Bertolt Brecht

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Plays by Bertolt Brecht

The Antigone of Sophocles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In his book The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, John Willett writes of The Antigone of Sophocles: 'Perhaps two-thirds of the play follows the Hölderlin version, but even here Brecht has largely reshaped the verse so that although much of the sense, many of the images, and even the words themselves are the same as Hölderlin's the cadence is different. Almost indistinguishable in style, his new passages are woven into this. Considerable changes result. A prologue set in Berlin of 1945 shows two sisters whose brother has deserted from the German army and is found hanged: should they risk being seen by the SS cutting his body down? In the play itself Creon becomes a brutal aggressor who has attacked Argos for the sake of its iron ore; Polyneikes deserts in protest against this war which has killed his brother; and Antigone is partly moved by a like disapproval of her uncle's policy.'

The Antigone of Sophocles was conceived as a new experiment in the epic theatre, and is linguistically an extraordinary composition. It was first produced in February 1948.

Baal

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The classic wandering-poet archetype of the Expressionist movement receives a dark makeover in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal. Brecht’s first full-length play portrays the seductions and manipulations of a dissolute poet with an inexplicable appeal to women. Baal descends from a civilised dining room to a hut in the woods, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

First performed in Leipzig in 1923, Baal represents an early, almost pre-political stage in Brecht’s career, and shows the playwright experimenting with elements that would become his trademarks, such as the use of song. Even as a young writer, however, Brecht provoked controversy: Baal was immediately shut down by order of the city council of Leipzig.

The Beggar or The Dead Dog

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

In The Beggar, a beggar dares to speak the truth to an emperor when the emperor descends to complain about the smell. It was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

The Catch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

When a fisherman’s wife is woken up by her drunk husband and his friends, anger and resentments explode. The Catch was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. J. Stern, T. Stern, Auden)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version is translated by James and Tania Stern with W. H. Auden.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. McGuinness)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version by Frank McGuinness was published to coincide with the National Theatre's production which toured the UK in 2007.

Dansen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dansen is a pig farmer and a respectable member of the community. His fellow members of the commerce class in the town often meet, to play cards, sign contracts and sort out disagreements; it is a wholly satisfying way of life.

But this cosy arrangement is upset with the arrival of a stranger, a man who is intent on breaking contracts and instigating the most hostile of takeovers with the point of a pistol. He forces Dansen into collaboration: against his former colleagues, his better judgement and his own interests.

Written in early 1939, Dansen is a one-act agitprop piece which highlights the dangers of appeasement in the face of aggressive behaviour from a self-appointed enemy.

The Days of the Commune

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Days of the Commune tells the story of the uprising and ultimate failure of the Paris Commune in 1871, a city council in France's capital which based its policies on socialism and proclaimed its right to rule over all of France. It held out for two months of counter-attack by the regular French army before its final defeat in May, 1871.

Brecht's account of the Commune is based on Norwegian playwright Nordahl Grieg's play The Defeat. In his adaptation, Brecht eschews a central protagonist, focusing instead on the Commune as characterised by the people in the street.

Ultimately, as in life, the Commune is defeated. But, as the editors write in their introduction: 'In his interpretation of the Paris Commune Brecht adhered closely to the 'classical' line established by Marx . . . that the outcome of the siege of Paris after the Franco-Prussian War could only have been different if the ruling class had been prepared to align themselves behind the National Guard, but that the French bourgeoisie were terrified at the thought of an armed labour force, and so initiated the betrayal of the French people by its government and the capitulation of Paris.'

The Days of the Commune was first performed in November, 1956, shortly after Brecht's death.

Driving out a Devil

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

A young boy attempts to outwit the parents of a pretty girl in this short farce. It was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

Drums in the Night

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It has been four years since Anna’s fiancé, Andreas, was declared missing in action in the trenches of World War I. Therefore, she is understandably shocked when he reappears. Andreas discovers that in his absence, Anna has agreed to marry a man who became rich dealing in the black market during the war. This ‘anti-romantic’ love story is set against the Spartacist uprising of 1919, an attempt by the German Communist party to destabilize the Weimar government.

