Act V takes place some considerable time (perhaps 50 years) after Act IV. In the meantime, Faust has succeeded in his land reclamation project: with Mephistopheles' help, the sea has been pushed back and is restrained by dikes. On the now dry sea bottom, Faust has built a great modern city, with his palace at the center. Faust's ambitious project can be considered symbolic of the development of contemporary urban life by means of modern economy and technology. In particular, it represents the conquering and exploitation of nature for human benefit. This, at least, is one way to interpret it, which will help you to understand this last act of the drama. (For more, see Berman's essay in your text, pp. 715-28.)
The first scene takes place in the open country where an ancient
couple, Baucis and Phelemon, live in a simple hut; nearby there is a
small chapel, a grove of linden trees, and a sand-dune, which used to
separate the homestead from the ocean. For B & P have lived
here since before F arrived, and although they once lived by the sea,
they are now far inland. As will become apparent, F has tried to
convince them to move, even offering them a "handsome little farm"
elsewhere in his realm, but they have refused, preferring to remain on
their ancestral land, worshipping in the chapel, and caring for the
sacred land on which it stands.
The names "Baucis" and "Philemon" come from a well-known Greek myth, which you may recall (it can be found in most Greek mythology books). Very briefly, Zeus and Hermes decide to see whether humans are obeying the gods, and so they visit the earth disguised as poor beggars. They travel from house to house (many wealthy) seeking food and shelter for the night (which the ancient Greeks considered a form of charity insisted upon by the gods — Zeus and Hermes in particular). Everyone runs them off, until they come to the hovel of B & P, who welcome them in. Eventually the poor old couple senses there is something uncanny about their guests, since the wine and the vegetables seem to replenish themselves. When they are about to kill their last goose for their guests, the gods reveal themselves and say that B & P will be rewarded for their charity, but everyone else punished. So they cause a great flood, which kills everyone except B & P; their hut is transformed into a magnificent temple for the gods, and B & P are made priestess and priest. The gods offer to grant them any wish, and B & P ask to die at the same time so that neither will have to live without the other. When they do die, one is transformed into an oak, the other into a linden, the branches of which intertwine ("and which can still be seen to this day" according to an old telling of the tale).
So, when Goethe named his characters "Baucis" and "Philemon" he was assuming his audience would be familiar with this story. Although Goethe's version does not connect directly with the ancient myth, many parallels will be apparent. In general terms, B & P represent simple, pious, generous people living simply and close to the land of their ancestors.
As the scene opens, an old Wayfarer enters from the landward side. He recognizes the hut of B & P and recalls that as a young man he was washed up on this shore and that B & P rescued him. Since they were already old then, he doubts they are still alive, but has come in hopes of thanking them again. He is delighted when they greet him, but wants to climb to the top of the dune to look again upon the beach where he was saved. He is struck dumb when he sees that the harbor has been transformed into a metropolis; the ocean can hardly be seen. (In connection with F's technological enterprise, it's important to remember the symbolism of the sea as the ever-creative, fertile source of life; recall Act II, the "Classical Walpurgis Night.")
The old man Philemon tries to explain to the Wayfarer how the "Clever masters' daring minions / … / Shrank the sea's entrenched dominions, / To be masters in her stead." (11091-4) He puts the project in a good light, describing it as a "garden-land" (11085), a "glimpse of paradise renewed" (11086), etc., but as the three eat in the little garden, Baucis, the old woman, reveals the project's darker side. "Something wrong was all about it / That I cannot fathom yet." (11113-4) Although excavation and construction took place normally enough during the day, at night they saw elf-lights and fiery torrents and heard the screams of people; in the morning there would be a new dike or canal. Baucis remarks darkly, "Godless is he, he would savor / This our grove and cabin here" (11131-2). Her husband optimistically reminds her that they have been offered a "Homestead fair on new-won land" (11136), but she distrusts this unnaturally dry ground: "Do not trust the ocean bottom, / Steadfast on your hill-brow stand!" (11137-8). The three decide to go to the little chapel, where they will ring its bell and then pray.
