Bertolt Brecht Essay

Throughout the ages different forms of drama have been performed with the objective of influencing the masses. Bertolt Brecht was, and still is, one of the more influential playwrights in the history of theatre. Brecht was an opinionated Marxist living in Germany in the time of Hitler. He was exiled from Germany as a result of his controversial plays, and moved to America. This is where he wrote his most famous plays: Mother Courage and Her Childern, The Good Woman of Setzuan and The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

He developed his own type of drama, Epic Theatre with the purpose of changing human society. His plays were didactic, with the persuasion on educating an audience. Despite the undeniable aims of his work, the techniques used were not quite so affective in reality and as a result the performances often did not have the impact Brecht desired. The techniques used in Brechtian pieces consist of alienation and historification in an attempt to achieve his goals. Alienation comes from the German word “verfremdungseffekt” or “to make strange. The idea is to separate an audience from being emotionally involved in the performance so as to ensure that they so they are able to gain a better understanding of the issues he was tackling in his play. “Nothing is more important than learning to think crudely. Crude thinking is the thinking of great men. ” – Bertolt Brecht (Benjamin, 2003. ) He believed that if he could distance an audience from the fictional characters, he could then teach them and hence influence them. In order to achieve alienation certain techniques were employed, such as broken scenes, song, humour and half constructed sets.

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In theory, this supported the quote “In Brecht’s own writings about theatre, his forcefulness and direction was towards changing human society, towards educating an audience and providing entertainment. ” – Wallace Heim. In practice, however, such a goal was unrealistic with the particular methods Epic Theatre employed. Humans are beings fueled by emotions. It is passion which brings people, and society, to understand and to make an effort to change society, rather than emotional detachment.

Brecht’s techniques were both entertaining, and often educating, but they were not practical in changing human society. Also, the techniques used in Epic Theatre made it difficult for the audience to understand the themes that were occurring. They were thinking hard, but the alienation made it challenging for them to find the correct issue to be thinking hard about. Historification is another method with which Brecht used in Epic Theatre in an attempt to educate, entertain and assist in the influence of human society.

In order to achieve this, the entire performance is moved to a time in the past, so as to direct the audience to look to the future. This technique was also not particularly successful, as such a method made the plays less relevant to the audience watching it. The majority of people do not like to think too hard about confronting issues, and unless they are made relevant to the individuals, it is not such an effective manner to persuade or influence beliefs and actions. One particular example of this was the Caucasian Chalk Circle.

The prologue begins in a more recent time, with farmers arguing over the ownership of land. The play then delves in to the actual story of Grusha and her struggles in saving a child and then keeping him as her own. This, however, was set in a time long before Brecht wrote the play. While there are many important messages that were to be taken from the play, it is a difficult thing to relate them to modern society. It must also be taken into account that in the time these plays were written, the world was in a state of warfare and the plays would have drawn more parallels.

But even so, it was in a time long gone, and hence cause for less care from human society. Because the majority of people in today’s society have not experienced war, they do not find that Brecht’s plays are relevant to them. And most certainly it is a difficult thing to relate the historical plays to them as times have changed dramatically and the content in a time long gone is of little relevance to contemporary society. Often humour and song is used in Brechtian pieces. One such film which uses a great deal of both is the film “Oh What a Lovely War. In one particular scene the soldiers are saying goodbye to their wives, mothers and children as they head off to war. In most cases such a scene would be portrayed as a devastating and heartbreaking one. In “Oh What a Lovely War,” however, the scene is filled with upbeat music and amusing choreography, in which one might label it ridiculous. If the viewer was thinking hard enough about it, the scene is extremely powerful, especially when the poppies are being handed out. The problem with this being that people – as a general rule – are lazy.

They do not watch films for anything other than entertainment, and will rarely look deeper than the surface value. Therefore, it can be seen that such subliminal messages are often overlooked and thus ineffective. Another example of humour being used is in the series “Black Adder. ” One such scene where humour is used in a serious situation is in the finale of the series. Right up until the end, where they die, jokes are being made and the viewer is split between feelings of mirth and grief. This is one case where Brechtian techniques could work to excellent effect.

It inspires emotion in the viewer, and it does cause the audience to become emotionally connected to the characters. As a result of this, Black Adder cannot be considered entirely Brechtian, but rather a film that employs a good many Brechtian techniques, yet still encourages the viewer to become emotionally attached to the characters. There are many films and television series that employ Brechtian techniques to successful ends. Some of these are Sin City, Dogville, The Producers, Chicago and many others.

There are, however, few fully Brechtian works in modern times. This is because, while some Brechtian methods are both successful in Brechtian goals and entertaining, an entirely Brechtian work is not necessarily all that influential on the everyday person. As one of the most influential dramatists of the modern era, Bertolt Brecht has had a major impact on theatre around the world. Rarely is a film made, a performance written or a television show watched that does not contain some elements of Brecht’s Epic Theatre.

Although directed at the advancement of human society and to change it, Epic Theatre was, and still is not, entirely successful in such a goal. However, elements of Epic Theatre are successful in achieving this aim and entertaining the audience. There is no doubt of Brechtian techniques promoting education, and Brecht’s plays are all very entertaining. Therefore it can be seen that the majority of Brecht’s aim, as quoted by Wallace Heim, was reached, despite the main objective of changing human society not being achieved through Epic Theatre.


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