Renowned Brecht scholar John Willett translated this edition of Drums in the Night, one of the early plays that earned Bertolt Brecht the prestigious Kleist Award for German writers. Drums in the Night was an immediate success when first performed in 1922, and went on to play all over Germany, but Brecht later admitted that he only wrote the play to make money.

The Duchess of Malfi (adapt. Brecht and Hays)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in collaboration with H. R. Hays and intended for performance by Elisabeth Bergner, (described by the editors of the Collected Works as ‘the most famous of all the exiled German actresses’), Brecht and Hays’s adaptation of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi was born of a tortuous set of drafts, redrafts and recriminations, which led to several versions of the script, including a Broadway staging of a version by W. H. Auden. H. R. Hays sets the scene:

‘Early in 1943 Brecht came to New York and broached the idea of The Duchess of Malfi to me as a vehicle for Elisabeth Bergner, who was currently playing on Broadway in a whodunit. Brecht and I were both fond of the Webster piece and both felt that it sprawled too much for a successful production. The idea was to eliminate the anticlimactic series of deaths at the end, tighten up the script and emphasize the implicit incest motivation of the duke . . . We began working in April 1943 . . . We had a meeting in my agent’s office, at which Mr Czinner [producer] announced that what the project needed was “a British poet”. I hit the roof and told them to take my name off the script. Needless to say, the poet was Auden, whose name they hoped would be success insurance. Brecht did not at first withdraw, but later, when he saw what was happening, he too removed his name . . .’

This version of the script, written directly in English by Hays, with Brecht advising on story and structure, reproduces a copy that was in the possession of Hays. It is complemented here by notes and letters by Brecht himself on how the play ought to be performed.

The Elephant Calf: An interlude for the foyer

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Originally written as part of Mann ist Mann (Man Equals Man), The Elephant Calf was later removed and redrawn as a play in its own right, to be performed as an interlude in the foyer during performances of the former play.

The Elephant Calf sees Galy Gay – the protagonist of Man Equals Man – undergo a trial for the murder of his mother (who, in a surreal turn of events, is in rude health on the stage, and even called as a witness). The play’s farcical denouement is critiqued by ‘audience members’ – in fact, part of the cast – who storm the stage and insist on having their money back, with the threat of menaces to come if the cast don’t accede.

Sometimes subtitled ‘You Can Prove Anything’, this version of The Elephant Calf was translated by John Willett, and was first published in 1979.

The Exception and the Rule

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Exception and the Rule is a parable about exploitation, telling the story of a rich merchant travelling across the desert and being increasingly cruel to his porter so they can travel as fast as possible. When their water supplies run low, the porter offers him a drink from his water bottle, but the merchant thinks he is being attacked by the porter, and shoots him. In the following courtroom scene, the brutal logic of the judge finds the merchant innocent because of his cruelty.

The didactic Lehrstücke (or ‘learning-plays’) lie at the heart of Brechtian theatre. Written during 1929 and 1930, years of far-reaching political and economic upheaval in Germany and the period of Brecht’s most sharply Communist works, these short plays show an abrupt rejection of most of the trappings of conventional theatre. The Lehrstücke are spare and highly formalized pieces intended for performance by amateurs, on the principle that the moral and political lessons contained in them can be best taught by participation in the actual production. There is nothing in the drama of this century to match the precision of their language and the economy of their theatrical technique.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht's series of 24 interconnected playlets describe what life was like in German households in the 1930s. They dramatize with clinical precision the suspicion and anxiety experienced by ordinary people, particularly Jewish citizens, as the power of Hitler grew. A growing distrust of their friends and colleagues and even of their own children affects everyone from factory worker to physicist, housewife to judge. ‘We know the results, what we are looking for is the beginnings’, Max Frisch said of the play in 1947, emphasising its significance in exposing the roots of Nazi terror. Brecht’s picture of the breakdown of normal relationships under the Nazis is not only of historical interest, but emotionally transfixing.