Scene 2 opens an announcement from Lynceus ("the lynx-eyed"), who is
Keeper of the Tower of Faust's palace in the center of the city.
(You may remember him as the lookout who was temporarily blinded by the
brilliance of Helen's beauty in Act III.) In this case he
announces the arrival of ships in the harbor, which will travel up a
canal to F's palace.
We also see F, "in extreme old age" (Goethe said he is exactly 100 years old), walking about, meditating. His thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the bell from Baucis and Philemon's chapel, and it infuriates him. The reason is that the bell, whenever it sounds, reminds him that his rule is not absolute, for the old couple continue to defy him. It is in fact so galling that he wishes, "were I far away from here!" (11162); he cannot enjoy his vast, rich empire so long as they persist.
The ships, laden with treasure and other goods, arrive at the palace, and Mephistopheles and the Three Mighty Men disembark. Mephisopheles extols the virtues of piracy; offshore, beyond the law of the land, might is right and expediency prevails. In contrast to the Holy Trinity, Mephisto offers his own: "For commerce, war, and piracy, / They form a seamless trinity." (11187-8) Thus we learn that F exploits not only nature but also other people.
The Mighty Men are miffed because F does not seem appropriately appreciative (he is still upset by the chapel bell), but Mephisto mollifies them. M tells F he has no reason to be unhappy; the world is entirely within his grasp, and he enforces peace on land and sea. But for F, these few old trees, which remain in the couple's grove, are a blemish on his otherwise perfect empire: "The unowned timber-margin slender / Despoils for me the world I own." (11241-2) They block the view he covets of his vast empire, his achievement, "The masterpiece of sapient man" (11249). The terms in which F phrases his frustration (11244-58) are very revealing.
M, to his credit, thinks that it is absurd that F is bothered by this small matter, but F is so put out by it that he exclaims, "One has to tire of being just" (11271) M remarks that F just has to say the word, and F tells M to move the old couple to the new housing he has assigned them. M departs with the Mighty Men to carry out the relocation assignment.
Like the last scene, this one starts with Lynceus, and he begins
with a song in praise of vision (11288-303). In contrast to
Faust, with his never-ending efforts to conquer and remold nature, L
has a different relationship to the natural world, more contemplative
and empathetic. The beauty and order in nature resonate with the
beauty and order in his own soul: "In all I behold / Ever-comely
design, / As its virtues unfold / I take pleasure in mine." (11296-9)
In the midst of this revery he sees a horrifying sight: Baucis and Philemon's hut is burning, and he is sure they will die. Soon the chapel and linden grove are also in flames, and the old couple's homestead is destroyed. Faust is annoyed by L's sorrowful song; although he regrets the fire (he wanted to use the lindens for his throne: 11240), he says that where the grove used to be he will build an observation tower from which he will be able to see B & P's new farm.
Mephisto and the Three Mighty Men arrive to report that things did not go as planned. The old couple were too deaf to hear them banging at the door, and when the relocation party broke in and grabbed the old people, they died of fright. The Wayfarer tried to protect the old folks, and so the Mighty Men had to kill him. The violence knocked some coals about, which started the fire. All very regrettable. Nowadays we would call it "collateral damage."
Nevertheless, Faust is angry; this is not what he intended; "I meant exchange, not robbery" (11371). The chorus seems to think the old couple and Wayfarer are responsible, for it is foolish to resist force: "Give way to force, for might is right" (11375).
Faust is left alone. The smoke from the fire drifts his way and hides the stars; in the gloom he thinks he sees spectral figures moving toward his palace.
Four gray crones approach the door of Faust's palace; their names
are Want, Debt, Need, and Care. Want, Debt, and Need observe that
a wealthy man dwells inside, and so entry is blocked to them, but Care
says she can enter even a rich man's house. Care enters through
the keyhole while the other three depart, remarking that they see their
brother Death approaching from afar.
