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a monstrous, cheating lure

"To all whom it concerns, let it be known:
Who hath this note, a thousand crowns doth own.
As certain pledge thereof shall stand
Vast buried treasure in the Emperor's land.
Provision has been made that ample treasure,
Raised straightway, shall redeem the notes at pleasure."


I sense a crime, a monstrous, cheating lure!
Who dared to forge the Emperor's signature?
Is still unpunished such a breach of right?


Remember, Sire, yourself it was last night
That signed the note. You stood as mighty Pan,
The Chancellor came and spoke in words that ran:
"A lofty festal joy do for thyself attain:
Thy people's weal- a few strokes of the pen!"
These did you make, then thousand-fold last night
Conjurors multiplied what you did write;
And that straightway the good might come to all,
We stamped at once the series, large and small;
Tens, twenties, thirties, hundreds, all are there.
You can not think how glad the people were.
Behold your city, once half-dead, decaying,
Now full of life and joy, and swarming, playing!
Although your name has blessed the world of yore,
So gladly was it never seen before.
The alphabet is really now redundant;
In this sign each is saved to bliss abundant.


My people take it for good gold, you say?
In camp, in court, sufficient as full pay?
Although amazed, still I must give assent.

From Goethe's 'Faust, Part II' (in the translation by George Madison Priest).

Who would have thought this play from 1832 had something to say about the current global financial crisis. Mephistopheles introduces paper money to prevent the Emperor from going bankrupt. Cunningly, the paper money is issued as pledge against "vast buried treasure", i.e. against possible future wealth instead of current reserve, making it in effect a form of speculation.

One of the themes in the complex second part of 'Faust' is man's unbridled ambition and exploitation of nature, as the current adaptation by Het Nationaal Toneel shows. Despite the fact that Part II lacks a clear dramatic arch (like the story of Gretchen provides in Part I), it still makes for engaging theatre, managing to be both spectacular and intimate.

See also the play's program (PDF, in Dutch) which includes an essay on 'Faust, money and nature'.


lord marquis

Mephistopheles: Old bag of bones, can you not recognize You lord and master, here before your eyes? You scare-crow, what shall hold my sentence back, That blots you out, you and your monkey-pack? See you the scarlet jerkin, and not… Read the full post »

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