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Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht

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Published by javier_1978
Brecht's brief biography
Brecht's brief biography

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Published by: javier_1978 on Jun 28, 2009
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Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
 
German poet, playwright, and theatrical reformer, oneof the most prominent figures in the 20th-centurytheatre. In his works Brecht have been concerned withencouraging audiences to think rather than becomingtoo involved in the story and to identify with thecharacters. In this process he used alienation effects (AEffekts). Brecht developed a form of drama called epictheatre in which ideas or didactic lessons are important.
"In order to produce A Effects the actor has to discardwhatever means he has learned of persuading the audience toidentify itself with the characters which he plays. Aiming notto put his audience into a trance, he must not go into a trancehimself. His muscles must remain loose, for a turn of the head,e.g., with tautened neck muscles, will "magically" lead thespectators' eyes and even their heads to turn with it, and thiscan only detract from any speculation or reaction which thegestures may bring about. His way of speaking has to be freefrom ecclesiastical singsong and from all those cadences whichlull the spectator so that the sense gets lost."
(from
A Short Organum for the Theatre
, 1948)
Bertold Brecht was born in Augsburg. His father, aCatholic, was a director of a paper company and hismother, a Protestant, was a daughter of a civil servant.Brecht began to write poetry as a boy, and had his firstpoems published in 1914. After finishing elementaryschool, he was sent to the Königliches Realgymnasium,where he gained fame as an
enfant terrible
.In 1917 Brecht enrolled as a medical student at theLudwig Maximilian University of Munich. After militaryservice as a medical orderly, he returned to his studies,but abandoned them in 1921. During the Bavarianrevolutionary turmoil of 1918, Brech wrote his first play,BAAL, which was produced in 1923. The play celebratedlife and sexuality and was a great success.Brecht's association with Communism began in 1919,when he joined the Independent Social Democraticparty. Friendship with the writer Lion Feuchtwanger wasan important literary contact for the young writer.Feuchtwanger advised him on the discipline of playwriting. In 1920 Brecht was named chief adviser onplay selection at the Munich Kammerspiele. As a resultof a brief affair with a Fräulein Bie, Brecht's son Frankwas born and in 1922 he married the actress MarianneZoff. In 1924 Brecht was appointed a consultant at MaxReinhardt's Deutches Theater in Berlin. Brecht´s
 
success started with TROMMELN IN DER NACHT (1922),and continued with DIE DREIGROSCHENOPER after JohnGay´s
The Beggar´s Opera
, which he made with thecomposer Kurt Weil. Gay's play, revived by Sir NigelPlayfair at the Lyric Theatre in London, had been a greatsuccess from 1920. Brecht moved the action toVictorian times, and instead of mocking the pretentionsof Italian grand opera, he attacked on bourgeoisrespectability. Although rehearsals were disastrous, theaudience wanted to hear over and over again the duetbetween Macheath and the Police Chief, Tiger Brown.
"Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear -And he shows them pearly white -Just a jackknife has Macheath, dear -And he keeps it out of sight."
(from
The Threepenny Opera
, 1928)
Around 1927 Brecht started to study Karl Marx's
DasKapital
and by 1929 he had become a Communist. Atthe Schiffbauerdam Theater he trained many actorswho were to become famous on stage and screen,among them Oscar Homolka, Peter Lorre, and the singerLotte Lenya, Kurt Weil's wife. With Hanns Eisler Brechtworked on a political film,
Kuhle Wampe
, the namereferring to an area of Berlin where the unemployedlived in shacks. The film was released in 1932 andforbidden shortly afterward. Brecht's politcallycommitted play, DIE MASSNAHME (1930, The Measures Taken) reflected his antisentimentality and directness,which even the Communist Party found hard. In the playa young Communist is murdered by the Party - hissympathy for the poor and their suffering onlypostpones the day of the showdown. The lesson is thatthe freedom of the individual must be suppressed todayso that in the future mankind will be able to achievefreedom.In the 1930s Brecht´s books and plays were banned inGermany, performances were interrupted by the policeor summarily forbidden. He went into exile, first toDenmark, where he lived mostly near Svendborg on theisland of Fyn until 1939, and then to Finland, where helived in Iitti in Villa Marlebäck as a guest of the FinnishauthorHella Wuolijoki. The place is in the middle of thecountryside, far from the cities, and perhaps boring fora person used to lively surroundings. There Brechtwrote with Wuolijoki the play HERR PUNTILA UND SEINKNECHT MATTI (1940), and made his admiring"surrogate mother" jealous because rumors of affairswith other women. Brech, who disliked bathing, was
 
also famous for his promiscuousness.From Finland Brecht continued with his family throughRussia to the United States, settling in Santa Monica.Brecht's travelling companion to America was RuthBerlau, a Danish actress. Margarete Steffin, a Germanproletarian writer and another follower, had died inMoscow. In the new country Brecht tried to write forHollywood, but the only script that found partialacceptance was
Hangmen Also Die
(1942). "Theintellectual isolation here is enormous," Brechtcompained. "Compared to Hollywood, Svendborg was aworld center." His ideas, such as "the production,distribution and enjoyment of bread," were not takenseriously by movie moguls. In 1947 Brecht was accusedof un-American activities, but managed to confuse withhalf-truths J. Parnell Thomas, the chairman of the HouseCommittee on Un-American Activities, who praisedBrecht for being an exemplary witness. However, heflew to Switzerland, without waiting for the opening of his play
Galileo
in New York.Between the years 1938 and 1945 Brecht wrote his fourgreat plays. LEBEN DES GALILEI (1938-39, The Life ogGalileo), which did follow too slavishly the actualhistorical person, dealt with the hero's self-condemnation for giving up his heliocentric theory infront of the Inquisition. MUTTER COURAGE UND IHREKINDER (1939) was an attempt to demonstrate thatgreedy small entrepreneurs make devastating warspossible.
"What they could do with round here is a goodwar. What else can you expect with peace running wild allover the place? You know what the trouble with peace is?No organization."
DER GUTE MENSCH VON SEZUAN(1938-40) examined the dilemma of how to be virtuousand at the same time survive in a capitalist world, andDER KAUKASICHE KREIDEKREIS (1944-45),demonstrating that ownership belongs best to thosewho can make humane use of it.After 15 years of exile Brecht returned to Germany in1948 and spend a year in Zürich working on Sophocles
 Antigone
(trans. byFriedrich Hölderin) and on his majortheoretical work
 A Little Organum for the Theatre
. AfterZürich Brech moved in 1949 to Berlin where he foundedhis own Marxist theater Berliner Ensemble. His secondwife, Helene Weigel, whom he had married in 1928, washis chief actress and carried on as a director. Brecht hadwith the new authorities of DDR his problems, althoughhe wrote prose that pleased the censors. In his verseBrecht cryptically expressed his suspicion about theregime. "What times are these, when / to speak of trees

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