To understand the role of Care (Ger., Sorge) in Faust, it's useful to reread the first mention of her, in Part I, "Night," lines 634-55. There F lamented that a person, no matter how great their accomplishment, no matter how high their thoughts or aspirations, is still a mortal creature of flesh and blood, and therefore vulnerable to injury, disease, old age, and inevitable death. "I'm of the earthworm's dust-engendered brood, / Which, blindly burrowing, by dust is fed, / And crushed and buried by the wanderer's tread." (653-5)
Back to Pt. II, Act V. From inside his palace, F has observed the approach of the four gray crones and has noted that only three left. He has heard only muffled snatches of their conversation, including the word "Death," and the entire situation has left him spooked. His feelings of anxiety show him that he is not free of care ("I have not fought my way to freedom yet" -- 11403). He considers what life might have been like without magic, satisfied by accomplishments achieved by natural means: "oh, if I stood / Before you, Nature, human without guile, / The toil of being man might be worthwhile." (11406-7, Kaufmann tr.) However, this does not seem to be a renunciation of magic (as some critics have read it), but merely a moment of reflection, for he continues to depend on magical power (see your text, pp. 477-8, for a discussion). Nevertheless, he is upset that every night the air seems to be choked with bogeys of his own creation (11408-20). "Abashed we stand, alone but with our fear" (11418). In this frame of mind, he hears the door creak open.
After introductions, Care proceeds to speak in a keening or wailing chant (11424-86) with occasional interruptions by Faust. This chant, in which she describes her power over everyone, is a kind of spell, and although it is not directly addressed to F, it threatens to overwhelm him with dread.
The first time he interrupts her (11433-52), F summarizes the way he has lived his life, ever striving, never satisfied. He remarks that he understands everything of earthly life, but no one can know the afterlife, and so only a fool worries about it; the able man will confine his attention to what he can perceive and grasp, and continue to move forward, "every moment stay unsatisfied" (11452). (It's worthwhile to pay attention to the metaphors F uses here, and also to compare his attitude toward nature to that of Lynceus in Scene 3.)
In spite of F's bravado, or perhaps in response to it, Care says, "Once I mark him and assail him, / Nothing earthly will avail him" (11453-4). Gloomy concern for the future will cloud and pollute his life, regardless of how well off materially he is.
F interrupts again, feeling himself weakening under the enchantment (11467-70). Care continues relentlessly. She confronts him with the extreme debility of old age, clinging to life, no matter how intolerable, "Hung between despair and striving" (11480).
F interrupts for the last time (11487), accusing Care and her unholy kin of tormenting people through the ages. Although he acknowledges her strength, he arrogantly defies her: "And yet your power, o Care, insidiously vast, / I shall not recognize it ever." (11493-4) Care will not tolerate such hubris from mortal being. With one light breath she blinds him: "For mortal men through all their life are blind, / Which you, my Faust, shall be to end your days." (11497-8, Wayne tr.) And she departs.
Still unbowed, Faust observes that although all is dark outside, the light within him still burns bright. He does not need sight or strength of body; his word and mind alone can accomplish great enterprises. "The master's word alone imparts his might." (11502) "To bring to fruit the most exalted plans, / One mind is ample for a thousand hands." (11509-10) He summons workmen and orders them to begin his next urban development project.
This is a very important scene, and you should read it closely,
maybe more than once. As the scene opens we find Mephistopheles
supervising a team of demonic laborers, the Lemures (leh-MOO-rays), who
were unfriendly ghosts according to the ancient Romans. Here they
appear as animated skeletons, barely held together by their
sinews. Presumably they are the workmen that Mephisto has been
using for his nighttime excavations, and they come prepared with their
picks, shovels, and surveying chain, but M tells them they have a
simpler job, for they will be digging a trench measured by the human
body. M cynically comments on the human tragedy: "From palace
down to narrow stall, / That's the inane conclusion, after all."
