Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht (bĕr´tôlt brĕkht), 1898–1956, German dramatist and poet, b. Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht. His brilliant wit, his outspoken Marxism, and his revolutionary experiments in the theater have made Brecht a vital and controversial force in modern drama. His early plays, such as Baal (1919) and Drums in the Night (1922), are examples of nihilistic expressionism and caused riots at their openings, bringing Brecht instant notoriety. In Mann ist Mann [man is man] (1926), he began to develop his so-called epic theater, in which narrative, montage, self-contained scenes, and rational argument were used to create a shock of realization in the spectator. In order to give the audience a more objective perspective on the action, Brecht promoted a style of acting and staging that created a distancing effect. Instead of identifying with their roles, actors were instructed merely to demonstrate the actions of the characters they portrayed. Sets and lighting were designed to prevent the illusion of the theater from gaining sway, and Brecht revealed elements of the staging process itself. Songs played an important part—for these Brecht wrote the lyrics, with music by Hindemith, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and others.

Die Dreigroschenoper [the threepenny opera] (1928), with music by Kurt Weill, is based on John Gay's Beggar's Opera; it reveals Brecht's continued hostility toward the capitalist social structure as well as his bittersweet compassion for humanity. Under National Socialism Brecht went into exile (1933), settling in Denmark and later in the United States. Works written in his most mature phase include Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder [Mother Courage and her children] (1941) and Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (tr. The Good Woman of Setzuan, 1943), both concerned with ethical conduct. An outstanding example of epic theater is Der Kaukasische Kreidekreis [the Caucasian chalk circle] (1955). From 1948, Brecht lived in East Berlin, where he directed the state-supported Berliner Ensemble. Notable English translations of Brecht's plays are those by Eric Bentley, which include Seven Plays by Bertolt Brecht (1961).

Bibliography

See his collected plays (tr. 1970) and collected poems (tr. 1980), ed. by R. Manheim and J. Willett; his Journals (tr. 1994); biographies by F. Ewen (1967), M. Esslin (rev. ed. 1971), R. Hayman (1983), and J. Fuegi (1994); studies by J. Willett (rev. ed. 1968), W. Haas (tr. 1970), J. Fuegi (1972), R. Speirs (1987), P. Brooker (1988), and P. Thomson (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

ThreePenny Novel
Bertolt Brecht; Desmond I. Vesey; Christopher Isherwood.
Grove Press, 1956
21st-Century Brecht
Glahn, Philip.
Afterimage, Vol. 38, No. 6, May-June 2011
Makers of Modern Theatre: An Introduction
Robert Leach.
Routledge, 2004
Performing Brecht
Margaret Eddershaw.
Routledge, 1996
Character, Ideology, and Symbolism in the Plays of Wedekind, Sternheim, Kaiser, Toller, and Brecht
M. Helena GonÇalves Da Silva.
Modern Humanities Research Association, 1985
Theaters of Justice: Judging, Staging, and Working through in Arendt, Brecht, and Delbo
Yasco Horsman.
Stanford University Press, 2011
Essays on Twentieth-Century German Drama and Theater: An American Reception, 1977-1999
Hellmut Hal Rennert.
Peter Lang, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Part IV "Bertolt Brecht"
The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht: A Study from Eight Aspects
John Willett.
Methuen, 1959
The Theater of Meyerhold and Brecht
Katherine Bliss Eaton.
Greenwood Press, 1985
Playwrights and Acting: Acting Methodologies for Brecht, Ionesco, Pinter, and Shepard
James H. McTeague.
Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Bertolt Brecht"
Lukacs and Brecht
David Pike.
University of North Carolina Press, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Part Two "Brecht"
No Kidding! Clown as Protagonist in Twentieth-Century Theater
Donald McManus.
University of Delaware Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Clown in Brecht's Theory of Acting: Mann ist Mann as Anti-Tragedy"
The Director and the Stage: From Naturalism to Grotowski
Edward Braun.
Holmes & Meier, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Brecht's Formative Years"
The "Brecht Effect": Politics and American Postwar Art
Glahn, Philip.
Afterimage, Vol. 34, No. 3, November-December 2006
'Good Building': Bertolt Brecht's Utopian Historical Optimism at the End of World War II
Fischer, Gerhard.
Cultural Studies Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2008
City Jungles and Expressionist Reifications from Brecht to Hammett
Lindh, John Walker.
Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 44, No. 1, Spring 1998
Wagner's Ring and German Drama: Comparative Studies in Mythology and History in Drama
Mary A. Cicora.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Wagner and Brecht, or, Show Me the Way to Nibelheim, Oh Don't Ask Why, Oh Don't Ask Why"
Money & Politics in Ibsen, Shaw, and Brecht
Bernard F. Dukore.
University of Missouri Press, 1980
Bert Brecht
Willy Haas; Max Knight; Joseph Fabry.
Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1970
Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays
Peter Demetz.
Prentice-Hall, 1962
Brecht Is Back!
Elsom, John.
The World and I, Vol. 14, No. 10, October 1999
Ideology and Art: Theories of Mass Culture from Walter Benjamin to Umberto Eco
Robin Ridless.
Peter Lang, 1984
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "Bertolt Brecht: The Author as Producer"
Brecht's War Primer: The "Photo-Epigram" as Poor Monument
Evans, David.
Afterimage, Vol. 30, No. 5, March-April 2003
Tales from the Calendar
Yvonne Kapp; Bertolt Brecht; Michael Hamburger.
Methuen, 1961
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