Cruelty, theatre of


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.

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

This version of Brecht's great anti-war play by playwright David Hare was premiered by the National Theatre, London, in November 1995. It adopts a freer approach to the text than many editions, adapting the original rather than offering a close translation. In this chronicle of the Thirty Years War, Mother Courage follows the armies back and forth across Europe, selling provisions and liquor from her canteen wagon. One by one she loses her children to the war but will not part with her livelihood - the wagon. The Berlin production of 1949, with Helene Weigel as Mother Courage, marked the foundation of the Berliner Ensemble.

Term applied after 1932 by Antonin Artaud to the new theatre he wished to create, opposing literature, discursive structure and repetition with immediate physical presence. The dark physicality of Artaud’s images led many to associate cruelty with bloodshed and suffering, but Artaud insisted that cruelty meant rigour, an implacable determination to confront and experience the dark creative principle at the heart of being. His own Théâtre de la Cruauté folded in 1935 after its first production, his adaptation of Shelley’s The Cenci, but the term was later applied to plays by writers like Camus and Genet, and to experiments in the 1960s and after that were influenced by Artaud (e.g. the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1964 season at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art under Peter Brook which led to his productions of Weiss’ Marat/Sade and US.

from Marvin Carlson, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002)