Faust blindly gropes his way out of the palace, happily assuming that the sounds of digging signal that his next project is already underway. In an aside (11544-50), M tells us that F's efforts to reclaim the land from the sea are futile, for nature will in the end prevail; he is only forestalling the inevitable.
This is followed by what is to be Faust's last speech (11559-86), and there are many important aspects to it. First (11559-62), we learn that he is trying to solve an environmental problem, for his reclaimed land is befouled by stagnant swamps. His Eden may not be such a nice place to live after all, and we realize that Baucis and Philemon were wise to hold onto their high ground (11137-8). F's paradise is maintained by a constant battle with environmental degradation, which he sees as a spur to communal spirit (11569-72) and part of his grand plan.
In this speech F articulates his vision for the future (11562-80). This is not be a Paradise of idle ease, but a place where hard-working people can earn a satisfying existence. "I'd open room to live for millions / Not safely, but in free resilience." (11563-4) His philosophy is articulated in the famous lines:
He only earns both freedom and existence (11575)
Who must reconquer them each day.
There are many opinions on F's vision for his country and its role
in the drama. On the one hand it has been claimed that in it
Faust shows a genuine concern for humanity, and that this vision
displays a shift from his previous egotistical attitude to a more
altruistic perspective. This change in attitude is supposed to
justify his eventual redemption. Such a conclusion is called into
question by the fact that the architects of several "engineered states"
(such as the Nazi and Communist East German states) have pointed to
Faust's "workers' paradise" as a model for what they were trying to
achieve (your text, pp. 478-9). So perhaps we are justified in
viewing his utopia with some skepticism. We also have the
advantage of historical perspective (Goethe was contemporary with the
dawn of German Idealistic philosophy, later systematized by Hegel, who
influenced Marx, …)
Be that as it may, F is entranced by visions of his utopia, and he imagines that his accomplishment will be remembered for aeons (11583-4). He anticipates the satisfaction and sense of completion he would feel if he were able to see his future utopia: "Oh how I'd love to see that lusty throng and stand on a free soil with a free people." (11579-80, Fairley tr.) Then, "I might entreat the fleeting minute: / Oh tarry yet, thou art so fair!" (11581-2) These are, of course, the words of the wager:
If the swift moment I entreat:
Tarry a while! You are so fair! (1700)
Then forge the shackles to my feet,
Then I will gladly perish there!
It is significant that F doesn't say that he is experiencing such a
perfect moment now, but that he would do so in that future time he is
imagining. However, F goes on to say, "Foretasting such high
happiness to come, / I savor now my striving's crown and sum."
(11585-6) So, in some sense this anticipation of future pleasure
is itself a present pleasure. Does this satisfy the terms of the
wager? Commentators differ, and you should think about it
In any case, Faust collapses dead, and the Lemures catch his falling body and lower it into the grave they have dug for him. Mephisto then pronounces his cynical verdict on Faust's life and the human condition (11587-603). The final, timeless moment, the perfect moment of satisfaction for F, the moment of fulfillment, was "worthless, stale, and void" (11589). For M, human striving is pointless because it must end in death. "All over and pure nothing—just the same!" (11597) "It is as if it had not come to be, / And yet it circulates as if it were. / I should prefer—Eternal Emptiness (Ewig-Leere)." (11601-3, Kaufmann tr.) M would prefer Eternal-Emptiness to the continual (and, to him, futile) coming-to-be and passing-away of the natural world.
According to Edinger, the first four acts of Part II correspond to
the material elements: fire, water, air, and earth. These are the
elements from which our world was supposed to be made (but also
corresponding to the four functions of consciousness -- intuition,
feeling, thinking, sensation — but also many other quaternities, such
as the seasons). According to this scheme, Act V corresponds to
the fifth element, called ether, the Quintessence or fifth essence (quinta essentia).
