The Good Person of Setzuan



  • A play by Bertolt Brecht, written between 1938 and1940 and first performed in Zürich in 1942. It is a complex parableabout the role of individual goodness in a greedy and heartless world.Kenneth Tynan's review noted, "A fallacy has been exposed: thatof seeking to be perfect in an imperfect society."

    The play was first produced in 1956, as part of the EnglishStage Company's first season at the Royal Court Theatre. Peggy Ashcroft,who took the leading role of a woman who finds it necessary to impersonatea (fictitious) male cousin, found the play "an adventure", havingto sing and act half the time in a mask. Other members of the cast includedJoan Plowright and John Osborne. Brecht's widow, the actress HeleneWeigel, visited London during the rehearsals and returned in 1965with the Berliner Ensemble to perform a German-language versionof the play.

    The play begins with three gods seeking shelter in the provinceof Setzuan, China. The only person willing to take them in is ShenTe, a warmhearted prostitute, to whom the gods gratefully give enoughmoney to start a tobacco factory. Despite her benevolent intentions,Shen Te finds that she can only protect her interests by occasionallyadopting the persona of a rough male cousin, Shui Ta. At one pointthe 'cousin' sings, "You can only help one of your lucklessbrothers by trampling down dozens of others." She later fallsin love with a young aviator, until he admits to her 'cousin' thathe only wants Shen Te's money. The aviator becomes foreman of thefactory and, when Shen Te mysteriously disappears, he has Shui Taarrested and accused of murdering her. Shen Te is forced to revealher deception. The three gods listen sympathetically to her problembut are unable to offer any practical solution.