The eighteenth century, completed by the Great French Revolution, developed under the sign of doubt, destruction, denial and passionate belief in the victory of reason over superstition and prejudice, civilization over barbarism, humanism over tyranny and injustice. Therefore, historians call it the Age of Enlightenment. The ideology of the Enlighteners triumphed in the era when the old medieval way of life was collapsing and a new, bourgeois order was emerging, progressive for that time. The Enlightenment activists ardently defended the ideas of cultural development, self-government, freedom, defended the interests of the masses, branded the yoke of feudalism, stagnation and conservatism of the church.
The stormy era gave birth to its titans – Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau in France, Lomonosov in Russia, Schiller and Goethe in Germany. And Dante, Marat, Robespierre rose to their stands at the end of the century at the stands of the revolutionary Convention in Paris.
The artistic tastes of the era were diverse. The architecture was still dominated by an elaborate baroque, the Alexandrian verses of the tragedies of Racine and Corneille sounded from the theatrical stage. But ever more popular were works whose heroes were people of the “third estate.” In the middle of the century, the genre of sentimental novel arose in the letters – readers with emotion followed the correspondence of lovers, experiencing their sorrows and misadventures. And in Strasbourg there is a group of young poets and playwrights, included in the literature under the name “Storm and onslaught”. The heroes of their works were bold singles, challenging the world of violence and injustice.
Creativity Goethe was a kind of result of the century of the Enlightenment, the result of his search and struggles. And the tragedy “Faust”, which the poet created over thirty years, reflected the movement not only of scientific and philosophical ideas, but also of literary trends. Although the time of action in the “Faust” is... not defined, its scope is infinitely expanded, the whole complex of ideas is clearly correlated with the Goethe era. After all, the first part of it was written in 1797-1800 under the influence of the ideas and accomplishments of the Great French Revolution, and the last scenes were written in 1831, when Europe experienced the rise and fall of Napoleon, the Restoration.
At the heart of the tragedy, Goethe is a folk legend about Faust, which arose in the 16th century. Her hero is a rebel, seeking to penetrate into the secrets of nature, opposing the church idea of slavish obedience and humility. In a semi-fantastic form, the image of Faust embodied the forces of progress that could not be strangled in the people, as it was impossible to stop the course of history. Goethe was close to this seeker of truth, not satisfied with German reality.
The Enlighteners, and Goethe as well, did not reject the idea of God, they only questioned the doctrine of the church. And in Faust, God appears as the supreme intelligence standing above the world, above the good and evil. Faust in Goethe’s interpretation is above all a scientist who questions everything from the design of the world to the moral norms and rules of behavior. Mephistopheles for him is an instrument of knowledge. The means of scientific research in Goethe’s time were so imperfect that many scientists would agree to sell the soul to the devil in order to understand how the Sun and planets or the human eye are arranged, why there are plague epidemics and what was on Earth before the appearance of man.
The rebellion of Faust, his torment, remorse and insight, that only work for the benefit of humanity makes a person invulnerable to boredom and despondency – all this artistic embodiment of the ideas of the Enlightenment, one of whose geniuses was Goethe.