Brecht`s stylistic departure from naturalism: key features and effects

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Transcript Brecht`s stylistic departure from naturalism: key features and effects

Bertolt Brecht
 Brecht’s stylistic departure from
naturalism: key features and effects
 The rationale behind Brecht’s rejection
of Naturalism: Brecht’s championing of
“Epic Theatre”
The Alienation Effect; Gestic Acting
 Differing conceptions of acting styles
(Brecht vs Stanislavsky)
 The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Brechtian Dramaturgy
※ Rejected the idea of entertainment through emotional catharsis
※ Disallowed the audience’s empathy with the actors on stage
※ Rejected the well-made play in favour of a drama which was episodic and
loosely knit
※ Emphasised the theatricality of theatre
※ Facilitated the adoption of a critical attitude towards the actions being staged
※ Initiated a social critique to expose the prevailing ideologies and inequalities
of the capitalist system
‘Petroleum resists the five-act form’:
Brecht’s anti-naturalism
Brecht’s stylistic departure from
naturalism: key features and effects
 Brecht’s politics
 Brecht’s quarrel with Aristotelian
 How Brecht’s theatre provides a
synthesis of naturalistic methods
with symbolic, expressionistic
 Contrast with Henrik Ibsen and
Alfred Jarry
 A reading of Scenes 1 and 2 of
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
(b. 10 February, 1898, Augsburg; d. 14 August 1956)
I grew up as the son
Of well-to-do people. My parents
Put a collar round my neck and taught me
The habit of being waited on
And the art of giving orders. But
When I had grown up and looked around me
I did not like the people of my own class
And I left my own class and joined
The common people
(b. 10 February, 1898, Augsburg; d. 14 August 1956)
Elementary school bored me for four
years. During my nine years at
Augsburg [Grammar school] I did not
succeed in imparting any worthwhile
education to my teachers. My sense of
leisure and independence was
tirelessly fostered by them.
- Brecht
(b. 10 February, 1898, Augsburg; d. 14 August 1956)
The Legend of the Dead Soldier
They poured some brandy down his throat
The rotten corpse to rouse.
Two hefty nurses grabbed his arms,
And his half-naked spouse.
The band in the van with rum-tum-tum
Played him a rousing march.
The soldier as he had been drilled
Kicked his legs high from his arse.
(b. 10 February, 1898, Augsburg; d. 14 August 1956)
I had thought that by a few inquiries among
specialists and practitioners I could quickly
acquire the necessary knowledge. It turned out
quite differently. Nobody . . . was able to give me
an adequate explanation of what goes on in the
corn Exchange. . . . The ways in which grain is
distributed around the world are flatly
incomprehensible. From any point of view except
that of a handful of speculators, the grain market
is one large morass. The projected drama did not
get written, instead I started to read Marx, and
then, not until later, was reading Marx.
Germany seemed to be on the path of
democracy. There was freedom of speech
and of artistic expression. In the
second half of the 1920s, however, the
old reactionary militaristic forces
began to regain strength. I was hen at
the height of my career as a
playwright, my plays being produced
all over Europe. But in Germany voices
could already be heard demanding that
free artistic expression and free
speech should be silenced. Humanist,
socialist, even Christian ideas were
called ‘undeutsch’ (unGerman), a word
which I hardly think of without
Hitler’s wolfish intonation. At the
same time, the cultural and political
institutions of the people were
Brecht, Poems 1913-1956, eds. John Willett and
Ralph Manheim (London, 1976), p.427:
Every word that leaves the lip
Describes an arc, and then
Falls on the listener’s ear; I wait and hear
The way it strikes; I know
We are not feeling the same thing and
We are not feeling it at the same time.
Key Question:
Does emotional engagement with an actor playing a
part in the theatre help or hinder our critical intellectual
reflections on the character and the situations
represented by the play?
1. Aristotle’s Poetics states that the audience
watching a tragedy should experience catharsis,
a relief from pity and fear.
2. The emotions of pity and fear call for a
recognition of some kind of affinity between
the audience and the characters who act or
3. The fall of the hero, due to the individual error
(hamartia) is inevitable.
The dramatic theatre’s spectator says: Yes, I have
felt like that too – Just like me – It’s only natural –
It’ll never change – The sufferings of this man
appal me, because they are inescapable- That’s
great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the
world – I weep when they weep, I laugh when
they laugh.
- Brecht on Theatre
The epic theatre’s spectator says: I’d never have
thought of it – That’s not the way – That’s
extraordinary, hardly believable – It’s got to stop
– The sufferings of that man appal me, because
they are unnecessary – That’s great art; nothing
obvious in it – I laugh when they weep, I weep
when they laugh.
- Brecht on Theatre
Aristotelian catharsis is an “opium for the masses” (Brecht):
 Empathising with the characters prevents the audience
from reflecting critically on the social causes of human
 Plots that represent the hero’s error as central to his
misfortune do not allow the dramatist to write a play that is
socially critical: the focus is on the representation of
misfortune due to individual error rather than the “error” in
the socio-political structure
With whom would the just man not sit
To help injustice?
What medicine is too bitter
For the man who’s dying?
What vileness should you not suffer to
Annihilate vileness?
If at last you could change the world, what
Could make you too good to do so?
Who are you?
Sink in filth
Embrace the butcher, but
Change the world: it needs it!
