I am very glad to have been exposed to this classic and am definitely pleased to have read this particular translation of it. Though the rhythm was occasionally jarring (see review below), Luke's EXTENSIVE introduction (50 pages or so!) and explanatory notes helped me get so much out of this piece. I received glimpses of insight on German history, the Germanic culture, witchcraft, superstition, how 18th century "geniuses" viewed Shakespeare, traditional church customs, etc.
For those who don't know, the basic premise of this story is based on a German folk legend. In that legend from the 16th century, a learned man named Faust sold his soul to the Devil in order to gain more knowledge and understanding. As that legend grew and became incorporated in the Germanic culture, so did its appeal to many artists. There have been apparently many writers and such who have used this legend as a foundation for their works.
However, of all the Faust tales, Goethe's appears to be the preeminent one today. Why? Well, for one thing, he worked on this intermittantly from 1770 to 1808 with 3 main versions cited. Goethe became quite famous for many of his other works, and this one apparently gives great insight to his personal philosophies at different stages. Thus, many find it worth studying.
Also, as Goethe was a central figure in Germany's emergence from the Enlightenment era into the Romantic era, his work - and especially this piece - was celebrated by those trying to usher in a new way. While the number of submovements is slightly tricky to keep track of, the main thrust is that the young intellectuals idolized Goethe and championed his cause. His version of Faust became the source for many plays and even an opera which I think is still performed today.
But what about the tale itself? Goethe certainly has a genius and it blooms in a novel way in this piece. Though he left the Christian faith early on in life, he realized that the concepts of good, evil, sin, temptation, condemnation to hell, hedonism, etc. all had a dramatic weight to them that was irresistable to his as an artist. Thus, as he developed this piece, he leaned heavily on the faith, superstition and legends of his day in order to weave this tale. As such, you get a wonderful, power tale that gives you a great - though somewhat twisted - picture of the Germanic culture of his time.
HOWEVER, Goethe does some really odd things as well. For instance, as he added to this piece over the years, he often didn't change much of the former material. Therefore, in the piece there are many internal contradictions and dangling references. In addition, he tended to throw in verses he developed for other purposes - such as one of the prologues and the "Walpurgis Night Dream" scenario - which don't technically have anything to do with the storyline. Even his whole focus on Gretchen - while generally the focus of most plays and operas - actually wasn't a part of the original Faust legened. And yet, it all worked together somehow and was a delight to read.
All in all, I think reading this short, weighty classic was well worth the time. It helped add a piece of understanding about Euporean thought and culture 200 years ago as well as speak some to my own life.