Creator: Bertolt Brecht

"In me you behold a man upon whom absolutely you can't rely"

The fact that millions are daily stifled,
tortured, punished, silenced and oppressed.
Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance
— by keeping its humanity repressed.
For once, you must not try to shirk the facts:
mankind is kept alive by bestial acts.''

Bertolt note  Brecht (1898 - 1956) was a German poet, playwright, novelist and director. He was possibly the most influential force in early 20th century political art, with a strong focus on communism (not Stalinism) and anti-fascism — and probably most famous for The Threepenny Opera. He was a major figure in the art scene of the Weimar Republic and post-war Germany. Like many German artists, he fled Germany during World War II. When he returned to communist East Berlin, he was granted his own theatre, where the current ensemble still performs his plays daily.

Brecht was initially part of the post-World War I expressionist school, putting in dark and edgy plays like Baal about people on the margins of society complaining that life sucks and descending into nihilism and despair. These plays were often done in a naturalistic style with some stylization. Brecht's introduction to Marx however changed his attitude completely and he created a unique approach to 20th Century dramaturgy, one that was non-Aristotlian that is no longer bound by the rules laid down in Poetics, that a tragedy didn't have to provide catharsis or release, and that audiences should not immediately identify with heroic figures against villains, and of course that rather than a cast of small people and a short time frame, there should be Loads and Loads of Characters and action that covered several days. Thus was born "Epic Theatre".

One of his most important principles is of course, Verfremdungseffekt, or "effect of alienation". This was a method which discouraged immersion and escapism, and encouraged critical reception. This was often subject to Flanderization in pseudo-Brechtian productions but in Brecht's works alienation was against immersion and identification with characters but heightened immersion and attention to the social interactions, drama and context of character's choices and actions, this was part of the Marxist ideology of showing society, economics and politics at work in human relations. This made Brecht an early precursor to what we would call Post Modernism, the use of such effects, most directly in Breaking the Fourth Wall and talking to the audiences is often called in film classes as a 'Brechtian Device'. His stories were not meant as escapist fiction, but as scathing caricatures of what was wrong in society. For this reason, he developed certain tricks to prevent escapism: he encouraged his audiences to smoke while watching each play, discouraged method acting in his ensemble (he preferred using the classic, basic characters of the Commedia dell'Arte), used off-key instruments, and made his props out of flimsy cardboard. In short, he was a master of Stylistic Suck, such as tragedies ending with an unconvincing Happy Ending, a woman who tragically sings out that she really does value money more than her man and pithy references on why "Robbing a bank isn't as big a crime as owning one."

Very few of his works have an explicit moral, instead relying on Applicability. His characters typically don't learn a thing, and end up perpetuating social repression and/or dying miserably. If a moral is stated at all, it's usually blatantly wrong. This way, Brecht encouraged his audience to make their own reality better than that of the characters, by learning from each story what the characters refuse to learn.

Typical features of his work include proud prostitutes, dead sailors, corrupt businessmen on the verge of bankruptcy, headstrong young women who are too headstrong to actually become independent in society, hopeful young soldiers who keep themselves blind to the real horrors of war, and what has been described as a genre of "water corpse poetry" (Wasserleichenpoesie) - imagery which has been enthusiastically adapted by authors as diverse as Bob Dylan, Lars von Trier and Alan Moore.

Considering himself a true communist, he stated that all art should belong to the people, to be constantly rewritten and re-interpreted as the political circumstances demanded. In practice, this meant that he refused to spend time even thinking about copyright, often drawing accusations of plagiarism. The reality of it was that he considered the circumstances in which a work of art was created more important than the source, and he actively encouraged others to adapt his works into new performances, without wanting credit for it.

While not particularly noted for being a wit, he did get some moments of snark in, most famously his criticism of the Stalinist track of East Germany post-war: "Would it not be be simpler / If the government simply dissolved the people / And elected another?"

He collaborated often with Fritz Lang, Kurt Weill, Walter Benjamin, Peter Lorre, G. W. Pabst, and Miss Lotte Lenya.

Wrote a lot of plays.

