Walpurgis Night (521-30):  No other scene in Goethe's Faust places such difficult demands on the reader for understanding its place and significance in the drama The essential meaning which Goethe wished to convey resides in the "Walpurgis Night" revels themselves, quite apart from any necessary association with Faust and his pact with Mephistopheles. Concerning the legends of the May Day Witches' Sabbath, Goethe associated Faust with the murky spirit world of Nordic, Germanic legend. "Walpurgis Night" therefore provides a logical extension of the hocus-pocus and murky superstition established in "Witch's Kitchen." the sources for "Walpurgis Night" used have been traced by scholars from several books borrowed from the Ducal library in Weimar at the time when work en the scene was in progress. For the most part these consist of obscure and pseudo-scientific compendia of medieval folklore from the seventeenth century

These accounts offer a fantastic picture of medieval witches' sabbaths, colored by a mixture of popular superstition and moralistic outrage. The annual revels involved a procession of witches which ascended in the darkness to the summit of the Brocken, where orgiastic revels were held in celebration of Satan including blatant sexual intercourse and the act of obeisance to Satan by kissing the anus of a goat (traditionally associated with the cult of Satan). Goethe initially planned to follow the accounts of such satanic debauchery—even to the inclusion of Satan himself, who figures nowhere else in Faust!

Goethe's view of the witches' Sabbath on the Brocken gradually shifted away from the orgiastic revels at the summit, as these were conceived in response to the popular tradition, toward a kind of festival of May Day night which has much more positive and serious implications for the drama of Faust as a whole. For this view of the rites of May--just as pagan in origin as the cult of Satan and perhaps originally identical with it—Goethe's chief source for the ''Walpurgis Night's Dream-"eminently served his purpose the fairy-folk of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.


After the cathedral scene, a violent shift of mood and locale takes us to the witches' rendezvous on the Brocken with Faust and Mephisto as spectators and participants in the tumultuous annual convocation. This is a virtuoso performance of poetic genius. The language is strained to evoke a bewildering medley of eerie sound, light, and movement in the surge of the demonic elemental forces. Faust and Mephisto, their way lighted by a will-o'-the-wisp, are caught in the tugging updraft and the crush of the flying hosts and detached individuals, all straining to reach the summit for the celebration of the black mass. The modern theater, and particularly the film, finds a challenge in translating this feast of the imagination into a spectacle for the senses, but in accomplishing this it inevitably reduces the suggestive magic of the poetic word to a mere shadow.

In the carnival of obscene animal energy we never get to see the climactic performance on the summit, presided over by "Herr Urian." Mephisto's caprice shunts Faust away from the upward surging throng into the quieter byways of a camping area. At this sideshow we meet a group of motley characters, oldsters, has-beens, who got bogged down in their flight because the vital spark failed them. These impotents expatiate nostalgically on the good old days when they called the time, and Mephisto gleefully apes them. From general satire, directed against types, the focus disconcertingly shifts to personal satire: Goethe lampoons a literary enemy, Friedrich Nicolai, the old warhorse of the German Enliglitenment. Goethe's contemporary readers relished the many topical allusions, but most modern readers can't appreciate the fun without a detailed commentary.

And what of Faust? Eagerly looking forward to the main spectacle, he had been drawn off to a sideshow. He had danced with a young witch but lost appetite when a red mouse slipped out of her mouth. Then he had spied the wraith of a girl, and Mephisto's warning to avert his eyes from the "Gorgon" had only served to rivet his gaze on the wide-open dead eyes and the gliding gait of the apparition. More and more it had taken on the semblance of Gretchen, and a red line, no wider than the back of a knife, circling her throat, loomed as a portent of her fate. There we leave Faust, to turn to the anticlimactic conclusion of the "Walptirgisnacht" scene, with some final jibes against half-baked plays and amateurish performances.


Wapurgis Night: St. Walpargis or Walburga, abbess of Heidenheim, in Franconia, was born in England and died in 779; her name appears to be derived from "Wolborg," a "good fortress" (against evil, by her purity) and she was invoked in aid against witchcraft. Her day, l May, is also an ancient Pagan spring festival, and she is thus associated by antithesis with the witches' sabbath which was traditionally supposed to take place on the Brocken during the previous night. Sources that influenced him included the Anthropodemus Plutonieus by Pratorius, the same author's Blockesberges Verrichtung (The Blocksberg Cerernony) of 1669, and a large engraving by Michael Herr (1591-1661) which depicts the grotesque revels of witches and demons. It is of interest in this connection that the last witch-burning in Germany had not taken place until 1781.

