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246Rocky Mountain Review JANE K. BROWN. Goethe's Faust: The German Tragedy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986. 263 p. Withthis work, the author states inher preface, she wishesto offer anoriginal reading of Goethe's Faust. However, especially in view ofthe dearth ofbooks on Goethe written in English for a general audience, she also wishes to present the text to students and scholars of literature other than German. She emphasizes that it is neither an introduction nor a replacement for a commentary. "It is an interpretation, a reading of both parts of Faust in the context ofEuropean romanticism and in terms ofthe many texts that Goethe's play exploits and responds to" (10); and in her introductory chapter she appeals to the good sense of her readers and asserts that "no interpretation can be total and that this one does not pretend to be" (27). While I cannot agree with Brown's reading of Faust at several important points, I would like to recommend this book to all those students and scholars who are concerned with the poem in Goethe's original German and who have earnestly struggled with this enigmatic masterpiece in an effort to find even partially satisfactory answers to the many challenging questions it poses. The subtitle, The German Tragedy, is meant ironically and signals Brown's point that Goethe's artistic intention requires us to discuss Faust in a frame of reference that excludes such elements of traditional German scholarship as have tended to make ofboth Goethe and the play "the bearers ofa national heritage—whether as epitomes or antitypes—in a way that no single text of the English tradition has ever had to embody the entire culture" (11). This leads directly to the first ofwhat seem to me to be the two principal arguments on which her interpretation is based. Her first main argument is that Goethe consistently subverts the values ofthe Faust legend, which is "quintessentially German and Protestant," and he "affirms the Catholic cosmic dramatic tradition that the Reformation did much to destroy" (254). This, she reminds us, is consistent with Goethe's hostility to organized Protestant orthodoxy. "Goethe mines earlier texts deliberately," she says, "in order to situate German literature in the European tradition rather than in its own national tradition and in order, finally, to show that all literature is by its very nature allusive" (10). Throughout her book she calls attention to the literary allusions in Faust, to works by Homer, Sophocles, Herodotus, Euripides, Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Nicholas Rowe, Rousseau, Oliver Goldsmith, and Byron. Brown's second principal argument is that Goethe's play can best be understood as a work resembling Calderón's Great Theater of the World (El gran teatro del mundo). But in a footnote she hastens to add, "I am not arguing direct influence here; there is no evidence that Goethe had any direct experience ofthis Calderón play. I use it simply as a paradigmatic example of a tradition Goethe clearly did have in mind" (35). Having directed our attention to this epitome of the seventeenth-century tradition of "the world as a stage," she can turn to the episodic nature ofFaust and speak of its containing "a veritable Chinese box of plays within plays" (24). Goethe's work has, therefore, essentially the structure of the nonillusionist theater, a dramatic form less familiar than that definedby Aristotle in his Poetics. This is confirmedby the "Vorspiel aufdem Theater," which "insists that the reader remain aware that the entire drama to come is a drama, an illusion to which he must not surrender himself (34). Surely one of the most tantalizing problems in Goethe's Faust is the true nature of the figure Mephistopheles, and one is, to begin with, unsure Book Reviews247 whether he is the devil or merely a devil. Here Brown gives us an answer probably unexpected by most readers when she asserts, "Goethe's devil is a nature spirit" (67), and "The devil is a cosmic force, a reality principle, in this play, not a personality" (93). And she returns to this notion later in her book with the statement that "Mephistopheles is indeed a nature spirit, for he enables Faust...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 246-247
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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