Bertolt Brecht

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Plays by Bertolt Brecht

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.

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.