21 Will-o'-the-wisp. The ignis fatuus, a wavering light formed by marsh gas, in German folklore thought to lead travelers to their destruction

37-77: Goethe here explicitly adopts an operatic treatment

46: among various strangely shaped rocks in the Brockes area (with names such as Devil's Pulpit, Witch's Altar, etc.) two are known as the "Snorers" owing to a peculiar local sound-effect in highwind.

81-82: Mammon is the diabolic personification of gold and material wealth generally, appears in the New Testament, the medieval mystery plays, Milton's Paradise Lost, etc. Here he is imagined as leading a group of fallen angels in digging out gold and gems from the ground of Hell, presumably for Satan's palace, as described by Milton's Paradise Lost I.678ff.

125--Sir Urian: Herr Urian, a name for the Devil formed from Ur-jan, i.e. "Ur-Hans," a kind of primal male figure (cf. old Nick, Auld Hornie, etc.)

128 Old Baubo: a figure from classical mythology (the lewd nurse of the earth goddess Demeter who tries to console Demeter after her daughter Persephone is carried off by Hades. Here it suggests any fantastic female creature. The idea of a witch riding a pig is of uncertain origin.

130: A parody of Romans 13.7: "honor to whom honor is due."

140: A parody of Matthew 7:13-14: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

143: the mother bursts: An allusion to the cutting open of a pregnant woman's womb by the force of a witch's broomstick, so that both infant and mother die. [according to Goethe's sources, witches who had been made pregnant by demons would sometimes get rid of their offspring by miscarriage as they rode to the sabbath.]

144: Wizards: The distinction of sexes between witches and wizards (warlocks) was originally intended to anticipate the sexual orgies to take place at the summit of the Brocken.

154-56: No adequate explanation for the voices from below have been given. Clearly some satirical allusion is intended, perhaps to the Reformation.

174--salve: witch-unction; the witches smeared a magic 'salve' on themselves and their supposed means of transport; the reference may be to hallucinogenic drugs rubbed into the skin to induce sexual excitement and fantasies of "dying." Pratorius reports that salves derived from the fat of corpses of newly born children who had been murdered before baptism would bring about a trance-like state in which the soul left the body and flew to the Blocksberg.

205: An allusion to Satan at summit of the Brocken.

237-40: Much scholarly labor has been expended in attempts to explain the satirical implications of these figures to no avail

258: Mephistopheles by appearing old parodies the inactivity of the old men.

262--Huckster-Witch: As at any village fair, the peddlers booth is set up with wares for sale. The peddler-witch may have been suggested to Goethe by one of his pictorial sources. For the list of her wares there are possible approximate parallels in Shakespeare's Macbeth (the ingredients of the witches' cauldron) and in Burn's poem Tam of Shanter.

283: In response to the two separate creation myths in Genesis (where God creates man and woman, I.27 and then creates Eve from Adam's rib 2:18ff.) rabbinical tradition argued that Adam's first wife was Lilith, an evil spirit of the night who seduces men and harms little children. The word Lilith occurs in the Bible only once (Isaiah 34: 14) and means "night hag."

294-309: The German words corresponding to these indecent particulars have generally been replaced by dashes in the printed editions since l,808.

294-97: An echo of the Song of Songs 7.8-9: "I say l will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine and the scent of your breath like apples and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly gliding over lips and teeth."

298: The witch applies the metaphor of her breasts as apples to the myth of the fall when Eve, tempted by the serpent, gave the apple to Adam.

306--The Old One: Critics have surmised that this may be the Witch from the scene "Witch's Kitchen."

310: PROKTOPHANTASMIST: A German coinage meaning "Rump-ghostler"--the Greek: proktos, "anus" + phantasma, "phantom"; the last syllable is also homophonous with the German word for dung (mist). The character caricatures Friedrich Nicolai (1773-1811), who opposed modem movements in German thought and literature and had parodied Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther ( I 774). As a rationalist of the Enlightenment, he opposed the use of any supernatural elements in literature. However, at about the time when the Walpurgis Night scenes were being written, this arch-rationalist and dedicated campaigner against superstition was plagued for weeks on end by inexplicable ghostly apparitions; he attributed these to high blood-pressure, and was cured of them by the application of leeches to his backside. Having little sense of the ridiculous, "he then gave a lecture on his experience to the Berlin Academy, which was published in 1799.This bizarre incident was mercilessly exploited by the young Romantic writers as well as by Nicolai's old enemy Goethe, who had vowed in 1775 to punish him by making him appear in Faust. The resulting "Proktophantasmist" passage is an amusing if tasteless in-joke for some of the poet's contemporaries, but like other satirical material in the Walpargis Night sequence and in A Witch's Kitchen, it seems wholly irrelevant to the Faust story.

