Bertolt Brecht was one of the most important and influential dramatists of the 20th century. Born in southern Germany, Brecht studied philosophy and medicine in Munich. He was influenced by the episodic structures of German expressionist playwrights such as Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser (Gainor). In 1924, Brecht moved to Berlin and wrote several plays such as: Man Is Man, and The Threepenny Opera. While in Berlin, Brecht also became a Marxist and developed his theories on theatre. However, in 1933 he was forced to leave Germany by the Nazis. During his exile, he wrote some of his most important plays such as: Mother Courage (1938), Galileo, and The Good Person of Setzuan. Brecht spent most of his life developing what he eventually called Epic Theatre. Brecht’s plays are episodic in structure, usually deal with history or foreign lands, cover a long period of time, shift locations frequently, have intricate plots, and include many characters. According to Brecht, the whole point of epic theatre is to instruct (Wilson). Not only have Bertolt Brecht’s plays withstood the test of time; his theories about theatre, politics, and philosophy still influence drama today.
Brecht is one of the most important and influential playwrights of the 20th century because his plays are still being performed today. One of his most popular plays was Mother Courage and serves as a warning against war (Ewen). The message of Mother Courage remains applicable to us today, which is why it is still largely produced. The play was originally produced 1941. The second production of Mother Courage took place in East Berlin in 1949. The next production was in 1950. In Spanish, it was premiered in 1954 in Buenos Aires with and in 1958. In 1955 was the play’s London première. From August to September 2006, Mother Courage was produced by The Public Theater in New York City and ran for four weeks. It was also performed in a new production at London’s Royal National Theatre between September and December 2009 (Wikipedia). This is only one of Brecht’s plays. His other popular plays such as The Three Penny Opera are also widely produced today.
Brecht’s influence on theatre is only a fragment of his accomplishments. Brecht is “one of the twentieth century’s most innovative, entertaining, and thought-provoking writers reflecting on a far wider range of cultural, aesthetic and political concerns”. Brecht believed that all ideas had to be “amenable to change”. Therefore, his theories and opinions on many topics often changed. Growing up, Brecht was exposed to war. Although he was determined not to conform and be “anti-bourgeois and anti-patriotic”, the war left its mark. This led him to question the “values of his humanist education, of received standards of order, mortality, religious belief and so on.” As far as education is concerned, Brecht held very strong feelings about teachers. He said “The teacher is the obstacle in the way of progress…”. Brecht practiced keeping an open mind and believed that “the teacher is someone who presumes to know something just because he enjoys the promise of being a know-all, who teaches and is therefore unteachable”.
Brecht also held many opinions and theories about politics and economics, stating: “now that I have warned you against habitual drinking, habitual philosophizing, habitual being in love, I am going to warn you against habitual love of the fatherland”. He was, to say the least, not happy with the way German politics were being run at the time. When asked if he thought Hitler was an honest man, he said: “Certainly, Hitler could be honest and mean well, and yet still objectively be Germany’s worst enemy. But he is not honest”. Brecht did not agree with capitalism, saying: “It is an obvious fact that the capitalist class in Europe is a spent force, it has nothing left to offer…” (Kuhn). Needless to say, Brecht was not only a prolific playwright, but actively engaged in politics, which made him a well-rounded playwright.
Brecht had an ability to write about abstract concepts in a captivating, creative and unique way. One of Brecht’s most thought provoking writings was that of doubt and truth. Brecht doubted many things and believed “doubt really ought to be applied to all things together, because as all things are interconnected, cannot of course demarcate individual things at all, and basically I don’t, of course doubt things, but only my senses, which communicate things to me in a way which may be inaccurate or false”. He later stated that he did in fact doubt more than he should, but that it was better to doubt facts than to simply accept them, this is lead to Brecht’s theory about truth. He believed there are five difficulties in writing the truth: the courage to write the truth, the cleverness-find it, the skill to make the truth fit for use as a weapon, the judgment to select those in whose hands the truth becomes effective, and the cunning to spread the truth amongst many. Since Brecht lived in a time of political lies, propaganda and destruction, he felt very strongly about finding the truth. Upon his exile from Germany, he said “I departed from the land of culture more depressed than I had arrived-from the land of barbarism” (Kuhn).
Brecht’s creativity derived from opposition and his work is reflective of that. Brecht’s ability to write plays that are still applicable today is only one reason for his brilliance. Brecht is the most influential and important playwrights of the twentieth century because he influenced political, economic and thought-provoking theories that were of a completely different mindset from the majority of the population. Brecht’s ability to not be swayed by popular thought and think of his own unique ideas is what makes him a remarkable playwright and theorist.
“Bertolt Brecht.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 16 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.
Ewen, Frederic. Bertolt Brecht His Life, His Art, His Times. New York: First CarolPublishing Group, 1967. Print.
Gainor, J. Ellen, Stanton B. Garner Jr., and Martin Puchner. “Arthur Miller .” The Norton Anthology of Drama. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 753. Print.
Kuhn, Tom, Steve Giles, Stephen Parker, Matthew Philpotts, and Peter Davies. Brecht On Art & Politics. London: Methuen, 2003. Print.
Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. “Theatres form 1945 to 1975.” Living Theatre, History of Theatre. 6th Edition ed. New York : McGraw-Hill, 2012. 402-410. Print.