The Faustian Bargain

Faust, Goethe and their Connection to Puppetry

By Steven Barr



I came to this story through a combination of equally important facts and events. First, pressure from my ancestors (I’m 3rd or 4th generation German from both my parents). Second, marital pressure from Beate Ritz, (my German wife from Hessen); third, pressure from my 2 teenage sons (who expressed ignorance when discussing the concept of making a deal with the Devil )

I finally read Goethe’s FAUST 1 and 2, in 2003. I found the powerful story ambiguous, mysterious, dark and strangely uplifting—simply irresistible.


1) The Legend of FAUST


Will the REAL DR. FAUST please stand up?

Dr. Johann Georg Faust (approximately 1480–1540), was a dubious magician/alchemist probably from Württemberg, who obtained a degree in divinity from Heidelberg University in 1509. In 1506, there is a record of Faust appearing as performer of magical tricks and horoscopes in Gelnhausen. Over the following 30 years, there are numerous similar records spread over southern Germany. Faust appeared as physician, doctor of philosophy, alchemist, magician and astrologer, and was often accused as a fraud. The church denounced him as a blasphemer in league with the devil. According to one account, Faust's infamy became legendary while he was in prison, where in exchange for wine he "offered to show a chaplain how to remove hair from his face without a razor; the chaplain provided the wine and Faustus provided the chaplain with a salve of arsenic, which removed not only the hair but the flesh" (Barnett).

We know this information from Johann Spieß’s 1587 FAUSTBUCH, the best-known early literary version of the Faust legend. In this popular Volksbuch, Faust turns from theology to sorcery, makes a pact with the devil for a term of twenty-four years, lives richly and riotously, and at the expiration of the term is carried off to Hell. The university at which this Faust is active is Wittenberg. It is a book of strict moral intention, holding up Faust's intellectual curiosity and its consequences as a dreadful warning to others. The Spieß'sches Faustbuch is the source of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus , 1589, known for the 7 deadly sins.

(Wittenberg is where Martin Luther[1] taught in 1508.)
(Wurttemberg is where Dr. Faust obtained a degree in 1509)

So FAUST was either magician, charlatan with claims over the spirit world, exceptional scholar, alchemist and just had a good PR agent who made him famous for all eternity (at least for the post 500 years).



About 15 yrs. ago while visiting a castle near Wartburg in Eisenach, in central Germany, I saw the ink stain on the wall of the study where Martin Luther was working on his famous biblical translation. The story goes… One night, while toiling away, Luther was visited by the Devil himself… Luther threw his inkwell at the Devil----and the  ink stain is still on the wall. The wall is still there, so is the castle, having survived countless sackings and countless wars.

Contrarily, two centuries later, Goethe’s Dr. Faust did not throw anything at the devil, but instead decided to hear him out. He later agreed to a deal, and the rest was literary history. It was about time to from hear the other side—to lift the veil of denial and enter into a new intellectual epoch.

SIGNIFICANCE of Marlowe’s work

Christopher Marlow’s Dr. Faustus presents the world on the edge of two epochs. It combines the moral teaching of the Christian churches with modern philosophical trends and a new structure for drama inspired from the ancient Greek Theatre.[2]

Up until then, Marlowe was a Morality Play traditionalist writing in the popular form of allegory, similar to these two famous works: The Castle of Perseverance (1600) and Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan (1675). Both allegories present the main characters and places as moral concepts, as in the Castle of Perserverance: Humanum Genus, a human being, In his youth he falls victum to sin of Luxuria. Penitentia teaches him to trust in Confessio, who leads him to the castle of Perserverance. In his old age Humanum Genus succumbs to the temptations of Avaritia (greed)—after he dies the evil angel wants to drag him down to hell—but God sets him free thanks to the prayers of Pity and Peace.



Middle age Propaganda, Public Relations, call it what you may.

