Bertolt Brecht

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Plays by Bertolt Brecht

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.

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.