Mephistopheles, from the epic poem Faust, by Goethe, is one of the most interesting characters if examined carefully. Much like today’s crude interpretations of the devil, Mephistopheles was a skeptic, a gambler, self- confident, witty, stubborn, smart, creative, tempting and of course, evil. There were very ironic things about him. Though he was evil, he was a force of goodness. The evil in him was portrayed in the negative aspects of Faust’s personality, which showed that no matter how powerful the Lord was, the devil would always have an impact on a persons life and decisions.
Mephistopheles was very much of a skeptic and a gambler. In the “Prologue in Heaven”, Mephistopheles bet the Lord that he could turn Faust against him and make him do evil. This was ironic because most people would never dream of speaking to the Lord in this way. This showed that Mephistopheles was self- confident and witty. He was very set in his ways and beliefs and found it difficult to believe that God could keep total control over Faust, or any one else for that matter.
Though Mephistopheles was a skeptic when it came to many things such as natural phenomenon of life, he did believe the Lord when he told Mephistopheles that he had power. Mephistopheles even preached this word to people. After speaking to one of Faust’s students, he wrote in his yearbook. It said: “Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malorum “, meaning “You shall be like God, knowing good and evil”. (line 2075) This is a quote from the book of Genesis 3:5 of the Bible. By Mephistopheles saying this quote, he was admitting that God had power and did know what good and evil were. He also believed that he could overcome God, therefore saying that he was more powerful than the Lord.
Mephistopheles was very smart and creative when it came to luring in his victims of evil. In “Outside the City Gate”, Mephistopheles disguised himself as a dog and followed Faust home. Faust knew this dog was evil. He said the dog was “circling around” him and “a wake of fire’s streaming behind him” (lines 1175-1179). Every time Faust would begin reading the Bible, the dog would bark as a sign of disbelief and wrongs about it. The next day, in Faust’s study, the devil showed up again, but this time in the form of a nobleman tempting Faust to “a life of limitless wealth and pleasure” in return for his soul for eternity.
Good and Evil in Goethe’s Faust
Good and Evil in Faust
In Faust Goethe shows many of his opinions about good, evil, and religion. Goethe uses characters like The Lord and Gretchen in the early part of the play to set examples of goodness. Goethe uses characters like Mephistopheles to stand for evil. Throughout the play Goethe also uses examples of the church to show how he feels the church works.
The concept of good for Goethe is that everyone has the ability to be good and that errors in judgment are what make people bad but if a person keeps striving these mistakes will bring them closer to righteousness. As long as a person continues to keep moving and doing things they will most likely achieve righteousness. This is shown in the bet between Faust and Mephistopheles. Faust says that if at any time he says, “Linger a while! Thou art so fair!” that will be when Faust dies and serves Mephistopheles. This shows that if Faust were to stop wanting to do anything it would be a horrible sin. The Lord which many perceive to stand for God stands for the perfection that Faust is trying to accomplish with his life. Gretchen in the early part of the play stands for perfection because she is inexperienced and knows nothing else until Faust starts to seduce her.
The concept of bad for Goethe can be seen most in the character of Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles is believed to stand for the devil. When he first introduces himself he describes himself as “a part of that Power which always wills evil, always procures good…..the Spirit which always denies.” Mephistopheles actions such as talking Faust into taking advantage of Gretchen and then telling him to leave her are seen as evil actions. The fact that Mephistopheles spends time with witches which most people see as evil shows that he is also evil. Goethe believes that all people sin sometimes and God forgives us. This is shown when Gretchen is in prison and after all the sin she has done a voice from heaven grants her salvation. Even though she did sin, most of her sin was because of inexperience and she was not purposely sinning.
Goethe feels that the church and religion are both useless. When Faust leaves Gretchen the first jewels, her mother takes them to the church. The church takes them saying that they are trying to help, but this can be seen as the church just trying to get money out of them.