Written in exile in Denmark, the play was inspired in part by Brecht’s recent trip to Moscow where he had been researching tasks for the anti-Nazi effort. Eight scenes of the play were first performed in Paris in 1938 entitled 99%, while all the scenes have since been produced in a variety of different combinations.

This version is translated by John Willett.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s famous parable pivots around a moral paradox – that in an unjust society good can only survive by means of evil.

The play opens on three gods, who have come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted and penniless prostitute, and make her a gift that enables her to set up her own business. But her generosity brings ruin and trouble to her small tobacco shop, and she is forced to disguise herself as an invented male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to reclaim her shop from the scroungers and creditors. Shui Ta turns out to be the stern and ruthless counterpoint to Shen Teh, helping her to capitalist success and financially-motivated marriage, but not to happiness.

Through this sharply split personality Brecht points to the impossibility of living anything like a ‘good’ life in a corrupted and persistently exploitative world.

The Good Person of Szechwan was first performed in Zurich in 1943. This version is translated by John Willett.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s famous parable pivots around a moral paradox – that in an unjust society good can only survive by means of evil.

The play opens on three gods, who have come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted and penniless prostitute, and make her a gift that enables her to set up her own business. But her generosity brings ruin and trouble to her small tobacco shop, and she is forced to disguise herself as an invented male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to reclaim her shop from the scroungers and creditors. Shui Ta turns out to be the stern and ruthless counterpoint to Shen Teh, helping her to capitalist success and financially-motivated marriage, but not to happiness.

Through this sharply split personality Brecht points to the impossibility of living anything like a ‘good’ life in a corrupted and persistently exploitative world.

The Good Person of Szechwan was first performed in Zurich in 1943. This version is translated by John Willett.

He Who Says No

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

He Who Says No forms a pair with He Who Says Yes, relating two different versions of a fable about consenting to a cause. The Boy demands to be taken by his teacher on a dangerous journey into the mountains, so that he can bring back medicine for his ill mother. The teacher acquiesces reluctantly, but when the boy can’t go on, either he or the journey will have to be sacrificed.

The didactic Lehrstücke (or ‘learning-plays’) lie at the heart of Brechtian theatre. Written during 1929 and 1930, years of far-reaching political and economic upheaval in Germany and the period of Brecht’s most sharply Communist works, these short plays show an abrupt rejection of most of the trappings of conventional theatre. The Lehrstücke are spare and highly formalized pieces intended for performance by amateurs, on the principle that the moral and political lessons contained in them can be best taught by participation in the actual production. There is nothing in the drama of this century to match the precision of their language and the economy of their theatrical technique.

He Who Says Yes and He Who Says No were inspired by the Japanese Noh play Taniko.

He Who Says Yes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

He Who Says Yes forms a pair with He Who Says No, relating two different versions of a fable about consenting to a cause. The Boy demands to be taken by his teacher on a dangerous journey into the mountains, so that he can bring back medicine for his ill mother. The teacher acquiesces reluctantly, but when the boy can’t go on, either he or the journey will have to be sacrificed.

The didactic Lehrstücke (or ‘learning-plays’) lie at the heart of Brechtian theatre. Written during 1929 and 1930, years of far-reaching political and economic upheaval in Germany and the period of Brecht’s most sharply Communist works, these short plays show an abrupt rejection of most of the trappings of conventional theatre. The Lehrstücke are spare and highly formalized pieces intended for performance by amateurs, on the principle that the moral and political lessons contained in them can be best taught by participation in the actual production. There is nothing in the drama of this century to match the precision of their language and the economy of their theatrical technique.

He Who Says Yes and He Who Says No were inspired by the Japanese Noh play Taniko. He Who Says Yes was first performed in 1930 at Zentralinstitut für Erziehung und Unterricht, Berlin.

How Much Is Your Iron?