This was supposed to be the substance of the celestial bodies (the
planets and stars). According to the traditional
Aristotelian-Thomistic physics, the four material elements exhibit
rectilinear (straight-line) motion, whereas the quintessence exhibits
circular motion. Therefore motion on earth always comes to an end
(because eventually you run into something), whereas celestial motion
goes on in eternal cycles. Therefore, since all earthly motion
must come to an end, everything on earth is subject to "coming-to-be
and passing-away," to "generation and corruption." Life, too, is
a kind of motion, so earthly life must come to an end; all earthly
beings are mortal. On the other hand, cyclic motion can continue
forever, and so eternal life is found in the heavens, where all things
are eternal and incorruptible. Thus the traditional cosmology.
From this perspective you can see also why the alchemists were interested in making the quintessence, for it was the essence of immortality and incorruptibility. The key to creating the quintessence was a cyclic rotation through the four elements (in part a kind of distillation process), which would eventually converge on the quintessence by transcending and unifying the oppositions among the elements (warm and cold, wet and dry).
More than you wanted to know, I'm sure. The point is, that in Act V the passage through the elements, the alchemical process, is reaching its end, and that this end corresponds to the substance of the celestial or heavenly realm, which is eternal, incorruptible, and immortal. These matters assume greater significance beginning with Scene 6, "Entombment."
There are many comical elements in this scene, which owe something, perhaps, to the old Faust puppet plays, with which Goethe was familiar. Mephistopheles and the Lemures are watching over Faust's corpse in the open grave, waiting to snatch F's soul when it departs. M grumbles that in the old days he could always trust that he would get what he was due, but now he has to be worried about being cheated. Sometimes people hang on at the threshold of death for days, or have a miraculous recovery, so it's difficult to tell whether they have died and when. To help with the vigil, M invokes two troupes of devils, the fat ones with short, straight horns and the lean ones with long, crooked horns. Therefore the Hell-Mouth, common in medieval plays, appears stage left, and opens its jaws, belching smoke and fire; from it swarm the fat and lean devils.
Among the uncertainties that M must deal with now is where the soul will exit; it used to depart from the mouth with the last breath, but now it may use any orifice. M assigns the fat devils to watch the lower part of the corpse and the lean ones to watch the upper part.
It's worth mentioning that the Greek word psyche (soul, spirit, breath) also means butterfly, and so a butterfly was often used to depict the soul escaping from the body at death. This explains M's instructions to the fat devils:
You watch for glint of phosphor here below:
That is the little soul, winged psyche, land her (11660)
And pluck the wings, it leaves a sordid worm;
It's probably also relevant that according to a well-known allegory in Plato's Phaedrus, the goal of spiritual practice and philosophy is to develop the soul's wings, so that it can rise above the earth and approach the heavens. The worm, of course, we expect to find underground. Because of F's intellectual/philosophical orientation toward life, M expects his soul to be glad to get rid of the body and to aim directly for higher regions, so the lean devils must be ready to catch it (11674-5).
No sooner has M completed his instructions when a brilliantly
shining disk or aureole appears from above on the right; it encompasses
a chorus of angels, in the form of winged cherubs, singing a
hymn. M hears the song, which he calls "boyish-girlish," alluding
to the traditional sexlessness of angels, and warns his devils to be
watchful. From M's perspective, at least, the angels are far from
innocent and honest, and have often cheated him in the past.
"They too are devils, only in disguise." (11696)
The angels strew roses (representing love) onto the devils, which startles them. M orders them to huff and puff and blow the roses away, but they blow too hard and the roses burst into flame. In panic, the devils tumble back into Hell-Mouth; only M remains to confront the cherub army.