327: Tegel: A town near Berlin, where ghosts had been reported. Nicolai claimed that he had been bothered by ghosts but had repelled them by applying leeches to his rump, an event to which Mephistopheles alludes. This phenomenon had been investigated by a commission which concluded that they were a practical joke.

344-45: Goethe borrowed this incident from one of his sources, which describes how d little red mouse jumps out of the mouth of a sleeping girl.

356 a magic image, lifeless apparition: The term in German idol, from the Greek eidolon, means a "spiritless image." How or why this appears to Faust here is uncertain, especially as he can have no knowledge of Gretchen's fate since he left her.

360: Medusa's eyes: The Gorgon with hair of serpents whose glance turned men to stone. Mephistopheles associates the cut through the neck of the wraith with the myth of the beheading by Perseus of the Medusa.

369-71: apparitions presaging imminent or future executions are a folklore motif. A book which Goethe is known to have read (The Inferno Proteus by Erasmus Francisci von Finx, 1690) contains the anecdote of a maidservant who has killed her illegitimate child and who sees in the moonlight the ghost of a woman carrying her severed head in her hands.

377: A transition to the "Intermezzo." The Prater is a famous amusement perk in Vienna, first opened to the public by the Emperor Joseph II in 1766. The anachronism is clearly intentional.

Walpurgis Night's Dream (530-34) Critics have been embarrassed by the apparent lack of direct relevance to the Faust story demonstrated by this "Intermezzo."

Even its function as an intermezzo, or entr'acte. is unclear, due primarily to Goethe's decision not to conclude the "Walpurgis Night," as first planned. with a climactic scene after the "Dream" at the summit of the Blocksberg in the presence of Satan

The entire dream sequence had been intended to serve as a true interlude both in the Walpurgis Night generally and in the activities of Faust and Mephistopheles as they ascend the mountain

Instead, as the text now stands the Intermezzo brings the 'Walpurgis Night" to a close, thus assuming perforce the role of a surrogate climate in place of the scene with Satan.

It consists of a sequence of single speeches, apparently presented as a kind of pageant before Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the fairies (borrowed from Shakespeare s A Midsummer Night's Dream, which Goethe knew in the original and which had just been translated late German by August Wilhelm Sehlegel; with some influence perhaps from several late eighteenth-century operatic versions of Shakespeare's story, which are of minor importance)

The speakers in the interlude include a number of figures who represent as objects of satire in schematic, allegorical fashion various modes and schools of thought and writing in Goethe's own day Some of these figures are so obscure that even Goethe's own audience would not have recognized them.

What, then, does such a piece have to do with Faust?

Above all one must consider how the source from Shakespeare has been adapted here and how the "Dream" itself is incorporated into the "Walpurgis Night" A group of amateurs perform a story which one of them has written. The amateurs are meant to resemble the group of tradesmen in A Midsummer Night's Dream, including Peter Quince and Bottom, who in the final scene present their dramatic version of Pyramus and Thisbe before Duke Theseus and his bride Hippolyta. Goethe thus imposes on the Intermezzo an intentional irony of ineptitude, borrowed from his sources though he does not indulge in the same kind of Shakespearean slapstick. By focusing instead on the themes of poetry and letters, then of philosophy and politics, Goethe exposes, through the inadequacy of what is said, characteristic failings of human culture and society, specifically in later eighteenth-century Germany.

For whom and for what motive, however is this expose presented? In Shakespeare's play the patrons and audience of the mechanical entertainment are the rulers of the city and their court, human beings who are celebrating a threefold marriage. The spirits of the wood, who figure so centrally in the play, have nothing to do with this slapstick performance and remain in their natural domain until the epilogue, when Puck, along with Oberon and Titania with their fairy train, enter the palace to bring blessings of fertility to the marriages being consummated. In Goethe's "Intemezzo" the fairy King and Queen are themselves the recipients of such an entertainment, presented to them as part of the celebrations for their golden wedding anniversary. At the same time, however, these fairies (apparently) are themselves part of the "Intermezzo," part of the theatrical show which is performed on the fairy stage as the "Walpurgis Night's Dream."