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Svendson is an ironmonger who suddenly picks up a new customer; apparently wealthy, and with a healthy desire for Svendson's wares, the customer keeps coming back with orders for iron bars.

Still, Svendson's conscience is pricked by this avid stockpiling of weapons (though not enough to stop selling; particularly when he sees some of his fellow merchants also selling to the customer, while his own orders continue to double).

Eventually though, Svendson's luck runs out, when the customer eventually stops paying his way.

Written in early 1939, How Much is Your Iron is a one-act agitprop piece that highlights the dangers of appeasement, and questions the morality of trade with a belligerent customer.

In the Jungle of Cities

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When lumber dealer Shlink meets book clerk George Garga, they immediately conceive an irrational hatred for each other and declare war between themselves. Their fighting engulfs and eventually destroys their families and the people around them. Depicting fraud, crime, and prostitution in an imagined version of Chicago, Brecht structured In the Jungle of Cities as a boxing match between two men who do not know why they are fighting.

Ever a revisionist, Brecht rewrote In the Jungle of Cities several times in the 1920s, finally settling on this version in 1927. When an earlier version premiered in Berlin, it was interrupted by Nazis in the audience throwing stink bombs and making noise. Brecht’s interest in the collision between the interests of capitalism and the good of the people is already evident in this early work.

The Life of Edward II of England

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Based on Christopher Marlowe’s classic play, The Life of Edward II of England dramatizes the life of the king who was deposed and eventually murdered by his wife and her lover. King Edward’s treatment of his favourite courtier, Gaveston, causes discontent among the English nobles, and provokes the Queen’s jealousy. She and her lover, Mortimer, raise an army, intending to put her son on the throne.

Although Brecht used Marlowe’s play as a source, he envisioned Edward II as a challenge to German Shakespearean traditions, which he considered stodgy and middle-class. One of Brecht’s early plays, Edward II contains the beginnings of the playwright’s ‘epic theatre’ style. It premiered at the Kammerspiele in Munich in 1924.

Life of Galileo (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals.

John Willett's translation is included here, along with the much shorter version translated in Brecht's lifetime by Charles Laughton as an appendix (see 'From the Book'). Also included are Brecht's own copious notes on the play.

Life of Galileo (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals. This version is translated by the great Brechtian scholar John Willett.

A Life of Galileo (trans. Ravenhill)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals. This version is translated by Mark Ravenhill.

Lux in Tenebris

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

Lux in Tenebris is a short farce about a moralist who campaigns for the closing of brothels. It demonstrates the influence of the great clown Karl Valentin, who would later become Brecht’s friend and collaborator.

Man equals Man

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

One of Brecht’s earliest works, Man Equals Man underwent many drafts before arriving at the version published here. Originally set in Bavaria, Brecht transposed the action to British India, drawing heavily from Kipling for influence and tone.

In The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, Brecht’s long-time English editor John Willett describes the plot:

‘Four private soldiers loot an Indian temple, but one is left behind. Terrified of their fierce Sergeant, they get Galy Gay, an Irish docker, to pose as the fourth man. By threats and blackmail he is forced to take this new identity. At the same time the missing soldier is presented as a miracle-working statue in the temple and the Sergeant, finishing up in civilian clothes is seen as a harmless drunk. Galy Gay witnesses his own supposed execution and funeral, and delivers the funeral speech. In the last two scenes he takes part in a war against Tibet and single-handedly reduces a fortress: he has become the perfect solider. The missing man tries to rejoin his comrades but is turned away with Galy Gay’s old identity papers.’

This translation of Man Equals Man by Gerhard Nellhaus was first published in 1979.

The Measures Taken

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Measures Taken is a didactic parable showing how dedication to an idealist cause sometimes does not leave room for a response to individual suffering. Four ‘Agitators’ describe how they were forced to kill a ‘Young Comrade’ because of his susceptibility to pity and compromise.