The roses cling to M (11741-4) and apparently act like an aphrodisiac; soon M is feeling the effects of infatuation, which is a new experience for him (11753-66). "And if I get infatuated, / Who will in future be the dunce?" (11765-6) In an astonishing conversion of strife to love (opposition to union), M discovers that he is filled with love for his eternal enemies. "The lawless rascals that I hated, / They seem so very lovely all at once!" (11767-8) The cherubs crowd closer around him, inflaming his desire. He is especially attracted to one boy, whom he asks to disrobe. They turn their rears toward him as further provocation.
The angels make their move as Mephisto regains control of his devilish self, attributing his weakness to the flesh he has had to put on in service to Faust (11809-16). The angels seize F's soul and soar upward with it, as described in two passages (11801-8, 11817-24). In brief, Truth redeems the self-damned one from blight, so that, cleansed of all evil, he may become blessed in All-Unity.
Mephistopheles realizes he has been had, and has wasted the 50 odd years he has spent in service to Faust. At least he has learned one lesson, the overwhelming power of love, which has defeated even so experienced a devil as he. "Then no mean folly it must be / That seized upon him in the end." (11842-3)
It may seem incongruous to see Mephistopheles treated in such a comic fashion, but it is not an unusual idea. There is an old folk tradition that the best defense against the Devil is to laugh at him. The idea seems to be that we give Evil its power by taking it too seriously. The power of evil resides in its ability to make us afraid or angry, which may incite us to commit our own evil. If we treat the Devil as a cosmic practical joker, then we limit his power over us. The point is not to deny the bad things that happen, but to change our attitude toward them (an idea found in Stoicism, Buddhism, and many other philosophies).
The last scene! Congratulate yourself! However, as the culmination and climax of the entire drama, this scene is somewhat complex, so you'll have to read it carefully and pay attention to the footnotes. There's not much action in the scene; it's more like an oratorio.
The scene takes place on the steep and rocky side of an unidentified mountain. It is probably best to think of it as the "cosmic axis," which occurs in many mythological traditions. It is the sacred mountain (or, sometimes, tree) that is at the center of the world and connects earth and heaven. Mystics, ecstatics, shamans, "medicine men," yogis, etc. ascend this mountain in their trance states and enter heaven in order to bring back divine knowledge, to heal people in their community, etc. Psychologically, this central mountain is a symbol of the unconscious core of the psyche, which Jung calls the "Self." You may be familiar with Dante's ascent in the "Paradisio" of his Divine Comedy, which offers important parallels to this scene and probably inspired Goethe.
It's also important to notice that this scene, which takes place on Earth, is dominated by the Mother of God and balances the "Prelude in Heaven," which was dominated by God the Father. Neither character appears in between, where Mephistopheles holds sway. In alchemical terms, Mephistopheles is the Mercurial spirit, who unites the king to the queen, the sun to the moon, etc.
The scene begins with a chorus of nature spirits, which, as we have seen, Goethe uses frequently to give a voice to nature. In this case, the chorus (and Echo) celebrate mutually-interdependent natural processes, including plant and animal life, flowing water, and earth (boulders, caves). There is a spiritual dimension to this, for the lions, who are regal rather than predatory, "Honor the hallowed grove, / Refuge of sacred love." (11852-3) The ten lines of this chorus are "an unmediated evocation of natural process itself in affirmation of a mystical, pastoral ideal space" (text, p. 486).
Next we hear from four "anchorite fathers," who are engaged in
contemplative practices in various stations on the mountain side.
They seem to represent progressively higher degrees of spiritual
The first, Pater Ecstaticus (Ecstatic Father) is levitating, bobbing around in the air. According to the interpretation of one Jungian psychologist and Goethe expert (Alice Raphael), he is excited by divine inspiration, an infusion of the holy spirit, but has not achieved the state of mental quiet necessary for further ascent.
