Bertolt Brecht

Definition

Theater

  • (1898 - 1956) German playwright, poet, and director; oneof the most influential theatrical figures of the 20th century.

    Brecht's earliest dramas were written just after the end ofWorld War I while he was a medical student at Augsburg. The firstof these to reach the professional stage (though not the first tobe written) was Drums in the Night (1922). Telling the storyof a soldier coming home from the war, the play was a success andsubsequently transferred to Berlin. In Berlin, Brecht became (1924),an assistant to Max Reinhardt and collaborated with ErwinPiscator at the Deutsches Theater. Brecht's nextplays, Baal (1923) and In the Jungle of the Cities (1923),show the influence of expressionism. Man is Man (1926), markedthe beginning of Brecht's experiments with the innovatory alienationeffect and may be seen as the first stage in the developmentof his theory of Epic Theatre.

    In the late 1920s Brecht began to collaborate with Kurt Weill,resulting in the classic musicals The Rise and Fall of the Cityof Mahagonny (1927), The Threepenny Opera (1928), Happy-End(1929), and The Seven Deadly Sins (1933). His conversion toMarxism during this period added an element of rather bleak didacticismto such plays as He Who Says Yes (1929), He Who Says No(1930), and The Measures Taken (1930).

    In 1932 Brecht was placed on the Nazi Party's list of decadentwriters; the following year, when Hitler came to power, he and hiswife Helene Weigel fled to Denmark. After some wandering they finally(1941) made their way to America. During this unsettled period Brechtwrote most of his finest plays, including Galileo (1943,written 1938), The Good Person of Setzuan (1943, written1938 - 40), Mother Courage and Her Children (1941, written1939), and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1957, written1941). The principal work of Brecht's American period was TheCaucasian Chalk circle (1948, written 1944 - 45).

    In 1947 Brecht was summoned before a meeting of the HouseUn-American Activities Committee and gave a cleverly evasive performance.Brecht and his wife subsequently left America, moving briefly to Zürichbefore returning to Berlin in 1949. In Berlin, Brecht and Weigel wereoffered their own theater as well as a considerable subsidy; thisenabled them to form the Berliner Ensemble, to which Brechtdevoted much of his remaining time. Following his death, the Ensemble,which had established a high European reputation, continued to bemanaged by his widow.

    Amongst Brecht's other writings were collections of poetryand essays upon the theater, including the highly influential treatiseOrganon für das Theater (1949), in which he expoundedmany of his theories.

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