The didactic Lehrstücke (or ‘learning-plays’) lie at the heart of Brechtian theatre. Written during 1929 and 1930, years of far-reaching political and economic upheaval in Germany and the period of Brecht’s most sharply Communist works, these short plays show an abrupt rejection of most of the trappings of conventional theatre. The Lehrstücke are spare and highly formalized pieces intended for performance by amateurs, on the principle that the moral and political lessons contained in them can be best taught by participation in the actual production. There is nothing in the drama of this century to match the precision of their language and the economy of their theatrical technique.

The Measures Taken was first produced in 1930, in Grosses Schauspielhaus, Berlin.

The Messingkauf Dialogues

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written between 1939 and 1942 The Messingkauf Dialogues are among the most concise, witty and light-hearted of all Brecht’s theoretical discussions of theatre. In Brecht’s words they constitute a ‘four-sided conversation about a new way of making theatre’ and provide the blueprint for Brecht’s radical aesthetic of the 1930s and 1940s.

The Actor who seeks admiration; the Actress interested in politics; the Dramaturg (or literary advisor) hoping for a new lease of life for theatre; these three argue with the Philosopher who wants to exploit their talent for imitation for his own purposes. The result is a lively and sharp debate about the place of art in society.

This text is translated by John Willett.

Mother Courage and Her Children (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht's classic play is here presented with ample scholarly material to aid in the study of this great work.

A chronicle play of the Thirty Years War of the seventeenth century, the remarkable Mother Courage follows the armies back and forth across Europe, selling provisions and liquor to both sides from her canteen wagon. As the action of the play progresses, between the years 1624 and 1646, she remains indomitable in her profiteering, refusing to part with her wagon and her livelihood even as she loses her each of her three children to the conflict. The play demonstrates poignantly that those trying to profit from a war cannot escape its costs.

The play is one of the most celebrated examples of Epic Theatre and of Brecht's use of alienation effect to focus attention on the issues of the play, over and above the individual characters. First performed in Switzerland in 1941, it is regarded as one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century and one of the great anti-war plays of all time.

This version is translated by John Willett.

Mother Courage and Her Children (trans. Hare)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A chronicle play of the Thirty Years War of the seventeenth century, the remarkable Mother Courage follows the armies back and forth across Europe, selling provisions and liquor to both sides from her canteen wagon. As the action of the play progresses, between the years 1624 and 1646, she remains indomitable in her profiteering, refusing to part with her wagon and her livelihood even as she loses her each of her three children to the conflict. The play demonstrates poignantly that those trying to profit from a war cannot escape its costs.

The play is one of the most celebrated examples of Epic Theatre and of Brecht's use of alienation effect to focus attention on the issues of the play, over and above the individual characters. First performed in Switzerland in 1941, it is regarded as one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century and one of the great anti-war plays of all time.

This version is translated by John Willett.

Mr Puntila and His Man Matti

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in 1940 during Brecht’s brief exile in Finland, Puntila is one of his greatest creations – to be ranked as a character alongside Galileo and Mother Courage. A hard-drinking Finnish landowner, Puntila suffers from a divided personality – when drunk he is human and humane; when sober, surly and self-centred.

Oscillating unsteadily between these two poles, Puntila plays havoc with his workmen, his women, his daughter’s marital arrangements and the loyalty of his sardonic chauffeur, Matti.

Mr Puntila and his Man Matti contains some of the best comedy Brecht wrote for the theatre. It was first staged in Zurich in 1948 and a year later was the first production of the newly formed Berliner Ensemble.

This translation by John Willett is accompanied by Brecht’s own notes and relevant texts, as well as an extensive introduction and commentary by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, editors of Brecht’s collected plays in English.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Modern Classics)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a savage satire in blank verse on the rise of Hitler, wittily transposed into a small-time gangster’s takeover of Chicago’s greengrocery trade. The seam of black comedy which runs through this political parable does not lessen the sharpness of its accusation; the unpleasantness of the pseudo-dictator Ui, one of Brecht’s most intense creations, is hardly a revelation, but Brecht points to the resistibility of his rise, and on the society that permitted it.

