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Portrait of Doctor Faustus


A Faustian pact, bargain, or deal is an agreement to exchange permanently something of high long term value for a gain which is not so durable or so valuable. This can mean irrevocably selling out one’s principles, values or security for some concrete gain that won’t last or will become problematic and damaging. Such an agreement is often described as a deal with the devil.

In the Christian religion, each human is thought to possess an intangible immortal essence called a soul, which after death may experience eternal bliss in the hands of the good God, or eternal suffering and torture in the hands of the bad Devil, depending on that persons’s conduct during their lifetime. There are many literary accounts of people selling their souls to the Devil to get what they want in their lifetime, only to face the certainty of eternal punishment on dying, and the tale of German alchemist Faust is perhaps the best known and most dramatised.

The original Faust, or Faustus, or Doctor Faustus, was first mentioned as a German alchemist born about 1480 named Johann Georg Faust, whose exploits, real or otherwise, were popularised in texts circulated in the late 16th century.These inspired English author Christopher Marlowe to put on a play on the theme in 1592, launching a huge range of literary, artistic, and cinematic treatments right up to the present day. The most famous treatment of the theme is Goethe’s Faust, published in German in the early 19th century. Goethe’s stature in the German language is often compared to that of Shakespeare in English.