Bertolt Brecht

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Plays by Bertolt Brecht

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.