Sunday, September 26, 2010

Essay on Bertolt Brecht - playwrite or theorist?

Essay on Bertolt Brecht - playwrite or theorist?

The statements made about Bertolt Brecht as a playwright and Bertolt Brecht as a theorist are both true and false depending on which angle you choose to look at them. His different theories on alienating his audience, ways of staging his plays and using his own techniques of ‘Epic Theatre’ are often not consistent with the plays that he writes. However, he does use some aspects of them religiously. These aspects could be anything from a style of speech to his minimal use of set and props. ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ (1939) and ‘Life of Galileo’ (1938) are two of his famous scripts that are a perfect example of his plays rejecting his theories.

‘Epic Theatre’ was Brecht’s solution to realism. He believed that “realist dramatic forms are based on artificial and unnecessary restrictions.” He fought to break away from these systems by using a looser narrative and not be tied down to realism’s concept of limited space and time. This meant that he would make all of his plays set in the past rather then the present or future. “Brecht saw drama as having a didactic purpose.” He also likes to emphasise to his audiences that what they are watching on stage is not real. When acting using the ‘Epic Theatre’ methods the actor’s role is to present the character to the audience without becoming it. One method of acting that Brecht absolutely rejected was the Stenislavski method of emotion memory. Emotion from an audience was something Brecht never intended when producing and writing his play’s and yet he has been know to say “a theatre that can’t be laughed in is worth being laughed at”, and isn’t laughing an emotion.



Neither ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ nor ‘Life of Galileo’ have any of Brecht’s theories written into the scripts themselves. Therefore it can be assumed to a certain degree that he understood that other directors might not use his ideas when reproducing his plays. In Galileo we can see that an immense amount of emotion would be put in to the character. For example, in scene fourteen Galileo says to Andrea about science;

“Welcome to the gutter, brother in science and cousin in betrayal! Do you eat fish? I have fish. What stinks is not my fish but me. I sell out, you are the buyer.”

And on the emotion goes. Now with lines in a play such as these it would be hard for any director or actor to not portray these characters realistically but that’s exactly what Brecht was on about, stepping out of the norm. Comparing the two scripts we can see that the story of Galileo is more about him as a person then the propaganda contrived by Mother Courage.

When staging his plays, Brecht had a few main principles that he did actually stick with. They are that throughout a performance the house lights must be kept up so the audience doesn’t get caught up in the action on stage and again knows that the action is not real, and also that the props, set and scenery should be kept minimal and representative only.

One aspect associated with Bertolt Brecht is his theories of alienating his audiences to make them see things in new and different perspectives. He believed that realism is what we have become accustomed to and therefore enstranging his audiences. In ‘Mother Courage’ there are examples where emotion gets the better of her and therefore the audience is alienated because Brecht would have portrayed this scene in an unemotional way.

“The fault lies with those that start wars, it brings humanity’s lowest instincts to the surface.”

After studying ‘Mother Courage’ and the ‘Life of Galileo’, a strange sense of understanding in the way that Brecht proposed theories becomes a bit clearer. It is not so much that he wants his audience to see things his way, he is just trying to get people to brake out of the norm which, in this case, is very hard to do. He wants us to “see things in a new light.” The statements made that Brecht the playwright and Brecht the theorist are very different are true to a curtain extent. He wrote plays in a curtain style and he had theories of another style but maybe the two where not meant to go together at all but were written with separate aspects of Brecht that he needed to express for “the greater good.”

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