Eugen Bertolt Friedrich Brecht (Bertolt Brecht) was born on 1898, February 10, in Augsburg, Bavaria. He was born to Bertolt Friedrich Brecht (a factory worker and Catholic) and Wilhelmine Friederike Sophie Brezing, who were wedded in 1897 (Luckhurst, 2006). Brecht’s mother suffered from breast cancer throughout his young life. Walter, his only brother and sibling, was born after 2 years in 1900. As a child, he suffered from a heart condition and had a facial tic. Consequently, he spent part of his childhood in a sanitarium. He attended Volksschule – a Protestant elementary school - at the age of six. At the age of ten, he was enrolled at Koeniglich-Bayerisches Realgymnasium- a private school. His education was sadly interrupted at the age of twelve when he suffered from a heart attack. Fortunately, he recovered quickly and resumed school. The Bible’s German translation by Luther was his first encounter with literature during his early formative years. Quotes from the Bible can be found in his work Mother Courage and Her Children. In schoo,l he co-founded and co-edited The Harvest, a magazine and was already writing for a local daily at the age of sixteen. At this time he wrote The Bible, his first play. His dissenting promotion of the play almost got him expelled from school, but he left school at nineteen and performed clerical duties during the war. Brecht attended Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University in 1917 as a student of Medicine.
Brecht was strongly influenced by his encounter with Marxism and German Expressionism. He appreciated the need for society and man to be subjected to intellectual analysis. This led him to conceptualizing the theory of “epic theatre”. Far from appealing to the emotions of the spectators, Brecht wanted to engage his audience in reason. Aside entertainment, theatre could also be used to provoke social change. Theatre could also serve as enlightenment project where the audience would be forced to make judgment, and this would be a tool that would bring about a social action. According to Brecht,
Our conception of realism needs to be broad and political, free from aesthetic restrictions and independent of convention. Realist means: laying bare society's causal network / showing up the dominant viewpoint as the viewpoint of the dominators / writing from the standpoint of the class which has prepared the broadest solutions for the most pressing problems afflicting human society / emphasizing the dynamics of development / concrete and so as to encourage abstraction (Evergreen, n.d.).
In order to bolster a critical attitude in the audience on the unfolding events on stage, he formulated the “alienation effect” also known as the ‘Verfremdungs-effekt’ (Luckhurst, 2006). This entailed using anti-illusive techniques in order to enable the audience to experience the progression of reality rather than just viewing the reality. The stage was heavily illuminated with white light, irrespective of the location of action, and the audience could fully view the lamps on stage. The scenery was indicative, and there were minimal props. There was a deliberate interruption of action with song at key junctures in order to lay emphasis on a given message. The actors were required to embrace an objective acting style instead of identification and realism. The former enabled the actors to appear as detached observers.
The most important plays by Brecht include: The Life of Galileo, The Good Woman of Setzwan, and Mother Courage and Her Children, and these were written and produced from 1937 to 1945. During this period Brecht was in exile in Scandinavia and later in the United States as he was fleeing the Nazi regime (Luckhurst, 2006). His anti-illusion style influenced the work of other playwrights such as Edward Bond and John Arden and the productions of Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company. He died in 1956 and was buried in Berlin.
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