Critical Essays Theatrical Productions of Faust


Although Goethe was an accomplished dramatist and wrote Faust in dramatic form, it is unlikely that he actually intended it to be presented on the stage. The work's full meaning and effect would be lost in a theatrical production since an understanding of Faust requires intensive study and rereading. In addition, it would take more than twenty hours to perform both parts of Faust, a period in which it would be impossible to maintain dramatic suspense and audience interest; and a total of thirty-eight stage settings, six of which have multiple levels, are required.

Part One alone has been performed on several occasions and provided the basis for the libretto of Gounod's famous opera, Faust. As has been pointed out above, however, Part One is not an independent work and does not become clear unless presented in concert with Part Two. Although Part One is more stageworthy than Part Two, and requires fewer deletions for presentation on stage, even Goethe himself made important cuts in it when it was performed at the State Theatre in Weimar. There have been few attempts at production of Part Two, and generally in these only fragments of the whole work, like the "Helena" tragedy of Act III, have been put on.

An accurate view of Faust sees it as "monumental drama," a work of epic proportions that must be compared with other works of the same stature and intensity, like Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost, rather than with works that resemble it only superficially because of their dramatic form. It is worth noting, however, that Faust has many inherently "theatrical" qualities for it is permeated by dramatic action — the progressive development and dynamic maturation of its central character.