Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays

Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays

Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays

Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays

Synopsis

Brecht's theory of the stage - world-famous today, but all two often misunderstood - is contrasted with the rules of classic theater and the Method of Stanislawsky.

Excerpt

Orthodox admirers of Brecht usually disregard his warnings and define his total achievement as "epic theater." When he was twenty-five years old, Brecht himself would have liked such a simplification, for the guitar-strumming young man preferred the commissar's leather jacket to the many-colored coat of diverse poetic talents which nature had given him. Only in his later years did Brecht try to discourage the monolithic beliefs of his students. "The whole débâcle started," he said, "when I wanted to have my plays staged properly and effectively and so -- oh misery! -- in order to define a non-Aristotelian dramaturgy I developed -- oh calamity! -- a theory of the epic theater." Brecht, late in life, more and more harked back to Hegel, the magician of change and creative development, and he never wearied of implying that he had continued to change his own ideas, to modify his attitudes, his concepts, and his plays. This is precisely the reason why Communist critics, the brilliant Georg Lukács as well as the more pedestrian Fritz Erpenbeck, were always suspicious of the cunning sage at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. Brecht, at least as far as his theatrical efforts were concerned, was not afraid to thrive on the clash of ideas, and to enjoy the tension; he achieved some of his most impressive results from the richness of contradictions in himself and in the world. Even his syntax is of the antithesis, the chiasmus, and the asyndeton. Brecht complained that people without a sense of humor would never be able to understand Hegel's dialectics. One might also say that these people will never be able to grasp some of the most vital implications of Brecht's art.

It is easy to forget the fact that Brecht also wrote a number of ingenious stories and witty prose parables; a dubious exercise in "socialist realism," The Threepenny Novel; and first-rate poetry. Many critics are tempted to agree with Martin Esslin who called Brecht "a poet, first and foremost." And Hannah Arendt, in 1950, said that Brecht was the greatest of all living German poets -- in spite of the accomplishments of Brecht's contemporaries, Gottfried Benn and Wilhelm Lehmann, whose delicate art persuasively combines the traditions of the German Naturgedicht with the technical firmness of a late Parnassian.

In tone and structure, Brecht's poetry takes the shortest escape route . . .

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