary reader, drama versus reality. For Gretchen, the tragic female protagonist, Reality versus Wish. Wish versus further reality (for Mephistopheles, the truest devil we have yet seen). For the Angels, that same “further” versus the Lord’s ultimate impulse. Death and life; fear and courage. Day and night; routine and instinct. Tragedy and comedy versus resignation and disbelief. Repeats of a theme versus staccato sentimentality. Male versus female; fight versus flight; Being versus Doing. God versus the Devil, intuition versus reason, Yes against No, all presented in a physical setting that seems impossible except by divine intervention, affording four elements as I see it: The climax of the romantic drama, the setting for the ethereal beginning of Faust Part II, the ultimate meaning of romantic love, and the final pronouncement on Man’s Hand in the state of things.
Those who have not read the great man might ask, How can all this possibly come together? Those who have read Goethe might ask, if they have not dwelt upon it long enough: “The Kerker scene is the conclusion of part I, but what is superhuman about it – the superhuman being addressed, so to speak, in Part II?” To answer both those questions is the following compilation of points of comparison.
I offer these points and the following prose as a mere guide to those who might not have dwelt upon the matter long enough; Goethe did say, as we know: “Why have I sought my path with care, if not to bring my brothers there?” (Wayne’s translation.)
It is the comparisons between entities – comparisons apparent by contrasting dialogues across contexts – that are Goethe’s key to meaning here. There are a few other elements, notably individual focus:
1. Mephistopheles, the spirit of denial, is ever focused on the present, with himself as centre.
2. Faust, the aspiring but yet incomplete man, is ever focused on the future, with himself as centre – and with his unconscious focus being the power that Mephistopheles grants him.
3. Gretchen, here the archetypal woman (albeit one who is in the deepest immediate distress), is focused on past/present/future; she might have been the centre, but Faust affects all her aspects in a manner that she sees as good, but which she knows inwardly is doomed. In fact, therefore, the centre for her is the Faust/Gretchen union.
For the following, I am referring to the voices as in the production with Gründgens as Mephistopheles, Will Quadflieg, and Elisabeth Flickenschildt. (Quadflieg, by the way, shares my birthday.)
Here, then, is my listing of the dialogues in the Kerker scene most worth the reader’s attention, and where the Master’s word holds its greatest weight.
Entering the prison cell, Faust pronounces:
FAUST: “Der Menschheit ganzer Jammer faßt mich an.” (I am gripped by the tragedy of the human condition.)
Claiming universal comprehension of some sort, Faust fails to be moved even a little by Gretchen’s individual tragedy, enormous though it is.
Faust soon admonishes himself, noting his fear of seeing her again:
FAUST: “Du fürchtest, sie wiederzusehen!” (You’re scared of seeing her again!)
There is a parallel within the scene. Gretchen ultimately declares that his mere presence horrifies her, marking the scene – and Faust Part I – for the unparalleled tragedy that it is. Whereas Faust is focusing on his hesitation to act, Gretchen pronounces the reality behind that hesitation.
Speaking to Gretchen, Faust has assumed his role of reassuring her:
FAUST. “Still! Still! Ich komme, dich zu befreien.” (Quiet! Quiet! I’ve come to free you.)
The contrast here is that Gretchen had been expecting her jailers to arrive – to bind and take her away. Faust reassures her that the situation is exactly the opposite: Her lover has come to free her. But Gretchen’s resistance to her imagined jailer is less severe than her resistance to Faust later in the scene (which we shall come to), with the words she utters in each case being almost identical. In effect, if we take Gretchen’s situation as the grim reality, Faust is as far from the truth in his intentions and beliefs as he could possibly be. The tormentor is preferred over the saviour – and with good reason!
The absolute negative here is the confidence with which Faust sternly reassures Gretchen: The “Still! Still!” by Quadflieg is entirely convincing in its urgency.
