Ist Gretchen eine Kindsmörderin?

Hartmut M. Kaiser


Goethe’s vote to retain the death penalty for infanticide (1783) influenced his subsequent work on Faust (1788–1808), in particular his evolving concept of Gretchen. Proceeding from some of Goethe’s comments and his significant changes in the Prison-scene, I analyze the chronology of Part I and claim that its inconsistencies disappear when read as lasting from Easter to early May, insufficient time for Gretchen to give birth. The ambiguous Prison-scene does not contradict this finding and the scene Bergschluchten where Gretchen reappears as penitent contains no references to infanticide. Goethe realized around 1800 that his expanding concept of Faust required a second part; simultaneously he decided to turn Gretchen into an agent for Faust’s salvation. Lifting the crime of infanticide from her (but not her sinful relationship with Faust) implies that Goethe, the poet, accepted the decision of Goethe, the statesman, that infanticide is a serious crime, far more so than falling in love with a man who made a pact with the Devil. That the poet needed some twenty years to concur with the statesman indicates how difficult a decision it was. (HMK)

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