The second, Pater Profundus (Deep Father) resides in the depths of the earth (the element considered opposite to air, it might be noted). He seems to be overwhelmed by the creative processes of nature, by lightning and water descending to earth from heaven and by trees striving to reach heaven from earth. His mind, also, is in turmoil, too busy to receive divine illumination: "Almighty Lord! O soothe my thinking, / Illumine Thou my needy heart." (11888-9)
The third, Pater Seraphicus (Seraphic Father), resides in the middle region, that is, between the air and earth, and so in a sense he joins and mediates between these extremes. Raphael compares him to the kind of mystic who combines the contemplative and active lives (represented by the first two Fathers). PS spies an ascending cloud, which turns out to be a chorus of Blessed Boys, that is, the souls of unbaptized children who died at birth. Since they have never experienced earthly life, PS invites them to occupy his body so that they can experience material reality through his senses, but they find the experience too overwhelming and ask to be released (11906-17). He then encourages them to continue to ascend, where their souls will be fortified by the godly presence. They encircle to peak of the mountain, where they perform a round dance. They sing, "Know you will reach him / Whom you revere." (11932-3)
A group of angels bearing Faust's "immortal essence" floats into
view, and they give clues to the rescue of F's soul. The first
passage (11934-41) tells us much. First we learn that because he
is the equal of pure spirits he was granted an exemption
(11934-5). Next are two crucial lines, "Whoever strives in
ceaseless toil, / Him we may grant redemption" (11936-7), which form a
connection between F's striving and salvation. Finally, we learn
that intercession by "transfigured love" (i.e., Gretchen's) has been
The issue of Faust's redemption has perplexed many commentators. Some have sought its justification in a final recantation of magic (Scene 4, 11404-7) or in the altruistic goals of his development project (Scene 5, 11562-80). Another possibility is that it is completely unjustified; that it is an unearned gift, an act of grace by the divine Mother. Think about it.
The Younger Angels recount how they used the roses of holy love to defeat Mephistopheles' devils, and even to distract M himself. The More Perfected Angels remark that F's soul is still weighed down by corporeal remnants. Angels cannot sever the bond of soul and body, but eternal love can do it (11961-5). The Younger Angels spot the circle of Blessed Boys above, where they are experiencing rebirth, and the angels say they will carry F's soul up to them (11980).
The Blessed Boys accept F's soul "in the pupal stage" (11982). This again is an old symbol, which refers to the soul = psyche
= butterfly idea. According to it, the soul encased in the body
is like the metamorphosing butterfly in its pupal stage; so long as it
is in the body, it is immature, unformed, and has not grown the wings
that will carry it upward. Like the butterfly emerging from its
pupal stage, the soul must cast off its corporeal husk or shell.
"Loosen the flaking film / Left yet to bind him..." (11985-6)
Here Goethe seems to be also alluding to Hermetic ideas that were part of his alchemical background. According to them, when a person was born, the soul was supposed to descend from heaven through the seven celestial spheres, acquiring some faculty or power from each. Thus from the sphere of Mars the soul would acquire assertiveness, courage, competitiveness, will, pugnaciousness, etc.; from the sphere of Venus it would obtain love, desire, grace, sexuality, pleasure, etc. Also, from each sphere it would acquire a protective husk or shell, each more material and less subtle than the previous, until when it descended out of the lunar sphere down to earth, it was given a physical body. Conversely, when a person died, their soul was supposed to reascend, shedding one of its husks in each of the planetary spheres, until it ascended into the heavens as a pure soul.
Next we hear from the fourth of the anchorite fathers, Doctor
Marianus (the Marian Doctor). "Marian" here refers to the Virgin
Mary, to whom he is devoted. Traditionally, there are many
symbolic connections between Mary the Mother of God and the sea (Lat., mare) as the womb of nature.