Speaking to Faust as though he were the jailor, Gretchen says:
GRETCHEN. “Bist du ein Mensch, so fühle meine Not.” (If you’re human, feel my pain!)
“Bist du ein Mensch?”? Is he, or is he not, human? Is it an ordinary question to ask if one is human/humane, or is it not? This super-play between the ordinary and the unforeseen runs through the Kerker scene: Here, the ordinary translates to a question of humaneness; the super-question is one of whether the man in question is ordinary or not.
Later in the same dialogue, Gretchen’s piteous yet poignant question appears:
“Wer hat dir Henker diese Macht / Über mich gegeben!” (Hangman, who has given you this power over me?!)
The question can plainly be divided into all its possibilities, if only Gretchen were to know the facts. Consider:
(a) As though Gretchen were asking an ordinary hangman. It is then a common-sense question of how so wretched a person as a hangman has power over a prisoner.
(b) As though Gretchen were asking the Faust of the past. The answer is, then, his charm and lust (in simple words); by this he misled her and is now, factually speaking, in a position to free her or to condemn her.
(c) As though Gretchen were asking the Faust of now. Here the answer is Mephistopheles.
If one were to tie the beginning to the end – we are reminded of “laßt dem Anfang mit dem Ende,” as Goethe urged us – common sense and deep reality become one and the same: It is the Devil that gives Faust his power. For now, at least; the story is quite different in Faust Part II.
GRETCHEN. “Nah war der Freund, nun ist er weit” (My friend was near; now he is far away)
It is again the imaginary versus the real. In the imaginary (surreal?) world, Faust is far away; in the immediate world, he is here, which points to the fact that Gretchen is hallucinating. In the ultimate analysis, however, Faust is far (weit) because of his purpose, his orientation, his obligation.
GRETCHEN. “Faße mich nicht so gewaltsam an!” (Don’t hold me so forcefully!)
This is one of the centrepieces of the scene. Elisabeth Flickenschildt’s voice is perfect here with its urgency and indignance: To the jailor, Gretchen says “nicht so gewaltsam.” To Faust in the end, this very line becomes “nicht so mörderisch,” as though confirming to us that we are to compare Faust with the imaginary hangman. Only, the imaginary and literal hangman is to Gretchen less terrible than the real Faust – who is, at first thought, unfathomably – in the same role.
In the very next line, Gretchen protests to the hangman: “Was hab ich dir getan?” (What have I done to you?)
Towards the close, Gretchen says in a different context, in the context of closing her own confession: “… dir alles zulieb getan” (I have done everything out of love for you). The reader must take the lines together. Madness is because of the separation, where Gretchen imagines her tormentor to be a physical jailor while Faust is her lover, her saviour, her present reality.
FAUST: “Werd ich den Jammer überstehen!” (I will survive and overcome all that has happened!)
The declaration would have been noble; indeed, it is noble as of now. It is still noble a minute from now, when he declares that he has come “die Jammerknechtschaft aufzuschließen” (to completely remove your bondage). A few minutes show not only that he is incapable of this, but also that he is not even courageous enough. It is entirely Mephistopheles’ strength being drawn upon.
A few lines later, Gretchen, lapsing into what seems her insanity, reveals her idea of reality to Faust:
“…Unter der Schwelle, siedet die Hölle!” (Hell boils underneath.)
Here, it is clear, her lack of clarity shows her the truth. Mephistopheles is indeed lurking outside the prison door. In Goethe’s supreme scheme, nothing must contradict what is visible. The apparent, the real, the omen, the vision, the madness, the reality, the physical, the intangible, must all point to the same “Ur-Phänomen,” the “pre-phenomenon”: the basic reality.
“Er rief Gretchen! Er stand auf der Schwelle.
Mitten durchs Heulen und Klappen der Hölle,
Durch den grimmigen, teuflischen Hohn
Erkannt ich den süßen, den liebenden Ton.”
(He said my name… he stands between hell and the howling sounds … in the midst of all this, I hear his sweet voice.)
