Dr Faustus – German man, international myth

Later this week, the O’Reilly Theatre, Keble College, Oxford will host a production of Christopher Marlowe’s play, Dr. Faustus. The endlessly fascinating legend of Faust has German origins – and a real man behind the myth, as OGN Coordinator, Madeleine Brook, explains.

The outlines of the popular legend of Faust are relatively simple. He is the man who, ambitious and hungry for knowledge, practises magic and sorcery, eventually making a pact with the devil: in return for knowledge and power, he signs a contract in his own blood, promising his soul to the devil after a period of twenty-four years has elapsed. In general, these years are filled with success for Faust, but his death is inevitable and gruesome, as he pays for his hubris and the devil claims his due. It is a story that has been retold and reimagined in numerous permutations across Europe ever since the sixteenth century: from Marlowe and Goethe to Rembrandt, Wagner, Bulgakov, and more, the Faust material has been an inspiration in all the art forms.

Historia_von_D_Johan_Fausten
Title page of the first edition of Historia Von D. Johann Fausten (1587)

However, the story in its earliest surviving written and printed form – and the version on which Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is largely based – claims to be more than just a work of fiction. The anonymous Historia von D. Johann Fausten, published in Frankfurt am Main in 1587 by Johann Spies and intended as a stern warning to Christians (and Lutheran Christians in particular) against falling away from God, claims that it contains more than just a passing reference to historical fact. And, indeed, although the shaping of the literary figure of Faust across the ages owes something to aspects of antique, early Christian, and medieval myth in the figures of Prometheus, Simon Magus, and St. Theophilus, among others, behind it all there is documentary evidence of a man calling himself Faustus in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Admittedly, there are only a very few sources that allow the historian to draw reliable conclusions about the historical Faustus, his biography, and his character. This, of course, contributes to his modern day fascination, and indeed the scholarly search for the ‘real’ Faustus goes back to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The discovery of new documents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has resulted in a re-examination of the previously known sources from the sixteenth century, though opinion is still divided on a number of aspects to do with the Faust story, the historical Faust and his development into a legend.

800px-Faustus-tragedy
Frontispiece to a late edition of Marlowe’s Dr Faustus (1620)

Recent research suggests that the historical Faustus was born Georg (or Jörg – although Johann and Johann Georg have also been suggested by earlier work) in a town called Helmstadt, not far from Heidelberg (again, earlier research has suggested Knittlingen, also in southern Germany, but there are some grounds for mistrusting the source on which this is based), in the mid-1460s, and so for some time he went by the name Georg Helmstetter. In 1483 he began studying at the University of Heidelberg (itself founded only a century earlier) and four years later had achieved his Master of Philosophy degree. It was in this period that he developed an interest in astrology, which lies at the foundation of his chequered legend. It is worth noting at this point that astrology was not a debunked area of knowledge at this time, but was taken seriously as a scientific discipline by many in society and was practised alongside other fields of scholarship, such as astronomy, philosophy, alchemy, and mathematics.

Rembrandt A Scholar in His Study 1650-1654
Rembrandt’s 1650 work is commonly entitled either ‘A Scholar In His Study’ or ‘Faust’.

Scholars were active in these areas and present at the courts of rulers across Europe. It is known that Helmstetter prepared horoscopes in this early stage of his career and the correlation of certain details in the documents surrounding these prognostications and the claimed qualifications of a certain ‘Magister Georgius Sabellicus, Faustus iunior’ against whom the abbot Johannes Trithemius railed in a polemical letter to the astrologer Johannes Virdung von Hassfurt in 1507 indicate that these two men are the same. This letter shows Faustus as an astrologer with patrons in high places, but Trimethius also emphasizes the man’s wide-ranging interest in the occult, heavily suggesting that he went beyond the bounds of licit natural magic.

This suggestion of the practice of darker magic and consorting with the devil is, as Frank Baron has pointed out, not an accusation that is repeated in other sources concerning Faustus’s life until much later, and these should be seen in the context of the Reformation – and most especially in the reception and development of the legacy of Martin Luther by Philipp Melanchthon and subsequently internal conflicts in the Lutheran Church in the late sixteenth century. The historical Faustus appears to have died sometime in the 1540s – in old age, rather defying notions of a twenty-four-year contract, though the exact nature of his demise is uncertain. Nevertheless, the accusations of sorcery and a diabolical death were taken up in Spies’s and Marlowe’s renderings of the legend and resound to this day.

Madeleine Brook, OGN Coordinator

Interested in reading more? Here are some tips:

Frank Baron, ‘Faustus of the Sixteenth Century: His Life, Legend, and Myth’, in J.M. van der Laan & A. Weeks (eds), The Faustian Century: German Literature and Culture in the Age of Luther and Faustus (New York, 2013). Baron has also published a version of this online.

Urs Leo Gantenbein, ‘Converging Magical Legends: Faustus, Paracelsus, and Trithemius’, in van der Laan/Weeks, The Faustian Century.