Therefore, when DM, "in the highest purest cell," sees a group of "womanly shapes" drifting heavenward, he begins to praise Mary, the Mater Gloriosa (Glorious Mother), calling her "Heaven's crowned Virgin," "Mistress of the World," "Queen Eternal" (11995-12012), and later, "Holy Virgin, Mother, Queen, Goddess" (12102-3). She is accompanied by a Chorus of Penitent Women, who, according to DM, petition her for forgiveness of their "carnal weakness" and because they are "easily misguided" (12024, 12022).
She is approached first by three of the penitent women, Magna Peccatrix (Great Sinneress), Mulier Samaritana (Samarian Woman), and Maria Aegyptiaca (Egyptian Mary). Each confesses her sins (see the footnotes). The three appeal to the Glorious Mother, who never turns away those who truly repent their transgressions, on behalf of Gretchen, "Who but once misstepped, unwitting, / Unaware that she was straying" (12066-7).
Next appears the soul of Gretchen, who is now known as Una Poenitentium (The One Penitent). She, in her turn, approaches the Glorious Mother and appeals to her on behalf of Faust (12069-75). The Blessed Boys observe that his soul is already increasing in strength, and they are anticipating that he will be able to teach them about earthly life, which they missed out on (12076-83). Gretchen comments on the rapid progress of Faust's soul (12084-93): although he is still recovering from the shock of death, and the eyes of his soul cannot clearly perceive the heavenly host, he has nevertheless already united himself with it. The last remaining husks or shells have dropped off his soul, and he is reborn with youthful power. Gretchen asks permission to lead him into the new dawn, although it is still too bright for the eyes of his soul.
The Glorious Mother, in the only words she speaks, invites the One Penitent to soar into the higher spheres, for Faust will be drawn by his love in heaven as he was on earth (12094-5). Doctor Marianus prostrates himself in adoration of the Glorious Mother, and calls upon everyone to "Gaze to meet the saving gaze" (i.e., it is necessary to look to her in order to receive her saving glance), and to give up one's old ways and submit to her blissful fate (12096-9). He concludes:
May each noble mind be seen (12100)
Eager for Thy service;
Holy Virgin, Mother, Queen,
Goddess, pour Thy mercies!
The drama ends with eight-lines from a Chorus Mysticus; no
one is quite sure who this mystic chorus is; perhaps they are ethereal
voices from off stage, perhaps they are the entire ensemble.
These lines comprise four two-line statements, each of which is
significant (and the subject of debate, so try to reach your own
conclusions). I will offer hear a few thoughts of my own as a
starting point. I might also add that translations can differ
quite a bit.
"All that is changeable / Is but reflected": This suggests to me the Platonic idea that everything in our everyday world of Becoming is a reflection (shadow, image) of the ideal forms or archetypes in the realm of Being.
"The unattainable / Here is effected": All the processes and activities on earth that are imperfect or incomplete, exist above in their perfected, complete forms. Processes exist in their simultaneous totality, not as ever-changing qualities and quantities.
"Human discernment / Here is passed by": A more literal translation is, "The not expressible is here made manifest" (Fairley); see your text, p. 490. I also read this Platonically; that is, the hidden principles of the universe, which in psychological terms are the archetypes, cannot be completely described in words. But in this higher realm of Being they can be experienced at once and in their entirety (intuitively, not verbally).
"The Eternal-Feminine / Draws us on high": This, of course, is the one-sentence statement of the theme of the drama. But what is "the Eternal-Feminine" (Ewig-Weibliche)? One commentator (Jantz) argues that Goethe intended primarily the maternal aspects of femininity (which would be consistent with the many images of motherhood, birth, the womb, fertility, Mother Nature, etc. in the drama). By this connection to the fruitful mother it may be contrasted perhaps with Mephistopheles' Eternal Emptiness (Ewig-Leere) of Scene 5. You should think about the Eternal-Feminine and form your own opinions.
According to your text (p. 491), "Faust" is the only work at the end of which Goethe wrote "FINIS" (The End), and in fact it was the last thing he completed, just months before his death.
Quite a wild ride, eh?