Much can be said about the centrality of what Gretchen says here; I shall limit myself to pointing out that here, the dual-nature of Gretchen’s speech throughout the Kerker scene – moving back and forth between reality (but which is ultimately not true for her) and imagination (which ultimately is the truth for her), between meaning (which is apparent but temporary) and madness (which is frightening but more real than what seems to make sense) – is at its starkest.
In physical terms, Faust’s voice (which Gretchen is speaking about) is literally between the Devil (standing outside the prison door) and her; it literally emerges, as a saviour to her, from the howling of hell (which the prison and its atmosphere seems to be for her). Faust’s voice comes out of the darkness to save her, but in actuality, it cannot; the “sweet sound” she refers to is ultimately (and, in fact, immanently) her undoing.
Immediately thereafter come Faust’s urgent declaration:
“Ich bin’s!” (It’s me! OR, more dramatically, “It’s me you’re looking for!”)
For now, these words, though simple, are false: Faust cannot save Gretchen. Only much later – in fact, as late as at the end of Part II – does Faust turn out to be the one Gretchen has been waiting for.
After Gretchen recognises the voice as Faust’s, and goes off into a little realm of sentimentality, Faust’s words – only one exhortation – are of interest because they suspiciously echo those of Mephistopheles at the end of the scene and of Part I:
“Komm mit! Komm mit!” (Come on! Come on! OR Come with me! Come with me!)
There might have been nothing to read into this were it not for the fact that some minutes later, Mephistopheles is in a position to say “Her zu mir!” (Come to me!) to Faust – in which Gretchen is left out.
GRETCHEN: “O weile Weil ich doch so gern, wo du weilest.” (ROUGH TRANSLATION: Please be with me here; I like it when you’re near.)
This, from Gretchen, serves to remind the reader that this one scene brings together all the pieces of the drama thus far; once reminded, the reader is full aware that each word is to be noted.
What Gretchen says is the exact opposite of what Faust’s pact with Mephistopheles is about; in that sense, Gretchen and Faust may be seen as polar opposites – as verified by Faust’s words immediately following: “Eile!” (“Rush!” OR “Move!”) Taken in this sense, Gretchen fits into Faust’s scheme of not lingering in the moment.
It is, however, presented in an absolutely contrasting frame of time and space: Here, Faust would actually do well to sit awhile; he would do well (in the ultimate sense) to linger in this space and not move at all, because outside, Mephistopheles awaits him.
Such dramatic contrast – a contrast not just between the emotions but between fact and reality, within not just one person but within two at the same time, both in the same physical space but in no less than different universes – mark the Kerker scene as the greatest micro-drama ever penned.
GRETCHEN: Warum wird mir an deinem Halse so bang?
Wenn sonst von deinen Worten, deinen Blicken
Ein ganzer Himmel mich überdrang…”
(NON-LITERAL, DRAMATIC TRANSLATION: “Why do I feel so uneasy as I hug you? There was a time when your words, even just your gaze, would open up the heavens for me…”)
There is no conflict here; I mention this dialogue only because of the heart-rending emotion Elisabeth Flickenschildt infuses into it. Also, here is one of the few places in the Kerker scene where Gretchen is neither being insane nor hateful, nor sentimental to the point of incomprehension; she is being human.
FAUST: “Komm! Folge mir! …” (Come! Follow me!)
It is interesting that for much of the scene, Faust has been saying just this much: that Gretchen to follow him, to escape with him. In fact, much else that he says leads to the same point: “Follow me.” This is, to the very root, exactly what Mephistopheles has been saying!
In other words, it might appear that Faust, in all that he says in the Kerker scene, is accomplishing nothing but echoing Mephistopheles.
GRETCHEN: “Und weißt du denn, mein Freund, wen du befreist?” (But do you know, my friend, whom you are trying to free?)
