Monday, September 05, 2011

Mephistopheles as Bearer of 'Sad' Tidings in Faust

(Image from Samuel Ramey)

When I attended Herr Martin's two-semester German course at Baylor on Goethe's Faust, I thought of myself as somewhat of a Faustian type in my search for knowledge, but one of my assignments was to play the role of Mephistopheles, so I had to memorize his lines in Part I, Scene 12, not all of which I fully understood at the time, but in re-reading them now, I catch all of the nuances . . . I think. Be that as it may, here is Mephistopheles toying with a woman whose husband has abandoned her, leaving her behind as a 'grass widow'. Mephistopheles pretends to bring news of her husband's death and the report of his last words:

Ich stand an seinem Sterbebette
-- es war was besser als von Mist --
von halbgefaultem Stroh. Allein er starb als Christ,
und fand, daß er weit mehr noch auf der Zeche hätte.
"Wie," rief er, "muß ich mich von Grund aus hassen,
so mein Gewerb, mein Weib so zu verlassen!
Ach, die Erinnrung tötet mich!
Vergäb’ sie mir nur noch in diesem Leben!"

Marthe, weinend

Der gute Mann! Ich hab’ ihm längst vergeben.


"Allein, weiß Gott! Sie war mehr schuld als ich."


Das lügt er! Was! Am Rand des Grabs zu lügen! (Goethe, Faust I 2951-2961)
Here's my attempt at a loose translation:

I stood at his deathbed
-- hardly better than manure --
of half-rotted straw. He died alone as a Christian,
and found that he still had accounts to settle.
"Alas," he cried, "I hate myself to the depths,
leaving my work and wife the way I did!
Ah, the memory kills me!
If only she would forgive me in this life!"

Marthe, crying

The good man! I've long forgiven him.


"God only knows, she was more at fault than I."


What? He lies! On the brink of the grave, and lying! (Goethe, Faust I 2951-2961)
The lying is all from Mephistopheles, naturally, for he was not truly present at the husband's deathbed -- nor can one be sure that the man has died -- but I had great fun playing the role. The other students thought that I made a particularly good devil. Well, hell, I'd had a lot of practice at that.

Re-reading this passage and what follows brought back many memories. Three other students and I did the entire scene, lines 2865-3024, which taxed my powers of recall and perhaps thereby explains why I only clearly remember the student who played Margarete, a cute little person who was also funny and laughed about the monads of Leibniz -- not to be confused with the gonads of Leibniz, though it's a common error. Apparently, she'd read a selection in an upper-level German course and found monadology hilarious in its absurdity. I'm not sure that she was of a philosophical mind, but she was fun to be around.

I wonder what she did with her life . . .

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At 6:17 AM, Blogger dhr said...

and found monadology hilarious in its absurdity

what?! was that girl moon-addict?

I am Faust and furious!!

At 6:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I like that move(ie): Fausts of Fury!

I'd like to write a comedy titled Watch Out for Goethe's Faust! It'd be about a down-and-out German boxer who makes a pact with the devil to win the title match for Champion of the World.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:40 PM, Blogger dhr said...

a big Faustralian production, like "Mad Max."

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Faust recht!

Jeffery Hodges

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