The "Dream" thus consists of a play within a play, or—to be more precise with reference to readers of Goethe's Faustit involves a play within a play within a play. At the outer level is the Witches' Sabbath of the "Walpurgis Night"; at the center is the satirical expose of human folly and failure; and in between is the golden wedding festival of Oberon arid Titania

The "Intermezzo" also shares another aspect of Shakespeare's play. The spirits of A Midsummer Night's Dream enjoy a privileged status as natural powers, which may be playful—as demonstrated by Puck, or Robin Goodfellow (who also appears h Goethe's "Dream," essentially in the same role)—but which may also be dangerous to the human community—especially when there is dissension or conflict among them, as there is in the play between Oberon and Titania. Critics have also perceived an exalted tradition behind these fairy monarchs, and we may assume that Goethe was at least intuitively aware of this tradition. Oberon is a variant of the Lord of the May Day rites, a powerful demonic force especially in the context of Christian polemics against such pagan survivals this force was often identified with Satan himself. As such Oberon would also he the Lord of the "Walpurgis Night." Titania, on the other hand, is a kind of nature goddess, the embodiment of that power of growth and fertility associated with the green world of woods and fields and with the summer as a season of warmth and recreation. In Shakespeare's play strife between these two powers threatens to divide and even destroy the natural world. Their reunion is crucial to the successful conclusion of the comic plot.

Goethe presents the "Walpurgis Night's Dream" as an ironic commemoration of the resolution of that strife at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but he purposefully confuses the resolution with the human marriages celebrated in Shakespeare's comedy. The golden wedding anniversary of Oberon and Titania marks the resolution so they themselves imply, of fifty years of domestic squabbling in the realm of natural spirits which they rule. The present festival achieves a universal harmony and peace, a sense of fulfillment and bliss which is clearly at odds with both the amateur quality of the theatrical show and the sense of excess and debauch in the witches' Sabbath on the Brocken. Indicative of this resolution in the realm of natural spirits is the appearance of Ariel alongside Puck, a spirit of the air—derived by Goethe frown Shakespeare's Tempest and subsequently employed in the opening scene of Faust Part II—who seems to embody that ministry of harmonious interaction which the fairy festival is meant to signify. In this regard the "Intermezzo" has nothing in common with either the human world of Faust or the demonic domain of Mephistopheles; yet it reflects ironically on both, if only through contrast.

Completely by surprise Goethe thus affirms an ultimate positive and creative order to the natural world in the midst of apparent categorical denials of such order. both in the setting of the Gretchen story and in the setting of the "Walpurgis Night."

Yet the poet must also have had in mind that the May Day rite from Shakespeare. where all strife between Oberon and Titania is reserved, is essentially the same seasonal festival as the Walpurgis Night itself (the night of April 30 to May 1 ) and that the essential meaning of this festival is regeneration, renewal of life and spirit, indeed salvation, the voice from above will affirm it for Gretchen at the end of Part I--the elfin chorus directed by Ariel will provide it (See Faust at the outset of Part II.)

A corresponding contrast between failure and creativity may also be perceived within the rest of the "Walpurgis Night's Dream" The festival of golden harmony among the spirits transforms at least in parts and offsets the satirical bungling of the amateur performers and the objects of their satire, through a reflection—albeit at a distance and with a sense of contrast—of the authentic art and poetry which is appropriate to the realm of the spirit. This is associated with nature and in particularly with Classical myth and culture. Ariel especially brings the powers of heavenly spirits into the "Dream" and later leads everyone to the palace of Oberon on the hill of roses.

Finally, all distinctions in the "Dream" between internal and external perspective, between actors and audience may dissolve into the confusion of our own sense of it from reading the sequence of speeches. This confusion is due in large measure to the uniformity and willful inadequacy of the form itself, as a sequence of stanzas in doggerel ballad style. Goethe has imposed on his piece the illusion of a linear progression of cumbersome and isolated utterances, as if it were a ceremonial procession not quite under control or a narrative structure consisting of unrelated units. In contrast to the form, however, the entire complex establishes multiple layers of ironic self-reflection which constantly shift and undercut all sense of dramatic illusion What Goethe here achieves is a play within a play within a play which is totally devoid of coherent plot and which purposefully juxtaposes various voices at different levels of perspective.

It may even be argued that the language of the "Dream" itself is intentionally perverse.

Not only are the separate statements inadequate as expressions of the meaning, but the nature of the "Dream" resists any correlation between statement and meaning, except in terms of the irony of theatrical performance. And we also are caught up in that irony, since we, like Faust, witness that performance and come to recognize that the object of satire is our world of human society. The entire "Dream" thus functions as a sequence of self-reflecting mirrors which may finally project only the image of the spectator back upon himself. Perhaps this is a characteristic of spirit shows and dreams anyway. We emerge with a sense of radical ambivalence, where the separate realms of spirit and human kind are intentionally confused, as also are distinctions between good and evil, nature and the demonic, poetry and dilettantism. Only through such ironic confusion can the "Dream" finally serve as an adequate substitute for the climax of the "Walpurgis Night" which Goethe had planned to write.