The names he gives to Ui’s henchmen mirror those of their Nazi counterparts, and the ominous pattern of events by which Ui takes control of the Cauliflower Trust is mapped by explanatory notices onto the real historical events in Germany, ensuring the play never strays far from its terrible inspiration. The play was not staged in Brecht’s lifetime, and although he intended it for an American audience, the first production was at Stuttgart in 1958.

Using a wide range of parody and pastiche – from Al Capone to Shakespeare’s Richard III and Goethe’s Faust – Brecht creates a hilariously comic and darkly condemnatory allegory which warns of the persistence of fascism. This version is translated by Ralph Manheim.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Student Editions)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a savage satire in blank verse on the rise of Hitler, wittily transposed into a small-time gangster’s takeover of Chicago’s greengrocery trade. The seam of black comedy which runs through this political parable does not lessen the sharpness of its accusation; the unpleasantness of the pseudo-dictator Ui, one of Brecht’s most intense creations, is hardly a revelation, but Brecht points to the resistibility of his rise, and on the society that permitted it.

The names he gives to Ui’s henchmen mirror those of their Nazi counterparts, and the ominous pattern of events by which Ui takes control of the Cauliflower Trust is mapped by explanatory notices onto the real historical events in Germany, ensuring the play never strays far from its terrible inspiration. The play was not staged in Brecht’s lifetime, and although he intended it for an American audience, the first production was at Stuttgart in 1958.

Using a wide range of parody and pastiche – from Al Capone to Shakespeare’s Richard III and Goethe’s Faust – Brecht creates a hilariously comic and darkly condemnatory allegory which warns of the persistence of fascism. This version is translated by Ralph Manheim.

A Respectable Wedding

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

A Respectable Wedding was the only one of Brecht’s early one acts to be staged during his life. It premiered in Frankfurt in 1926.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is an opera chronicling the development and demise of the ‘paradise city’ of Mahagonny in a series of tableaux capturing the baser aspects of human nature.

Three criminals create the city in order to trap money: it is a place of pleasure, where no-one works, everyone drinks, gambles, brawls and visits prostitutes, and all that matters is whether you can pay your way. A hurricane passing dangerously close to the city encourages complete lawlessness and debauchery, and soon the raving, delirious city destroys itself.

A pivotal work in the genesis of Brecht’s theory and practise of epic theatre, it is a classic of the twentieth-century avant-garde and represents his first major collaboration with the composer Kurt Weill. It premiered in Leipzig in 1930 where it provoked a major scandal. This version is translated by Steve Giles.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is an opera chronicling the development and demise of the ‘paradise city’ of Mahagonny in a series of tableaux capturing the baser aspects of human nature.

Three criminals create the city in order to trap money: it is a place of pleasure, where no one works, everyone drinks, gambles, brawls and visits prostitutes, and all that matters is whether you can pay your way. A hurricane passing dangerously close to the city encourages complete lawlessness and debauchery, and soon the raving, delirious city destroys itself.

A pivotal work in the genesis of Brecht’s theory and practise of epic theatre, it is a classic of the twentieth-century avant-garde and represents his first major collaboration with the composer Kurt Weill. It premiered in Leipzig in 1930 where it provoked a major scandal. This version is translated by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Round Heads and Pointed Heads

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Round Heads and Pointed Heads began as an adaptation of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Commissioned in 1931 by stage and screen director Ludwig Berger, Brecht's ideas about the play soon took the work beyond straight adaptation, incorporating more and more elements of contemporary political satire.

Of the play, Brecht said 'Round Heads and Pointed Heads is a new creative adaptation of the old Italian tale which Shakespeare used in his play Measure for Measure. Many people think that Measure for Measure is the most philosophical of all Shakespeare's works, and it is certainly his most progressive. It demands from those in positions of authority that they shouldn't measure others by standards different from those by which they themselves would be judged. It demonstrates that they ought not to demand of their subjects a moral stance which they cannot adopt themselves. The play Round Heads and Pointed Heads seeks to propose for our own age a progressive stance similar to that which the great poet of humanism proposed for his.'

