Schweyk in the Second World War

Bertolt Brecht translated by William Rowlinson

DOI: 10.5040/9781408161401.00000020
Scenes: 12. Roles: Male (14) , Female (3) , Neutral (0)

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.