The "Dream" provides an ironic alternative to the scene of Satan on the Brocken--but it also provides equally—if only in miniature—an ironic analogue to the Faust drama itself with regard to both the general condition of Faust's relation to Mephistopheles and the particular situation at this point in the drama concerning Faust's love for Gretchen, which now approaches catastrophe and tragic collapse.



Intermezzo: The "Intermezzo" is so-called because it was originally conceived to follow another Blocksberg scene; in its current form, it is more analogous to a Greek satyr play following a double tragic trilogy as the seventh item. It consists entirely of a sense of satirical epigrams, which maintain a tenuous connection with the Walpurgis Night theme by mentioning devils or witches, or by the recurrent suggestion that some kind of unruly dance is in progress, accompanied by an "orchestra" of animal noises. The title of the intermezzo is whimsically derived frown that of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Goethe passingly includes figures from this play (Oberon, Titania, Puck) and from The Tempest (Ariel).

OBERON AND TITANIA: King and queen of the fairies.

2: Johann Martin Miedin (d. 1782), a master carpenter and scene builder in the Weimar theater.

13: Puck: The elf from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, who here leads the dancing chorus of spirits. Unlike Ariel, who is a helpful sprite, Puck is a mischievous spirit,

18: A spirit of the air from Shakepeare's Tempest.

33--Solo: A soap bubble speaks with the sound of a bagpipe.

37--Spirit in the Process of Formation: A grotesque mixture of insects, like a creature from a painting by Botsh or Breughel.

45--Inquisitive traveler: An allusion to Nicolai. In 1783-96 he had published a Description of a Journey through Germany and Switzerland in twelve large volumes

49--Orthodox: Count Friedrich Leopold zu Stolberg (1750-1819) poet of the Sturm und Drung and translator of Homer who came to oppose the poets of Weimar from the standpoint of pious Christianity.

53--Nordic Artist: Goethe himself. He associates himself with the preoccupation of northern European artists with subjects from the Classical realm. Goethe was planning an Italian journey when he wrote this scene in 1797, though ultimately he did not go.

73: The same figure speaks the following two stanzas a flatterer who totally changes the direction of his opinion according to the audience he addresses.

81: XENIEN: Literally, polemical verses written by Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller (1739-1805). The characters here are versions of Goethe himself. In the satiric sequence that follows,

85-Hennings is August Adolf von Hennings (1746-1826), publisher of a journal called Genius of the Age that had attacked Schiller.

89: Musaget was the title of a collection of Hennings's poetry.

93: The reference to "Ci-devant [i.e., former] Genius of the Age" probably alludes to its change of title in 1800 to Genius of the 19th Century.

96-Parnassus: A mountain sacred to Apollo and the muses; hence figuratively the locale of poetic excellence.

97-100 Nicolai's hatred for Catholics was well known.

101--Crane: From a comment to Eckermann on February 17, 1829, it is known that Goethe here alludes to Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801), the Swiss religious writer and preacher. As a young man Goethe had been friendly with him for a time, but later found his narrowly doctrinaire Pietism distasteful. Lavater is further alluded to in the following epigram and possibly also in the preceding one.

105--Child of the World: A third allusion to Goethe himself, in accord with his earlier poem Dinner in Coblentz (1774), where he speaks of himself as sitting between Lavater and Basedow: prophet to the right, prophet to the left, the world's child in the middle.

120: In Greek Mythology, Orpheus' music was said to have the power to quiet wild animals.

121--Dogmatist: Pre-Kantian dogmatists, especially in Christian doctrine.

125--Idealist: Post-Kantian Idealism, especially the philosophy of Fichte and Schelling

129--Realist: A general allusion to empericists who would base their judgment of reality on observation.

133--Supernaturalist: An allusion to belief in a transcendent realm of which the enthusiast Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) served as a conspicuous example.

137--Skeptic: Presumably an allusion to such a philosopher as the Scotsman David Hume (1711-76); the "flames" seem to be the Spectral flickerings that are supposed to lead the initiate to buried treasure.

145--Adepts: Opportunists who merely changed their political leanings after the French Revolution "without a care" (i.e. sans souci in French).

161--Massive Mob: The "masses" released by the Revolution.