Round Heads and Pointed Heads tells the story of a racial conflict between two classes of citizens, those with pointed heads and those whose heads are round – both as abnormal as each other – in the fictional town of Luma. Written in the early 1930s, it finally received its premiere in Copenhagen on 4 November 1936, before being published in German in 1938.

Saint Joan of the Stockyards

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Like The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and Happy End, Saint Joan of the Stockyards is set in a mythical Chicago. Brecht's Saint Joan is a Salvation Army lieutenant who challeges the power of Pierpont Mauler, the Meat King.

The play is full of pastiche and parody and stems from the time of world economic crisis around 1929-32, a crucial period of creativity and political experiment for Brecht. However, it was never staged in his lifetime.

Saint Joan of the Stockyards was first produced in Hamburg in 1959, three years after Brecht's death. The first production by the Berliner Ensemble was in 1968.

Schweyk in the Second World War

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Jaroslav Hašek’s original The Good Soldier Švejk, Švejk, a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army drifts through the carnage of the First World War, a picaresque study in brio that parodies the noble claims of the warring nations, while depicting the horror of their conflict.

Brecht masterfully deploys this character in the Second World War as a counter-actor to the Nazi regime decimating Europe. Writing in their introduction to the collected works of Brecht, the Editors describe Schweik as ‘arguably the outstanding fictional figure of our century’, and quote Brecht’s own reading of his play, from his journal: ‘a counterpart to Mother Courage. compared with the schweik i wrote for piscator around 27 (a pure montage based on the novel) the present second world war version is a lot sharper, and corresponds to the shift from the hapsburgs’ well-ensconced tyranny to the nazis’ invasion.’

In the play, Schweik wanders by and through Gestapo HQ, labour camps, military prison and the Eastern Front, even coming face to face with Hitler himself, though both are, according to John Willett, ‘utterly lost. But Schweik has lost himself accidentally-on-purpose.’ (The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, p. 55)

Written while Brecht was exiled in the United States during the Second World War, this version was translated by William Rowlinson.

Señora Carrar's Rifles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Partly based on John Millington Synge's Riders to the Sea, Señora Carrar's Rifles transposes the Irish play of the early twentieth century to mid-century Andalucia. There, a fisherwoman named Teresa Carrar is trying desperately to maintain a normal life even as the civil war closes in around her; having killed her husband it proposes now to sweep up her two sons as well.

Señora Carrar hopes to insulate her boys from the fighting, believing she can keep her head down, sew nets and send the boats out, and the war need not touch them. But tragedy strikes her eldest on the waves, causing her to rethink her position of non-engagement.

Written as an Aristotelian drama, based on empathy, rather than Brecht's own theories of Epic theatre, Señora Carrar's Rifles is one of Brecht's more immediately accessible plays. It premiered in Paris, 1937, with Brecht's wife Helene Weigel playing the lead.

The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoisie: Ballet

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoisie two sisters, both named Annie, make their way from Louisiana to Los Angeles and back, as one sister’s success as a starlet and desired woman (in tandem with her sister’s attendance as manager and guide) are tracked through the seven deadly sins of Sloth, Pride, Wrath, Gluttony, Lust, Avarice and Envy.

Written in exile in May 1933, a few months after Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany, it was written when, according to John Willett, ‘Brecht joined Weill in Paris . . . and supplied a libretto which was essentially a cycle of songs for [Lotte] Lenya in the old pseudo-American vein.’

This translation by the poets Chester Kallman and W. H. Auden was first published in 1961.

The Threepenny Opera (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s adaptation of John Gay’s eighteenth century The Beggar’s Opera anatomises bourgeois capitalist society with a sharp cocktail of comic satire, musical profanity and social criticism.

