Bertolt Brecht

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Plays by Bertolt Brecht

The Antigone of Sophocles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In his book The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, John Willett writes of The Antigone of Sophocles: 'Perhaps two-thirds of the play follows the Hölderlin version, but even here Brecht has largely reshaped the verse so that although much of the sense, many of the images, and even the words themselves are the same as Hölderlin's the cadence is different. Almost indistinguishable in style, his new passages are woven into this. Considerable changes result. A prologue set in Berlin of 1945 shows two sisters whose brother has deserted from the German army and is found hanged: should they risk being seen by the SS cutting his body down? In the play itself Creon becomes a brutal aggressor who has attacked Argos for the sake of its iron ore; Polyneikes deserts in protest against this war which has killed his brother; and Antigone is partly moved by a like disapproval of her uncle's policy.'

The Antigone of Sophocles was conceived as a new experiment in the epic theatre, and is linguistically an extraordinary composition. It was first produced in February 1948.

Baal

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The classic wandering-poet archetype of the Expressionist movement receives a dark makeover in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal. Brecht’s first full-length play portrays the seductions and manipulations of a dissolute poet with an inexplicable appeal to women. Baal descends from a civilised dining room to a hut in the woods, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

First performed in Leipzig in 1923, Baal represents an early, almost pre-political stage in Brecht’s career, and shows the playwright experimenting with elements that would become his trademarks, such as the use of song. Even as a young writer, however, Brecht provoked controversy: Baal was immediately shut down by order of the city council of Leipzig.

The Beggar or The Dead Dog

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

In The Beggar, a beggar dares to speak the truth to an emperor when the emperor descends to complain about the smell. It was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

The Catch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

When a fisherman’s wife is woken up by her drunk husband and his friends, anger and resentments explode. The Catch was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. J. Stern, T. Stern, Auden)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version is translated by James and Tania Stern with W. H. Auden.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. McGuinness)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version by Frank McGuinness was published to coincide with the National Theatre's production which toured the UK in 2007.

Dansen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dansen is a pig farmer and a respectable member of the community. His fellow members of the commerce class in the town often meet, to play cards, sign contracts and sort out disagreements; it is a wholly satisfying way of life.

But this cosy arrangement is upset with the arrival of a stranger, a man who is intent on breaking contracts and instigating the most hostile of takeovers with the point of a pistol. He forces Dansen into collaboration: against his former colleagues, his better judgement and his own interests.

Written in early 1939, Dansen is a one-act agitprop piece which highlights the dangers of appeasement in the face of aggressive behaviour from a self-appointed enemy.

The Days of the Commune

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Days of the Commune tells the story of the uprising and ultimate failure of the Paris Commune in 1871, a city council in France's capital which based its policies on socialism and proclaimed its right to rule over all of France. It held out for two months of counter-attack by the regular French army before its final defeat in May, 1871.

Brecht's account of the Commune is based on Norwegian playwright Nordahl Grieg's play The Defeat. In his adaptation, Brecht eschews a central protagonist, focusing instead on the Commune as characterised by the people in the street.

Ultimately, as in life, the Commune is defeated. But, as the editors write in their introduction: 'In his interpretation of the Paris Commune Brecht adhered closely to the 'classical' line established by Marx . . . that the outcome of the siege of Paris after the Franco-Prussian War could only have been different if the ruling class had been prepared to align themselves behind the National Guard, but that the French bourgeoisie were terrified at the thought of an armed labour force, and so initiated the betrayal of the French people by its government and the capitulation of Paris.'

The Days of the Commune was first performed in November, 1956, shortly after Brecht's death.

Driving out a Devil

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

A young boy attempts to outwit the parents of a pretty girl in this short farce. It was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

Drums in the Night

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It has been four years since Anna’s fiancé, Andreas, was declared missing in action in the trenches of World War I. Therefore, she is understandably shocked when he reappears. Andreas discovers that in his absence, Anna has agreed to marry a man who became rich dealing in the black market during the war. This ‘anti-romantic’ love story is set against the Spartacist uprising of 1919, an attempt by the German Communist party to destabilize the Weimar government.

Renowned Brecht scholar John Willett translated this edition of Drums in the Night, one of the early plays that earned Bertolt Brecht the prestigious Kleist Award for German writers. Drums in the Night was an immediate success when first performed in 1922, and went on to play all over Germany, but Brecht later admitted that he only wrote the play to make money.

Picture of Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is acknowledged as one of the great dramatists whose plays, work with the Berliner Ensemble and critical writings have had a considerable influence on the theatre. His landmark plays include The Threepenny Opera, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, The Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children and The Caucasian Chalk Circle.