The Gretchen Tragedy is an open drama that Johann Wolfgang Goethe wove into the Urfaust of 1772 and incorporated it into his major work Faust I in a revised form. It describes the breakup of the love relationship between Faust and Margarete, is placed next to the tragedy of the scholar and flows together with it at the end of Faust II, exaggerated and purified.
In earlier variants of Faust, which Goethe took up, a Helena appears, which as a pagan image arouses Faust's desires (see Faust). In the Gretchen tragedy, Goethe does not choose a demonic and in truth lifeless female counterpart for Faust, but an innocent woman who is drawn into his perdition.
The "Street" scene acts as an exposition and describes the first encounter between the two characters. Gretchen - characteristically just leaving the church - is reserved about the immediate address by Faust (she thinks he is a nobleman, since he appears as a squire), who in turn - driven by the previous rejuvenation in the scene "Witches' Kitchen" - immediately enthusiastic about Gretchen and recognizes in her the beautiful image of a woman that appeared to him there in the magic mirror.
Faust then visits Gretchen's room in the evening, accompanied by Mephisto, and is fascinated: How breathing is the feeling of stillness, of order, of contentment! In this poverty what abundance! What bliss in this dungeon! He ends up leaving a box of jewelry that he received from Mephisto as a requested gift. Before that, in a short monologue by Gretchen, it becomes clear that, after the initial reservation, she is becoming curious and interested in Faust. Just before she finds the gift, Gretchen's willingness and longing for a "romantic love affair" is revealed through the singing of the ballad Der König in Thule.
Faust's gift doesn't last long, because after the surprising discovery, Gretchen turns to her two fixed points "family" and "church" and leaves the jewelry to her mother, who passes the gift on to the pastor. Faust finds out about this through a conversation with Mephisto during a walk, in which he also asks Mephisto to leave jewelry in Gretchen's room one more time.
Meanwhile, Gretchen meets Marthe in the neighbor's house and tells her about the second box. Following Mephisto's example, Marthe recommends never giving the jewelry to the mother a second time, but rather putting the jewelry on secretly from time to time.
Mephisto then renders outstanding services to Faust in the same scene: he tells Marthe that her husband has died. She is superficially full of sorrow, but reveals herself through her horror at her husband's missing inheritance. She immediately demands confirmation of his death, probably in order to be able to turn to other men. Mephisto promises a second witness – Faust – and arranges a meeting for the four of them, which he informs Faust about shortly afterwards on the street. At first he refuses to lie, but given the chance to meet and get to know Gretchen again, he finally gives in.
At the agreed meeting in the neighbor's garden, the two couples (Faust with Gretchen and Mephisto with Marthe) walk around and talk. Marthe shamelessly approaches Mephisto, who, however, feigns incomprehension for her ambiguous remarks. Gretchen and Faust confess their feelings and profess their love for each other. Finally, the only love scene described between Faust and Gretchen takes place in a garden shed, but this is interrupted by Mephisto.
In the scene "Forest and Cave" - the turning point of the drama - Faust gains distance to the Gesc