Curious Business

Faust is a serious play, but how seriously can you take Mephistopheles? At face value he is a devil, but everything about his comport, speech, and role that he plays is more reminiscent of a court jester than a vicious entity.

Yes, he tempts, and attempts to corrupt, but only because he sees the “curious fashion” in which humanity behaves.

He mocks to clarify, and his are some of the most truthful speeches in the play. He lies, but unapologetically. Basically his witty banter is the driving force of the play.

In the event that anyone missed this comparison early on, which is quite possible, in Act I of Part II he is actually disguised as a Fool in the Emperor’s court.

The set up for this begins before Mephistopheles ever appears on stage, in the Prelude to Part I where the audience meets the Director, Dramatic Poet, and Merry Man. Can you guess who Mephistopheles will resemble? Of course there is no actual indication of this during this scene, and it doesn’t become apparent until much further on, with only hints occasionally dropped. This is one of those assumptions and/or connections that your brain makes subtly and does not come to the forefront until Mephistopheles is literally portrayed as a jester in the second part. One of those “Oh!” moments.

If you still don’t get it, then I will have to convince you, and I suppose this is my attempt at doing just that.

You get to see Mephistopheles as a literal fool in the first part of Part II where, as just mentioned, he is acting as such in the Emperor’s court. What is he doing in the first part of Part I? Is he not in God’s court, similarly surrounded by subjects while he offers his advice, or better yet, his opinions regarding the current state of affairs?

In both arguably parallel scenes his speech is candid, as “fine speeches are, beg pardon, not [his] forte.” Well, as it turns out, fine speeches, rhetoric, and flattery are exactly his forte. However, what he means is that fine speeches serving no purpose are of no use to him. He blatantly informs the Lord of the human state, just as he informs the Emperor of his economy, all the while putting on quite the spectacle.

As the play continues, he questions, and in the process gets those around him to question as well. He does not always have the answers (Classical Walpurgis Night), but knows where to look, and most importantly, knows how to instruct.

There are several scenes where the direct parallel is abandoned, especially in the middle of Part II. Yet I am not arguing for an exact comparison, but rather that Mephistopheles, overall, fits within the jester pattern, and even in his most wicked moments (of which he has quite a few), he can still be learned from in his candid dialogue. He not only comments on his own deeds, but helps elucidate those of others.

His commentary entertains and instructs.

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