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Theatre / Mr Puntila and His Man Matti

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"I’ve got a good heart, and I am glad for it. I once saved a stag beetle from getting run over, it’s almost excessive. I let it crawl up on a stick."
Mr Puntila, Act I

Mr Puntila and His Man Matti (Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti) is a 1940 play by Bertolt Brecht, based on The Sawdust Princess by Hella Wuolijoki.

Estate owner Johannes of Puntila lives his life in a permanent drunken stupor, picking fights and asking women on the street to marry him. His daughter, Eva, is engaged to a very proper and exceedingly dull young attaché. One day, Puntila finds himself at a bar where he meets Matti Altonen, a Servile Snarker driver whom he hired a few days before — though he doesn't remember doing so.

As they travel through Finland together and prepare for Eva's wedding day, Puntila increasingly confides in Matti and tells him his secret: three or four times a year, he sobers up by accident and becomes afflicted by responsibility, which scares him straight back into alcoholism.


Matti, ever stoic, spends his days throughout the play ignoring Puntila and playing seduction games with the young Eva. Bored, decadent and hungry for scandal, the Puntila family rapidly collapses in on itself, until Matti finally decides to simply get out... without a letter of reference, stating he'll just take his chance with the world.

Using the stock characters of the Commedia dell'Arte, Brecht hoped to showcase the self-sufficient and positive "modern man" in Matti, and to parody the decadence of capitalism and fascism with the character of Puntila. The play was first performed in 1948 and has become one of Bertolt Brecht's most succesful works. Modern performances tend to include some amount of nudity and sexual action — depending on the production, either between Matti and Eva or between a long-suffering Matti and a very drunk Puntila. (Or both.)


Tropes in Mr Puntila and His Man Matti:

  • The Alcoholic: Puntila.
  • Arranged Marriage: In his sober state, Puntila plans to marry his daughter Eva off to the utterly idiotic, but socially well-connected attaché.
  • Bad Boss: Puntila when sober.
  • Black Comedy: Despite being played out as a comedy, much of the drama's themes and outcomes are, at close watch, quite serious and bleak: Eva is being forced into a loveless marriage with the insufferable attaché, the worker Surkkala, together with his wife and children, is dismissed and ostracized as a communist, Matti leaves Puntila without a job reference, and Puntila himself remains an alcoholic and a tyrant, and essentially a deeply unhappy man.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: After Puntila, while drunk, has said about the attaché, fiancé of his daughter Eva, that he "isn't a man", Eva defends the attaché in conversation with Matti as "an intelligent and kind man whom you can't judge by his appearance, or by what he says or what he does."
  • The Ditz: The attaché.
  • Downer Ending: Matti leaves Puntila without a job reference, the worker Surkkala and his family lose their jobs, and Eva will probably marry the moronic attaché.
  • Enemy Within: Invoked by Puntila himself, who claims — in his drunken state — that his sober self is a villain and his own greatest enemy.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Puntila tries this in Act V. He's Off the Wagon about five minutes later.
  • Gold Digger: The attaché counts on Puntila paying his debts when he marries Eva.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Sober, Puntila is a penny-pinching Bad Boss and a hard-boiled capitalist; when drunk, he is kind, sentimental and, in his words, "almost a communist".
  • In Vino Veritas: Played with. It's never clear whether drunken Puntila is the "real" Puntila or not, or whether it's the other way round.
  • Mood-Swinger: Drunken Puntila is cheerful and easy-going, sober Puntila is serious, perpetually grumpy and always worrying.
  • Servile Snarker: Matti.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Puntila.
  • Wildlife Commentary Spoof: Invoked in the Prologue, which announces the imminent exhibition of a certain "primeval animal", "known for its gluttony and uselessness", its name being estatium possessor (estate owner).

Alternative Title(s): Mr Puntila And His Hired Man Matti


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