But… Marlow’s drama lies in his rejection of the allegorical image in favor of an individual man.[3] Surrounded by spirits of good and evil, Marlow’s hero is an individual, as recognized in the period of emergent humanism, one who confronts Heaven and Hell.

We now call this a “Renaissance concept”–a rebirth.


The Jewish Bible names the Serpent, as the transgressor of EDEN when for many centuries Serpent was the representative of life and knowledge. Christianity made of him the SATAN, the spirit of opposition to good, responsible for the concept of original sin. The snake suggested to Eve to …. do the deed…. “Eat the apple…” (Eve was blamed for being weak to temptation).


BOGOMIL (a 10th century Priest, followers in Bulgaria to Bosnia thru 1600)

The Bogomils’ central teaching, based on a dualistic cosmology, was that the visible, material world was created by the devil. Thus, they denied the doctrine of the incarnation and rejected the Christian conception of matter as a vehicle of grace. They rejected Baptism, the Eucharist, and the whole organization of the Orthodox Church. The moral teaching of the Bogomils was as consistently dualistic. They condemned those functions of man that bring him into close contact with matter, especially marriage (and sex), the eating of meat, and the drinking of wine. In fact, the moral austerity of the Bogomils invariably was acknowledged by their fiercest opponents.

They were celibate, vegans, and didn’t drink wine. Could this odd movement be any more puritan? They were the forerunners to the Amish-and other sects.

They wrote:

“In the beginning God had 2 sons: Satanael and Jesus.”

Satanael embodied evil and hostility to humans.

Jesus reigned in the spiritual world, and the Bogomils strove to reach his domain (which they know they could only reach in death, but by refusing sensory pleasure felt they would get less polluted by Satan).

Their doctrine (Gnostic):

“Adam took his oxen and started plowing the fields. The Devil placed himself in front of the oxen and blocked the way. DEVIL says “the earth is mine, Jesus/god has the heavens and paradise; if you want to be my subject, you may work on the earth; if you want to belong to Jesus/God, move to Paradise” (which means he would kill him on the spot). Therefore, the companion-ness of humans  and the devil in a social contract, was to Gnostics a good explanation for the sins of Humankind. They understood and made a deal with the devil because they wanted to live on the Earth and not be dead. They simply had no choice. So they made the first recorded pact with the devil.

This pact with Satan was wholeheartedly rejected by the ‘mainstream’ Orthodox and Catholic Church as well as by Luther and the early Protestant thinkers. By the end of the 15th century, the Bogomils were entirely destroyed by the “main stream” mobs of zealous citizens, encouraged by the state and the church—those people who were less tolerant than themselves.


The main idea which dominated the Old Testament’s demonology was the conviction, originating formerly from Iranian dualism, that the devil was not the opponent of God, but the being especially created by God to put humans to the test. God’s henchman or as a 21st century rapper might say “god’s bitch”.

DR. JILL BOLT TAYLOR, a neuroanatimist from Harvard now at UI Indianapolis—(Spokesperson for the National Brain Trust at Harvard),conducts research into brains, especially in the severely mentally ill. She describes how our brains are set up; namely with two sides— two hemispheres. One side of the brain is a continuous, non-partitioned existence just like waves in water. This side allows us to feel connected to the world as our senses reveal it to us, in the present. The other side is separated, hard little chunks of existence, just like marbles on a pool table allowing us to think, analyse, decide, and execute—it enables our ability to perceive the past and the future. This duality is literally hard-wired into the brain, and consequently, our behavior and our experience of the world. The two sides of the brain are interfacing each other most of the time, but we can choose what part we want to experience at any point in time.[4]

I believe this is part of the reason we see duality in everything.

Christianity found the idea that god was ”the boss” of the devil unacceptable, preferring to see the devil as Tempter and The Source of evil  (more equal).  However, this concept glorifies the Devil, it raises him (or her) to the same post as God because he can decide someone’s fate in the afterlife.