Throughout the scene, Gretchen alternates between reality and fantasy; here is one of the best examples (within the scene) of her ties to reality – deeper, it may be noted, than Faust’s. She asks whether Faust is aware of the danger he faces if he were to help her in her current (imprisoned) state; this, despite her own benefit were she to be indeed freed. But on the face of it, as through the scene, Gretchen still seems insane when she asks this!
FAUST: “Komm! komm! schon weicht die tiefe Nacht.” (Come! Come! The night is soon passing.)
The theme of the night (which belongs to Mephistopheles) versus the day (which belongs to the Lord, to the “guter Mensch” the Lord refers to in the Prologue) repeats itself through the scene, its strength being that it is always only a word. Never does Goethe resort to dramatic clichés such as, one might say, “The dark night gives way into the bright day,” or anything of the sort; the drama is in the contrasts within the manner in which the three participants of the scene refer to night and day. “Schon weicht die tiefe Nacht” (the night will soon pass), “Der Morgen dämmert auf” (the dawn is breaking), and more: All refer to the same thing – Daybreak. But they differ in tone, in intent, and most of all, in the words themselves. Examples will follow.
FAUST: “Laß das Vergangne vergangen sein, …”
A minute later comes this quick dismissal from Faust: “Let the past be.” This is perhaps one of the most ridiculous utterances in the entire drama; it is hypocritical, unreal, selfish, and insensitive while being seemingly useful; it is contextually distorting and self-contradictory while seemingly philosophical. This is Faust at his worst; rather, it is the old Faust – Faust the Professor – at his worst while in the real world.
GRETCHEN. “O Heinrich, könnt ich mit!” (O Heinrich, would that I could! OR O Heinrich, I wish I could!)
As in #14 above, there is no conflict here; the emotion Elisabeth Flickenschildt infuses into this little speech makes it for me, personally, the most profoundly sad words of the entire scene. (“If only I could!”) Words are unnecessary where a voice speaks, but to play with words, Flickenschildt’s voice conveys factuality, resignation and pathos at the same time, within the space of three words.
GRETCHEN: Es ist so elend, betteln zu müssen
Und noch dazu mit bösem Gewissen!
Es ist so elend, in der Fremde schweifen
Und sie werden mich doch ergreifen!
(“It is so miserable to have to beg, and furthermore, to do so with a bad conscience! It is miserable to wander around in strange places, with the possibility of still being caught!”)
What Gretchen describes here – her fate, if she were to be free in her current state of having had an illegitimate child – parallels that of Faust. Faust is, and has been for some time, the servant of the Devil; he does not beg in the literal sense, but figuratively, all his desires he must submit to him. And all the while, he wanders (as best exemplified in the Walpurgisnacht scene) “in der Fremde” – foreign, unknown, unfriendly places, while always in danger of being revealed to be powerless.
Gretchen’s fate, if free, is real, physical; it is what she describes here. Faust’s fate, if free (as he perceives himself – and himself alone – to be) is in the world that Mephistopheles has created. They run parallel.
FAUST: “Ich bleibe bei dir.” (I will be by your side.)
This, as in #18 above, is falsity on the part of the most learned man alive; he promises to be “by her side,” which he has never been able to be; which he is not even as he speaks (for he depends on her antithesis for his existence and power); and which he cannot be on account of his indebtedness to that antithesis and on account of his own reality.
GRETCHEN: “Sie winkt nicht, sie nickt nicht, der Kopf ist ihr schwer,
Sie schlief so lange, sie wacht nicht mehr.
Sie schlief, damit wir uns freuten.
Es waren glückliche Zeiten!”
(My mother’s eyes and head are still; her head is a weight upon her. She slept so long that she didn’t wake up. She slept so that we could enjoy ourselves. Those were wonderful times!)
At this point, towards the end of the drama, through words the reader is taken beyond the realm of words: What Gretchen says here is too complex to analyse, too sad for one to wish to analyse to the extreme. Suffice it to say that, while explaining to Faust what she has done to her own mother (poisoned her with a substance prescribed by the learned doctor himself, and which has resulted in her death), she lapses into the reality she shares with Faust: “Those were happy times.”