Leo Ruickbie, Faustus: The Life and Times of a Renaissance Magician (2009).

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Der Mai ist gekommen, die Bäume schlagen aus!

OGN Coordinator, Madeleine, has recently moved to Germany. Here, she reports on a typical German springtime custom…

Und aus den Flammen steigen
Viel lustige Geister hervor,
Sie wiegen sich fliegend im Reigen
Und schwingen sich singend im Chor.

Die Hexen schweben hernieder
Und dreh`n sich im feurigen Kreis:
Da fährt es auch uns durch die Glieder,
Wie ein Taumel, fieberheiß.

So schrieb Christoph von Mickwitz im 19. Jahrhundert in einem Frühlingsgedicht. Aber… Hexen und Hexentanz? Da denkt man doch an Oktober, amerikanische Halloween-Traditionen  und geschnitzte Kürbisköpfe – und nicht an Frühling, wo alles ja viel heller und bunter ist, wo die Schäflein auf der Wiese herumtollen und flauschige Entenküken in den Bächen plantschen.

Aber nicht in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, denn am 30. April ist Walpurgisnacht! In der Nacht vom 30. April zum 1. Mai – sagen die Legenden – halten die Hexen ein großes Fest, einen Hexensabbat, mit Tanzen, Feuerspringen, und anderen teuflischen Bräuchen, an unterschiedlichen hochgelegenen Orten ab. Der Blocksberg (eigentlich ‚Brocken‘ genannt) in der Harzregion in Sachsen ist ein besonders wichtiger Standort in dieser Hinsicht, aber es gibt auch andere sogenannte ‚Hexenberge‘ in Deutschland, z.B. den Kandel im Schwarzwald und den Staffelberg in Franken.

Johannes Praetorius Blockes-Berges Verrichtung Leipzig 1668
Johannes Praetorius, Blocks-Berg Verrichtung (Holzschnitt, 1668)

Die Walpurgisnacht hat viele volkstümliche Bräuche hervorgerufen – man wollte sich und sein Gut in dieser gefährlichen Nacht schützen! Besen und Maibüsche wurden ausgelegt, um Häuser und Höfe gegen das Böse zu beschützen; Maifeuer wurden angezündet und Maibäume aufgestellt und rumgetanzt, um die bösen Geister zu vertreiben, dadurch auch den Frühling willkommen zu heißen und die damit verbundene Fruchtbarkeit zu feiern.

Und da die Deutschen, Österreicher und Schweizer gesellige Menschen sind und gerne feiern, wurde die Walpurgisnacht zu dem perfekten Anlass für eine Party – und zwar den Tanz in den Mai! Sicher werden noch heute Feuer angezündet und rumgetanzt, Walpurgislieder gesungen und starke Maibowle getrunken. Aber lange musst du im Internet nicht stöbern, bis du eine lange Liste von Veranstaltungen in deiner Nähe findest. Von Volksfesten und vornehmen Maibällen über allerlei Konzerte bis hin zu Kneipen- und Club-Veranstaltungen – es ist für jeden Geschmack was da, wobei du dich austoben und die Nacht hindurch bis in die frühen Morgenstunden tanzen kannst. Und – ganz klar – die Sonne in Mai aufgehen sehen kannst.

Eliszis Jahrmarkttheater Tanz in den Mai 2016 2
Eliszi’s Jahrmarktstheater

Und ich? Ich tanze leidenschaftlich gern und dazu gibt es dort, wo ich wohne – in Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg – viele Möglichkeiten. Da könnte ich beispielsweise von einem hohen Ort, z.B. von dem Riesenrad im Cannstatter Wasen beim Frühlingsfest (das ist quasi das Pendant zum herbstlichen Volksfest, die schwäbische Antwort auf das Münchner Oktoberfest) oder vom  Fernsehturm hinaus auf die Stadt hinunter blicken. Leider gibt es an beiden Orten eher wenige Möglichkeiten, das Tanzbein schwingen zu lassen. Wohl aus Sicherheitsgründen… Aber auf dem Killesberg vielleicht? Er ist zwar nicht der höchste Berg des Stuttgarter Kessels, aber da ist oft viel los. Also habe ich im Internet kurz gesucht… Und tatsächlich – in Eliszi’s Jahrmarktstheater, mitten im Höhenpark Killesberg, haben sich die Tanzfreudigen gesammelt.