GOETHE used this old school concept of God as Boss throughout FAUST, portrayed in the Prologue in heaven, when God and Mephisto make a bet on whether Faust’s life will be noble or sinful (a la Job).

After a discussion with God, Mephisto, while alone, says,

“The ancient one I like sometimes to see.

And not to break with him am always civil;

Tis courteous in so great a lord as he,

To speak so kindly even to the devil.”

Goethe’s god has sympathy for the Devil, just like Mick Jagger.

Marlowe simply picked up the story of a scholar who wanted to cross the boundaries of existing human knowledge in spite of all social and religious interdicts.

GOETHE allows God to use the devil to set in motion the idle human brain.



In the mid-late ages, the devil caused real danger when presented on stage. The people were familiar with the grotesque demons from the Mystery Plays, usually portrayed only as Puppets because it was simply not possible to allow a real human to portray a demon. They also believed doing business with the Devil may lead to knowledge, power and riches. Many stories spread about the Pope Sylvester II (1000AD) who was known as a fine scholar and suspected of receiving his knowledge from a Moorish wizard whom he served in Toledo. In return Sylvester was granted the constant services of a devil disguised as a dog (a part of Goethe’s FAUST, thus my bunny-poodle in my PuppenFilm).

Performer had to use Puppets, just to do the plays. Puppets had power.

*** Show slide show of numerous puppet demonS from Prague museum***

Histriomastix, William Prynne, records the tale that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance of FAUSTUS.

People were allegedly driven mad, distracted with that fearful sight.

Viennese Puppet Player Johann Geisselbrecht felt so clearly the devil’s presence in his production of FAUST, that he ceased presenting the play.[5]

The play arrived in central Europe via traveling companies of English players. Soon German performers and puppeteers imitated them, finding that the theme attracted good audiences.

THE PUPPET WARS—  the wars against puppets.

The golden age of puppetry.

Priests and teachers led an attack on the puppet versions of FAUST, too, affecting even the relatively small numbers of puppet enthusiasts.

In 1744, in Lippe, the vicar criticized from the pulpit a local councilor, Detering, who had given permission for a puppet team to perform in the town.

Which provoked a “short response provoked by the question; whether the Christian higher authority can allow in good faith the presentation and viewing of the puppet show?”

The response was in favor of the puppet show. This was an actual referendum.

Johan Jakob Fetzer, mayor of Reutlingen, recalling his school years, confessed in the 1760s that his fondness for puppet shows got him into trouble at school. Although it was his turn, the teacher forbade him the privilege of reading from the bible, because the previous day he had been seen at a puppet show. (perhaps like video games today.)


The first puppet performance of Marlow’s FAUSTUS probably took place in Luneburg in 1666, given by the company of a certain Michael Treu. Like other players he was striving for scenic illusion, and for this goal he thought the best medium was the marionette (at that time operated not with strings but with wires).

To gain public interest the puppeteers stressed the sensational character of their shows. Great play was made of the devil’s presence, his magical acts, his travels through the air and his necromantic demonstrations. FAUSTUS was portrayed as a wicked sinner, whose pride caused him to sell his soul to the devil. He is accused, he is judged, he is Damned.

Comic servants were in the play—Hanswurt and Casperle (Punch’s German cousin)—There were 2 parallel actions, one presenting the relationship of the learned Doctor  Faustus with the evil spirits, the 2nd demonstrating the quick wit of the folk character able to outsmart the demons. The servant is determined not to be taken into the abyss, even if his master is taken.

Many versions flourished throughout Germany and Czech republic in 19th century. Many are recorded in A History of European Puppetry by Henryk Jurkowski (1996)


Goethe published the Urfaust, part one, in 1806. He called it a closet drama, meaning it was a play to be read and not performed.

As a boy he saw the puppet play in the marketplace and was preoccupied by the story for 60 years of his adult life. He was born of the wealthy class. Educated with tutors, and know to be very bright and independant. Sometime during his twenties, there was a famous trial of a girl who had killed her child after having been unable to care for it. The girl was eventually hung for committing infanticide.