Melodrama and guilt, on the one hand, blend here with a sentimental recollection that maintains the necessary bond with reality. It is so complex, the opposites of emotion and fact so utterly interwoven, that as the reader’s eyes well up, the image of the master dramatist and poet rises ever stronger in the mind’s eye.
FAUST: “Hilft hier kein Flehen, hilft kein Sagen, / So wag ich’s, dich hinwegzutragen.” (If my pleading and explanations are of no use, I think I’m going to take you away by force.)
GRETCHEN: “Laß mich! Nein, ich leide keine Gewalt! / Fasse mich nicht so mörderisch an!” (Let me be! I won’t allow any force! Don’t hold me in this murderous way!)
And this is the physical culmination point of the drama, where Gretchen speaks more strongly to her lover than she did to the prison guard she imagined.
To the prison guard she had said, “Fasse mich nicht so gewaltsam an!” (Don’t hold me so forcefully!) That “gewaltsam” (forcefully) is here “mörderisch” (in a murderous way). Here is the final, the bitterest, the most damning pronouncement possible upon Faust’s actions: He is worse to her than the prison guard from whom he has come to free her. (Gretchen’s final pronouncement upon Faust’s existence comes a few lines later.)
FAUST: “Der Tag graut! …” (The day is breaking!)
Faust, still insistent upon the escape, states that they must leave soon. “Der Tag graut” is a perfectly normal way of saying that the day is breaking, but the choice of word – “graut” (“turns from dark to grey”) versus “dämmert” (dawns), for example, could be an indication of the state of affairs within Faust’s internal world. Goethe might have intended that for Faust, the dawn seems grey instead of bright; “grau” means “grey.”
Contrast with Mephistopheles’ complaint, soon to come: “Der Morgen dämmert auf.” (The day is dawning.)
GRETCHEN: “…der letzte Tag dringt herein…” (DRAMATIC TRANSLATION: The last day comes upon us.)
She echoes what Faust says as fact; for her, in her reality that seems a fantasy, it is the last day. (It might not be, were she to follow Faust.) This is almost the tenth mention of the words “day” and “night,” in the context of the transition. The transition reflects the transition in Faust; it also reflects the transition, not yet complete, of Part I of the Tragedy to Part II.
GRETCHEN: “Stumm liegt die Welt wie das Grab!” (Silent lies the world, as silent as the grave! OR Still lies the world, grave-like.)
This ends Gretchen’s delineation of her world. Her speech is over; she speaks again only because Mephistopheles emerges from outside the prison door.
FAUST: “O wär ich nie geboren!” (Would that I had never been born! OR I wish I had never been born!)
Faust has crumbled; it is the immediate reaction to Gretchen’s statement about the world now being akin to the grave. By itself, it is only a reaction; it is of the utmost significance – in fact, perhaps the most significant statement in the entire scene from the point of view of time. At this precise moment, when Faust’s will has weakened, Mephistopheles emerges.
For all the scene, Faust has urged Gretchen to come with him; at the moment that Faust loses heart – at the moment he moves back into his nihilism – the Devil appears with unimpeded sovereignty, with an impudence that defies description.
MEPHISTOPHELES: “Auf! oder ihr seid verloren.
Unnützes Zagen! Zaudern und Plaudern!
Mein Pferde schaudern,
Der Morgen dämmert auf.”
(NON-LITERAL TRANSLATION: Come on out, otherwise you’re lost! Worries, vacillation, small talk! My horses are shivering… it’s almost dawn!)
His words are deliberately crude, ruthlessly uncaring. They are true to fact, but the point is that he could have come into the prison room earlier; his entry at this precise point indicates much more than urgency.
His intent is to ridicule, to subdue Gretchen, to mock and undermine Faust’s spirit.