The Measures Taken
Petroleum resists the five-act form; today’s
catastrophes do not progress in a straight line but in
cyclical crises; the ‘heroes’ change with the different
phases, are interchangeable, etc.; the graph of
people’s actions is complicated by abortive actions;
fate is no longer a single coherent power; rather there
are fields of force which can be seen radiating in
opposite directions; the power groups themselves
comprise movements not only against one another
but within themselves, etc., etc. Even to dramatize a
simple newspaper report one needs something much
more than the dramatic technique of a Hebbel or an
31 March 1929
The man who has leased the Augsburg Municipal
Theatre as his milch-cow knows today, after so
many years, about as much about literature as an
engine driver knows about geography.
Arnolt Bronnen
Martin Esslin
Bronnen’s play was written in the explosive,
declamatory style of the Expressionists. But
Brecht wanted to produce it quietly and
realistically. Already at this stage he hated
noisy, emotional tantrums in the theatre.
Drums in the Night (1922)
The audience were greeted by streamers with
inscriptions like ‘DON’T STARE SO
action taking place in a non-realistic setting with the
picture of the city rising up behind the screens that
suggested the walls of a room.
Emile Zola (1840-1902)
 actors should carry themselves
on stage as they would do in real
life, and that they do so in response
to a naturalistic . . . non-theatrical,
 realistic sets and settings must be
used; the actor must use realistic
movement, diction and gesture; the
theatre, then, would present the
audience with “a slice of life”
The Box Set
The Box Set
Hedda Gabler (Box Set)
Cylindrical Design
Fan-shaped Design
"To My Friend, the Revolutionary Orator”:
"Your changing pawns is a futile plan…. Make a
sweep of the chessboard, and I'm your man".
"With pleasure I will torpedo the Ark!"
Henrik Ibsen
Letter to Georg Brandes:
Henrik Ibsen
"How the old ideas will come tumbling about our
ears! And it is high time they did. . . . The old terms
must be invested with new meaning, and given new
explanations. Liberty, equality, and fraternity are no
longer what they were in the days of the latelamented guillotine. That is what the politicians will
not understand and that is why I hate them. They
want only their own special revolutions — external
revolutions, political revolutions, etc. But that is only
dabbling. What is really needed is a revolution of the
human spirit. And in this you shall be one of those
who take the lead. But the first thing to do is get that
fever out of your system".
* the serious dramatic treatment of significant
contemporary social issues
* the use of ideas as a basis for action and
* theatre which challenged social orthodoxies and
present a thesis
* drama which avoided stereotype characters
* drama which explored a relativistic moral code
* plays which avoided a melodramtic climax in
favour of discussion
a state of equilibrium at the outset
a disruption of the equilibrium by some action
a recognition that there has been a disruption
an attempt to repair the disruption
a reinstatement of the initial equilibrium
“By the turn of the century, various anti-realistic tendencies –
known as symbolism, expressionism, and surrealism – had
already taken form in the critical statements and plays of avantgarde dramatists. Proponents of these counterrealistic
movements argued that dramatic truth was not to be found in the
tangible surfaces of a box set nor even in the intangible life of a
psychologically complex character, but in symbols, images,
legends, myths, fantasies, dreams, and other mysterious
manifestations of spirituality, subjectivity, or the unconscious.”
I go to the first performance of Alfred Jarry's
Ubu Roi, at the Théâtre de L'Oeuvre. . . . The
players are supposed to be dolls, toys,
marionettes, and now they are all hopping
like wooden frogs, and I can see for myself
that the chief personage, who is some kind of
King, carries for a sceptre a brush of the kind
we use to clean a closet. Feeling bound to
support the most spirited party, we have
shouted for the play, but that night at the
Hôtel Corneille I am very sad, for comedy ….
- W.B. Yeats, Autobiographies
“1) Mask for the principal character, Ubu. . . .
2) A cardboard horse’s head which he would hang round his neck,
as they did on the medieval stage, for the only two equestrian
scenes; all these details fit in with the mood of the play, since my
intention was, in any case, to write a puppet play.
3) One single stage-set or, better still, a plain backdrop, thus
avoiding the raising and dropping of the curtain during the single
act. A formally dressed individual would walk on stage, just as he
does in puppet shows, and hang a placard indicating where the
next scene takes place. . . .
Alfred Jarry
4) The abolition of crowds . . . .
5) Choice of a special ‘accent’, or better still, a special ‘voice’ for
the principal character.
6) Costume as divorced as far as possible from local colour or
chronology (which will thus help to give the impression of
something eternal): modern costumes, preferably, since the satire
is modern, and shoddy ones, too, to make he play even more
wretched and horrible.”
Voice (special accent)
Action (robotic movement)
Mask (covers the face)
Body (vast carapace)
Absence of psychological realism
• useless patriarch
• possibly impotent
• dangerous
• useless patriarch
• domineering matriarch
• possibly impotent
• potentially violent
• dangerous
• likes cursing (a lot)
The Old Man: The valley has belonged
to us for centuries.
The Soldier: What does that mean – for
centuries? Nothing belongs to anyone
for centuries. When you were young
you didn’t even belong to yourself, but
to Prince Kazbeki.
The Old Man: According to the law the
valley belongs to us.
The Girl Tractor Driver: The laws will
have to be re-examined in any case, to
see whether they are still valid.
The Expert: As an expert
of the Reconstruction
Commission, I request the
two kolchos villages to
decide between
themselves whether the
Galinsk kolchos shall
return here or not.
The Expert: How long will the story
take, Arkadi? I have to get back to
Tiflis tonight.
The Singer casually: It is actually
two stories. A few hours.
The Expert very confidentially:
Couldn’t you make them shorter?
The Singer: No.
Comedy: the wedding scene (pp.49-);
appointing Azdak as Judge (p68 –
demoncracy); Azdak’s critique of power
(p.71); Azdak’s judgements (justice
rather than the law)