Faust, a middle-aged scholar, despairs of finding any meaning in life and feels alienated from the world. His sense of despondency has reached such a pitch that he contemplates suicide. Sounds of young people out in the street stir feelings of regret for the missed opportunities of his youth, and he invokes Satan. Méphistophélès duly appears. He offers Faust the lost pleasures he desires in return for his immortal soul. Faust baulks at such a bargain, but when Méphistophélès presents him with a vision of a beautiful young woman, Marguerite, Faust accepts the deal. He is transformed into a handsome young man, and he and Méphistophélès go in search of Marguerite.
At a rally in the town, Marguerite’s brother Valentin is about to leave on campaign. He directs his friends and associates, including Wagner and Siébel, to take care of his sister. Wagner starts a celebratory song, but Méphistophélès appears and sings the praises of greed and wealth. He then makes light of Marguerite’s name, rousing Valentin to anger; but Méphistophélès easily rebuffs Valentin’s gesture of defending her honour. Recognizing the infernal source of Méphistophélès’ power, Valentin and his friends defend themselves with the sign of the cross, rendering Méphistophélès temporarily impotent. Marguerite arrives amongst a group of revellers. Faust offers to be her escort, but she modestly turns down his advances.
Siébel is in love with Marguerite, and leaves a bouquet of flowers for her in her garden. Faust arrives with Méphistophélès, who goes off to procure a gift to trump Siébel’s offering. Alone, Faust is moved by the modest simplicity of Marguerite’s house. Méphistophélès returns with a box full of jewels. When Marguerite discovers both flowers and jewels, she is dazzled by Faust’s gift, which her confidante Marthe tells her can only be from a prospective lover. Faust and Méphistophélès reveal themselves and, while Méphistophélès and Marthe flirt with each other, Faust uses the experience of his years to woo Marguerite. Disturbed by her own feelings towards him, she asks him to leave. Faust bows to her request, but Méphistophélès cajoles him into continuing the pursuit. Faust lingers for long enough to overhear Marguerite confess to herself her burgeoning love for him. Urged on by Méphistophélès, Faust completes his seduction of Marguerite.
Marguerite is pregnant with Faust’s child and finds herself
ostracised. Siébel, ever faithful, attempts to comfort her in her
desolation. Valentin and his comrades return from the campaign
full of bravado, and Valentin goes to visit his sister. Méphistophélès
arrives with Faust, who is full of remorse for his abandonment of
Marguerite. Valentin demands to know who is responsible for his
sister’s predicament, and fights a duel with Faust. Méphistophélès
intervenes in the fight and Valentin is mortally wounded. As he
dies in Marguerite’s arms, he declares that she is unforgiven and
damned for all time, despite the townspeople’s pleas for him to
show compassion. In church, Marguerite tries to pray, despite
Méphistophélès’ efforts to prevent her. At last she succeeds, but his
curses cause her to collapse.
A delirious Faust experiences visions, culminating in one
of Marguerite who stands accused of infanticide. Aided by
Méphistophélès, Faust manages to reach her and urges her to flee
with him. But she is lost in recollection of the early blossoming of
their love for one another, and when Méphistophélès emerges from
the darkness and urges the couple to follow him, Marguerite prays
for divine protection. She goes to her death and to redemption; Faust
is consumed by despair.