GRETCHEN: “Was steigt aus dem Boden herauf?” (What is that rising up from the ground?)
The word here, “Was” (what) as opposed to “Wer” (who) says more than the sentence itself. For Gretchen, in this moment, Mephistopheles seems to be an apparition, not Faust’s corporeal companion. She knows him well, but she now says “what” instead of “who.” Within that difference lies the entire matter: Gretchen knows, in her confused way, everything that is going on.
The apparition fills her with a hatred that defies rational thought. In the lines that follow, she identifies Mephistopheles as Faust’s companion, the one she has distrusted all along; perhaps even the one at the root of her fate, insofar as she is bound to Faust.
FAUST: “Du sollst leben!” (You shall live!)
By this time, the reader has learnt to accept that Faust’s voice is scarcely his own; this is Mephistopheles speaking. What might Faust, on his own, possibly mean by this? If he were trying to save her, it is in vain, for she has recognised the evil behind the scene; if he were trying to reassure her, it is meaningless, for she has already declared (and Faust has accepted) that she shall not move away from the prison with him.
Mephistopheles is, for the first time, completely in control – except that Gretchen can (as she does) give herself up to the Lord.
GRETCHEN: “Gericht Gottes! dir hab ich mich übergeben!” (Lord, I give myself up for you to judge me!)
MEPHISTOPHELES (to Faust): “Komm! komm! Ich lasse dich mit ihr im Stich.” (Come! Come! Otherwise I’ll leave you with her in this hole.)
GRETCHEN: “Dein bin ich, Vater! Rette mich!
Ihr Engel! Ihr heiligen Scharen,
Lagert euch umher, mich zu bewahren!
Heinrich! Mir graut’s vor dir.”
(I am yours, Father! Save me! You angels, you heavenly hosts, stay to protect me! Heinrich, you horrify me.)
To summarise up to this point: Gretchen gives up all hope, declaring the world a grave; Faust loses heart, wishing that he “had never been born”; at that moment, the spirit of evil rises up in full power, taking over the scene. Gretchen, initially horrified at the apparition, gives herself up to the Lord, at the same time ending the drama in the worst possible way – or, shall we say, in the most tragic of ways: To declare that she loathes and dreads her lover, while he stands in front of her still declaring himself her saviour. The path for Mephistopheles is clear.
MEPHISTOPHELES: “Sie ist gerichtet!” (She has been judged!)
VOICE FROM ABOVE: “Ist gerettet!” (She is saved!)
Mephistopheles seeks victory. Here it is as though the Lord (from the Prologue) has intervened for the first time, for we must assume that the voice is from the heavenly hosts: He says that Gretchen is saved, and therefore, that Mephistopheles has lost this battle.
MEPHISTOPHELES (to Faust): “Her zu mir!” (Come here to me! OR Hither to me! OR Here, here! To me, this way!)
Gründgens’ voice here powerfully captures the essence of what is being said. It is not a mere directive, which one might say to a person in the vicinity; it is about absolute direction. In this direction, Faust moves away from Gretchen and her fate, and towards nothing in particular – only to Mephistopheles himself.
In terms of the physical drama, it is in the opposite direction, with Gretchen inside, Faust somewhere in the middle, and Mephistopheles waiting outside with his horse carriage.
Figuratively, since Gretchen has given herself up to the Lord, going “to him” would mean, for Faust, going away from the Lord. The drama is complete.
Faust is helpless; he must follow the command.
As Gretchen might see it, Faust is lost. As Mephistopheles might see it, his power has prevailed. As the Lord might see it, we might say here what He said in the Prologue: “Ein guter Mensch, in seinem dunklen Drange, ist stets immer den rechten Weges wohl bewußt.” (A worthy man, in his dark struggle, is ever aware of the right path.)
VOICE FROM WITHIN, FAILING: “Heinrich! Heinrich!”
Gretchen, in spirit, will meet Faust again – also in spirit – only at the end of Part II.