Notable works include:


Tropes frequently used in the work of Bertolt Brecht:

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: invokedIt is the fate of Brecht's plays that (at least, substantial parts of) audiences often see characters in a different way than Brecht intended them. Though this is mostly because most productions tend to tone down the harshness in the original. For example:
    • Some think that Mack the Knife is a Lovable Rogue. Brecht thought he was scum. Though this is partly because most productions and famous film adaptations downplay that Mack is an amoral pimp, human trafficker and child murderer, basing their image on the watered down Bobby Darrin song. Most audiences who see it closer to how Brecht wrote the character don't see him as a glamorous rogue at all but as a Villain Protagonist.
    • Mother Courage to many is an ingenious, if unlucky character who doesn't give up in the face of adversity. To Brecht she was, though not without sympathetic qualities, ultimately a bad person.
    • Some feel that Puntila is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. To Brecht he was a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.
    • Brecht's Galileo controversially portrayed the famous scientist not as a martyr for science but as a cowardly sell-out who cares more about the posthumous fame of his contributions rather than the social changes he could have made by standing against the Church.
  • An Aesop: His plays drew their form on parables and fables. Certain plays, the "Lehrstrucke"(Teaching Plays) were intended to serve as entirely didactic. Brecht being Brecht, the Aesop and the conclusions drawn at the end veer towards Spoof Aesop, Alternate Aesop Interpretation, Space Whale Aesop and above all Family-Unfriendly Aesop. invoked
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Happened frequently in productions he staged, and is a standard in his own plays. Brecht disliked what he called "theatre of illusion", and accordingly took precautions to carefully shatter the illusion.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Brecht wanted his audience to focus on how an outcome came about, not on what the outcome was. To achieve this, his plays give routinely and deliberately future events and outcomes away. Often there are spoken verses before the beginning of a new scene or episode that bluntly tell the audience what is going to happen. This was part of his self-imposed principle he called "epic theatre".
  • Holding Out for a Hero: The main critique Brecht directed towards Aristoleian and conventional naturalist drama was the emphasis on special individuals whose tragedy invited audiences towards catharsis and thereby annul their own heroic initiative.
    • Brecht frequently challenged and questioned audiences looking for heroes by emphasizing amoral, villainous and indifferent individuals as his protagonists or in his play Saint Joan of the Stockyards showing how a heroic modern day Joan of Arc figure is manipulated/exploited by capitalists.
    • His play Galileo was an ironic Deconstruction of the Galileo case, informed by the horrors of the Atomic Age, with Galileo seen not as a persecuted scientist but a cowardly intellectual who refused to become a martyr out of self-interest and self-preservation.
    Andrea: "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero."
    Galileo: "No. Unhappy is the land that needs a hero."
  • Production Posse: Brecht was a highly collaborative artist, who worked in a highly collaborative fashion. This includes Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler, art director and designer Lion Feuchtwanger, actors Ernst Busch, Peter Lorre, Carola Neher and Helene Wiegel (who he later married). He also had "co-writers" Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarethe Steffin and Ruth Berlau, who actually located source material of earlier dramas and made translations which he either modified or fully sampled. This has led some commentators to regard Brecht as a plagiarist who took credit for other people's work. Eric Bentley has however noted that this was part of the exigency of theatre production more than anything else. Some Brecht productions such as Happy End were largely authored by Hauptmann (though Brecht did write Surabaya Johnny, the famous song from the play).
  • Stylistic Suck: Brecht wanted his plays to be enjoyed intellectually, not sensually and therefore avoided lavish costumes, scenery and decorations, and everything else that would allow the audience to indulge in sensual pleasure.
    • It's important to note that Brecht was arguing against the kitschy "well-made" bourgeois theatre, Brecht's own productions while avoiding conventional beauty are from a modern perspective incredibly aesthetic and beautiful.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: invoked The main purpose of Brecht's plays was to appeal to the audience's reason, to make them think about the characters rather than simply relate to their emotional condition and participate in their outcome and Character Development. His insistence on stylistic experimentation made him controversial among orthodox Marxists and advocates of Socialist Realism who wanted simplistic anti-capitalist propaganda.