In law school, Goethe had an affair with a peasant girl—like all the other male students. As he went on to further studies, he forgot about this girl. But apparently she haunted his subconscious throughout his life.

The addition of Gretchen—Margarite-- into the FAUST myth was attributed to Goethe’s union with this peasant girl.

“What if my girlfriend had gotten pregnant, had a kid, was ostracized, and committed unconscious infanticide in her madness and sheer depravation– how would I ever have known about it?”

This proved Goethe was a visionary as he made the story a commentary on the social customs of the male dominated society—his Germany.


FAUST part 2 is a much more abstract story line.

So with PUPPETS being so entwined with the FAUST myth because of the ability to show a devil on stage , and the fact that Goethe saw one of these puppet shows in his youth, make both FAUST and GOETHE eternally linked to the ART OF PUPPETRY—and A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN.


The following is a list of Faust examples in our high culture and pop culture

(some of the list is from Wikiopedia).

-- The character, Swan (Paul Williams), in the rock opera Phantom of the Paradise (1974) is based heavily off of the Faust legend, as on 19 November 1953 he sells his soul to the Devil to remain young. The meeting between Swan and Satan is caught on Swan's Death Records film, and at the end of the Contract of Agreement Satan tells Swan he must watch the tape everyday to see how lucky he is, and that when the tape is destroyed, Swan's youth will be destroyed. Swan in return binds Winslow Leech (William Finley) into a similar contract forcing Winslow to write a pop cantata to open Swan's new theater "The Paradise". Winslow, in an attempt to free himself attempts suicide, and Swan points out that "this Contract Ends With Swan". Winslow then attempts to kill Swan, whereby Swan tells him "I'm under contract too!" Winslow eventually finds the tape and burns it, whereby Swan ages dramatically. Winslow then kills Swan, and in return Winslow dies too, as his wounds from his attempted suicide open up.

--A character in the video game series Guilty Gear is called Faust.

--The opening song of Sabbat's debut album, History of a Time to Come contains a story about Faustus' bargain with the devil.

--Faustus of Mileve was also an anti-Christian adversary in some of Saint Augustine's writings. Some suggest that the Faust legend was based on this Faustus.

--Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus is about a composer who agrees to renounce love in exchange for artistic inspiration and a successful career. The story is strongly allegorical in its relationship to social and intellectual developments in Germany prior to World War II (and is a homage to Nietzsche).

--The American modernist Gertrude Stein wrote the libretto for an operatic version of the Faust legend, Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1938), in which Faustus struggles with modernist anxieties about the Enlightenment; he sells his soul for the knowledge of how to make "white electric light", with which he inadvertently abolishes the difference between day and night, eventually falling into a perpetual darkness. The text has been staged by many of the United States avant-garde theatre artists.

--David Mamet authored a play called Faustus for which he won an award from the Chicago Public Libraries in 2006. Mamet's Faustus ultimately repents and triumphs over hell.

--Abiola Abrams' debut novel Dare (Simon & Schuster) is a chick lit retelling of Faust set in the hip hop world. Her scholar fighting pride, temptation, personal demons and ego is a woman. The novel also features a fictional town, Faustus, Ohio, where the story begins.

--Randy Newman wrote a modern musical version of the Faust story similar to Goethe's, in which God and the Devil vie for the soul of Henry Faust, a schizophrenic college student. See Randy Newman's Faust.

--The computer game Seven Games of the Soul is also known as Faust, and features an old black man named Marcellus Faust as its protagonist. The plot of the game has Faust investigating the lives of various members of a carnival and judging them while attempting to confound Mephisto, a version of Mephistopheles.

--In the manga and anime Shaman King, the character known as Faust VIII is a descendant of original Faust. He learns necromancy from his ancestor's writings, and uses it to control skeletons and his dead wife's body. He seeks to gain power to bring his wife back from the dead. He would later summon the power to Mephisto in the later half of the series.

