Summary and Analysis
Act I: State Rooms and Baronial Hall
The Emperor and his courtiers have gathered in a brightly lit chamber to see Paris and Helen. While waiting for Faust to complete his preparations, the ladies badger Mephisto for advice about cosmetics and love potions. The mood of the scene is light and cheerful.
Everyone moves to a dimly lit Gothic hall where Faust will present his mythological spectacle. Mephisto offers to act as prompter and makes many sardonic comments throughout the scene. By magic Faust makes a Greek temple appear, then Paris and Helen are seen in the foreground. Most of the courtiers are unimpressed and make caustic remarks about their looks, but Faust is overwhelmed by Helen's beauty. When he tries to take her away from Paris, however, he is knocked down by a burst of thunder and falls unconscious. Mephisto lifts Faust up and carries him out of the room.
The audience is too superficial to appreciate the classical ideals represented by Paris and Helen, but Faust sees in them the archetypes of human perfection. His attempt to seize Helen symbolizes the effort to join ancient and modern together to achieve a perfect synthesis of the universe's finest elements. His failure indicates the difficulty of grasping the mystery of life and blending such disparate factors by a single act of will. Space and time cannot so easily be conquered, Faust has learned.