lit analysis romanticism
from Faust: “Prologue in Heaven” and from “The First Part of the Tragedy”
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Literary Analysis: Romanticism
Goethe was a leading figure in the major intellectual, artistic, and literary movement of the
nineteenth century known as Romanticism. Some key characteristics of the Romantic
• a reverence for nature
• a belief that emotion and intuition are at least as important as reason in the search for
• the championing of the principles of freedom, equality, and individuality
• a faith in and concern for the common people
This last trait of Romanticism spurred a fascination with medieval folk traditions, especially
in their references to the supernatural. The demonic powers widely, if fancifully, attributed to
the medieval scholar and magician Johann Faust spurred rumors that he had sold his soul to
the devil. For Goethe, the Faust legend proved to be a thematic mother lode that he mined for a
dramatic portrayal of a host of Romantic concerns: the limits of human knowledge, the conflict
between reason and the emotions, the restless striving of the human spirit, and the uncertain
prospects of spiritual fulfillment.
DIRECTIONS: Answer the following questions about Romanticism in Faust.
1. In the “Prologue in Heaven,” Mephistopheles speaks these words to God:
“He [Faust] is as strange today as that first day you made him. / His life would be not so bad, not
quite, / Had you not granted him a gleam of Heaven’s light; / He calls it Reason, uses it not the least
/ Except to be more beastly than any beast.”
Do you agree with Mephistopheles that the use of reason can make humans “more beastly
than any beast”? Explain your answer.
2. In “The First Part of the Tragedy,” the scholar Faust, a man of knowledge, ironically
declares, “I have long loathed knowledge in all its fashions.” What aspect of Romantic philosophy is expressed in this remark?
3. Faust personifies the Romantic view of humankind as a species tormented by spiritual and
intellectual thirsts that it cannot satisfy. Do you think that Faust would be more satisfied if
he were living today? Explain your answer.
Unit 7 Resources: Revolution and Reaction
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