--In Charles-Valentin Alkan's "Grande Sonate: Les Quatres Ages" Op. 33, an atypical sonata depicting the life of man, the second movement 30 Ans is given the title Quasi-Faust. The movement has been described as one of the most difficult and transcendental pieces for the piano repertoire. Often neglected due to its difficulties, the 30 Ans movement musically depicts the struggle between God and the Devil for the possession of Faust's soul upon his demise. The soloist is faced with a myriad of difficulties; being driven to play the Devil's parts "diaboliquement", often forced to play remote registers of the keyboard and must perform an eight part fugue which reintroduces the theme of "Le Seigneur" as it wages its final battle against the Devil.

--In Switchfoot's album Oh! Gravity, the track, "Faust, Midas and Myself" alludes to a Faust-like character in verse one. He appears as a diabolical, almost non-human entity tempting the composer to indulge in the 'pretty things' in life and have 'everything at once, everything you've seen, everything you'll need, everything you've ever had in fantasies'. As in the example of the tale of Faust however, to gain these things requires bargaining your life away to the Devil. The composer then reminds listeners of the painful subsequent reality of such a choice.

--In the Radiohead album In Rainbows, there are underlying themes from the Faust legend, in particular the track "Faust Arp" and the final track of the album, "Videotape", in which Mephistopheles is mentioned in the opening lines: "When I'm at the pearly gates / This'll be on my videotape / My videotape / My videotape / When Mephistophilis is just beneath / And he's reaching up to grab me / This is one for the good days."

--Kamelot, a symphonic metal band, created two albums based on the story of Faust. The album "Epica" is the first half of the story and "The Black Halo" is the second half.

-Eric, the 9th novel in Terry Pratchett's popular Discworld book series, is a parody of Faust, using many of the same story elements but warping them in comedic ways (e.g. the concept of being able to live for ever is taken literally, so that the Faust character is sent to the beginning of time so that he can live For Ever, from beginning to end). Notably, each printed edition of the book features the title 'Faust' crossed out, with the word 'Eric' scribbled in as a replacement.

--In the video game Final Fantasy XI, Faust is a boss type creature in Ru'Aun Gardens.

--Writer Malcolm Azania uses the alias Minister Faust.

--In the video game Soul Calibur II, Faust is an alternate weapon for the character Nightmare.


Other films of great interest AND connection to the Faust story:

MEPHISTO,  1981 film.  story by Klaus Mann, director Istvan Szabo, with Klaus-Marie Brandauer, won best foreign language film in 1982. About an actor  in Berlin during the 3rd Reich, who chose to be the actor empowered by Hitler, and whose signature role was Mephisto in the Faust play.

PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde. The Faustian- non-aging element and the character’s blemishes ( from a Mephisto life-style) were hidden from the view of others, only Dorian Gray was aware of them and so was his portrait in the attic.

LITTLE NICKI—Adam Sandler with a superbe comic hell scene with Billy Crystal as Satan.

THE FIGHT CLUB. The protagonist (Edwin Norton Jr.-Faust) with his alter-ego (Mephisto- Brad Pitt) . His double was visible to the audience but not to others in the film.

STAR WARS. Anakin Skywalker makes a deal with the Emperor (Satan) and becomes Darth Vader ( Bad Faust). Complete with his redemption scene at the end, “I want to see my son, even though I will die if I talk off my hat/helmet.”

[1] Luther founded Protestantism after retranslating the Bible.

[2] Jurkowski, Dr. Henryk. University of Warsaw  “FAUST –ADAM” p. 1

[3] Jurkowski, Dr. Henryk. University of Warsaw  “FAUST –ADAM” p. 1

[4] Dr, Jill’s talk.

[5] quote from Jurkowski, Dr. Henryk. University of Warsaw  “FAUST –ADAM” p. 10