First staged in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin, the musical is set in the seething criminality and desperate romanticism of mock-Victorian Soho. Peachum is a racketeer who controls, exploits and outfits London’s beggars, and has turned pitiable misery into an art form. He is horrified to discover his daughter Polly has married the notorious criminal Macheath, or Mac the Knife.

Under pressure from Peachum, the Chief of Police betrays his friendship with Macheath, who is arrested in the middle of a song in a brothel. Despite the efforts of his adoring wife and equally adoring fiancée, Macheath is condemned to hang, and the play is only diverted to a comic ending by Peachum’s call for a deus ex machina.

With Kurt Weill's unforgettable music – one of the earliest and most successful attempts to introduce jazz to the theatre – Brecht’s revolutionary satire became a popular hit throughout the western world.

The Threepenny Opera (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This student edition includes in-depth commentary, notes and questions for study to contextualise the work and allow students expand their understanding of Brecht's classic play.

Brecht’s adaptation of John Gay’s eighteenth century The Beggar’s Opera anatomises bourgeois capitalist society with a sharp cocktail of comic satire, musical profanity and social criticism.

First staged in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin, the musical is set in the seething criminality and desperate romanticism of mock-Victorian Soho. Peachum is a racketeer who controls, exploits and outfits London’s beggars, and has turned pitiable misery into an art form. He is horrified to discover his daughter Polly has married the notorious criminal Macheath, or Mac the Knife.

Under pressure from Peachum, the Chief of Police betrays his friendship with Macheath, who is arrested in the middle of a song in a brothel. Despite the efforts of his adoring wife and equally adoring fiancée, Macheath is condemned to hang, and the play is only diverted to a comic ending by Peachum’s call for a deus ex machina.

With Kurt Weill's unforgettable music – one of the earliest and most successful attempts to introduce jazz to the theatre – Brecht’s revolutionary satire became a popular hit throughout the western world.

The Trial of Lucullus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When the Roman general and politician Lucullus dies, we witness his trial by jury, who will decide whether he takes his place among the heroes in the Elysium fields, or whether he shuffles through the shadows in the darkness of Hades' halls.

Allowed to defend himself, Lucullus calls forth witnesses to his great militaristic victories, including conquering the far east for Rome, only for the jury and judge to point out the human loss in each case.

Ultimately, those characteristics in himself that he saw as irrelevant are his only graces, while the greatness he with which he had gilded his reputation is reduced only to the charge sheet which may condemn him.

The Trial of Lucullus was a radio play that was first broadcast on 12 May 1940 from a Berne studio.

After the end of the Second World War, after the atomic bomb had been dropped, the Nuremberg trials had ended , and the Korean War had begun, Brecht revisited this radio play with the aim of rewriting it as an opera. The revised text – which became The Condemnation of Lucullus, with music by Paul Dessau, had many variants to the radio play. These variants are discussed in detail in the introduction to the collection, as well as under Notes and Variants; both of these can be found in the 'From the Book' section below.

Turandot or The Whitewashers' Congress

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Based on the story of Turandot, a story that had been previously been adapted by Carlo Gozzi as a commedia dell'arte piece; by Friedrich Schiller as a stage play and by Giacomo Puccini as an opera, tells the story of the emperor's daughter Turandot, and the suitors who would marry her.

For his adaptation, Brecht has the action take place during a strike by clothes-makers – and the clothesless – who rise up in protest at the Emperor's dishonest manipulation of the cotton-market in which he has a monopoly: he is withholding stock until the prices. In order to control public relations, the Emperor hires three thinkers to invent reasons as to why the cotton market should be so dry; the winning thinker will win the hand of his daughter.

His last complete play, Turandot or The Whitewashers' Congress was never performed in Brecht's lifetime. It premiered at Zurich Schauspielhaus, in February 1969.

Picture of Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is acknowledged as one of the great dramatists whose plays, work with the Berliner Ensemble and critical writings have had a considerable influence on the theatre. His landmark plays include The Threepenny Opera, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, The Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children and The Caucasian Chalk Circle.