Hot Jazz Rewinders Eliszis 2016
Moderator René und die Hot Jazz Rewinders sorgen für Stimmung auf dem Parkett

Und geswingt. Zur Livemusik direkt aus den 1920er und 1930er Jahren mit den Hot Jazz Rewinders haben die Swingtänzer aus Stuttgart und auch ferneren Orts bis früh in die Morgenstunden geschwoft – fast wie Otfried Preußlers berühmte kleine Hexe. Die heißen Rhythmen sorgten nicht nur für eine tolle Stimmung und Energie – aber wem es im Zelt wirklich langsam zu warm wurde, konnte auch ein Bierchen trinken und etwas frische Luft schnappen. Rings um die Tanzfläche und auch draußen vor dem Zelt – wenn es nicht geregnet hat – haben Tänzer sich ausgeruht, munter miteinander geplaudert und zugeschaut, wie die anderen paarweise eine flotte Sohle auf das Parkett legten. Bis dann die Frage wieder kam: Magst du tanzen? – Morgen erst durften einem die Füße wehtun, denn jetzt hieß es: wieder rein ins Getümmel!

Martin & Madeleine Mai 2016
In Eliszi’s lassen die Leute das Tanzbein schwingen (und swingen).

Madeleine, OGN Coordinator

Fotos: Richard Schuster & Swingkultur Stuttgart

(Und mehr zum Hexentanz und Walpurgisnacht in deutschen Texten und Bildern erfährt ihr hier!)

Schüleraustausch – from the dreaming spires to the Bavarian Alps

Oxford High and Magdalen College School have a long-running exchange with Gymnasium Fürstenried in Munich.  Every year the girls from OHS join with the boys from MCS to welcome the German pupils, before heading out to Munich.  For this blog entry two OHS pupils tell us about their experiences of the exchange earlier this spring – from film studios to football stadiums, castles to car factories!

The away leg – Munich bound!

On Friday, we flew out to Munich from Heathrow. We were all really excited to come to Germany, and our exchange partners were all very happy to see us. It was great to see my exchange partner again, as we got on very well.

Aerial Marienplatz
The view of Marienplatz from the Peterskirche

We spent the weekend with our exchange families. I went around Munich on Saturday with some of my exchange partner’s friends and their exchanges. It was really interesting to see around Munich, as it is a beautiful city. We went up the St. Peter’s Church tower and got a really good view of the city. On Sunday, my exchange partner and her family took me into the Alps, which were really scenic.

On Monday we went to the school to have lessons for the morning. It was quite strange to have lessons in German, but I managed to understand some of what was going on. In the afternoon we were all allowed to go around Munich with our friends, before having a guided tour of the city. We saw many interesting things, including beer halls!

A Bavarian Schlosspark
Beautiful parks around the palaces

On Tuesday we all went to visit Burghausen Castle- our exchange partners came with us. It is the longest castle in Germany, and felt more like a village than a castle. We had a tour, and enjoyed having a look around. After that, we took a boat trip to the Palace of Herrenchiemsee, which was the former residence of king Ludwig II of Bavaria. This was very interesting, and it was very elaborately decorated.

Allianzarena
Inside the Allianzarena!

 

On Wednesday, after another morning of lessons in German, we got to go to the Allianzarena, home to the famous football team Bayern Munich. We had a tour of the stadium and even had a go at scoring some goals ourselves.

Thursday was one of our busiest days. In the morning we had a workshop with our German exchange partners, where we created posters about the various differences between Munich and Oxford. Then, we took a trip to Bavaria Film Studios, which were very interesting. We saw many film sets, including the submarine used for the film Das Boot, and some of us had a go at being on screen ourselves. After that we visited the Olympia centre, which had been constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics, and there were some great opportunities for group photos there.

Friday was our last day in Germany, and in the morning we visited BMW world. We had a tour, which was really interesting and gave us an insight into how cars were manufactured, and we got to look at the various cars and even sit inside them. Afterwards, we returned to the school for lunch before saying goodbye to our partners and boarding the coach to the airport. It was sad to leave Germany, as we all had a fantastic time!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and I felt that my understanding of the German language had improved greatly. I would definitely recommend the exchange to anyone studying German.

Louisa, Oxford High.

The home leg – Welcome to Oxford!

On the 11th of March our German exchanges arrived in Oxford. After a slightly delayed flight we met the German group in the canteen for tea and cake before taking our partners home for the weekend. Over the weekend we got to know our exchanges – all of whom were lovely and spoke very good English. We entertained them, taking our partners to the main Oxford attractions such as the Carfax Tower, Martyrs’ Memorial and Radcliffe Camera. Some of the group even took their German exchanges further afield to London and Blenheim Palace to give them an experience of British culture.

On Monday we had some lessons with our exchanges and we had the opportunity to introduce them to our school friends and teachers. In our German lesson we welcomed the German group by singing “Any dream will do” in English (this year’s school musical is ‘Joseph’) followed by a German song called “Fliegerlied” later in the week. On Monday evening we all went bowling which was really fun and rather competitive! For the rest of the week our exchange partners went on trips to visit different areas of England including Stratford, London and Bath. On Friday morning we had our last few lessons with our exchanges and then at lunchtime, after a group photo, we waved farewell to the German group as they headed to the airport.

All of us got on really well with our exchanges and we are looking forward to visiting them in Munich.
Issie, Oxford High.