Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

A Study on the Theatrical Techniques Employed in Brecht's Plays

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

A Study on the Theatrical Techniques Employed in Brecht's Plays

Article excerpt


Bertolt Brecht, an outstanding German playwright of the twentieth century, changed the course of modern European theatre. He broke away from the traditional reliance on the unities of time, place, and action-clearly directed toward a climax and a catharsis that leads to exhaustion of all passion and calm of mind. Though familiar with the impact of symbolism, expressionism, and realism on dramatic form and structure, and other similar suggestions for alternative theatre and method of play production, he formed his own distinct form of theatre and declared, "The modern theatre is the epic theatre" (Brecht 1964b).

As a Marxian playwright, Brecht's aim was to ensure a radical paradigm shift of the theatre into a productive critique of society. He wanted his theatre to evoke a critical response from the audience so as to transform the society. He also called for a major revolution in the role and function of the actor. Brecht employed certain techniques to keep the audience critically detached from the characters and situations that would make the intended "estrangement" or "alienation." The idea of distancing or making strange formed the very core of his epic theatre.

Brecht's Works: A Brief Survey

A brief survey of Brecht's important works would bear witness to the magnitude of his dramatic genius. Baal (1918), his first challenging play, concerns an anarchic sensualist poet who is a social outsider, and reflects something of the youthful Brecht's imaginative world. His next play, Drums in the Night (1919), is set against the Bavarian revolutionary background. It became his first great stage success. His other plays include: In the Jungle of the Cities (1921), Man Is Man (1926), The Three Penny Opera (1928), The Round Heads and the Long Heads (1936), Senora Carrar's Rifles (1937), Fear and Misery in the Third Reich (1938), The Life of Galileo (1938), Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1940), Mr. Puntila and His Hired Man Matti (1941), The Resistible Rise of the Arturo Ui (1941), The Visions of Simone Machard (1942), Schweik in the Second World War (1943), The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1944), and The Days of the Commune (1949).

The creative career of Brecht spanned the crucial period between the two World Wars. This period was charged with intense dramatic potential, which Brecht used to his advantage by writing highly stimulating plays. His works reveal a varied, colorful, thematic, and structural spectrum. They touch upon a variety of themes and show theatrical experimentation with virtually all sorts of devices and patterns. His works show a restless and creative spirit at work. This is so because he never felt at home in "the socio, cultural, and economic milieu of the capitalist-materialist culture of grab-and-loot around him" (Gupta 2001, 1).

Brechtian plays are modern tragedies which strike at the very root of the sickness of the present-day world. Brecht is not an escapist in the romantic sense of the term. Being influenced by Marxian ideology, he deals with life in a very realistic and authentic manner. He visualizes life as full of hope and promise and concludes that there is nothing wrong or repulsive about it. As a dramatist, he is committed to the faithful dramatization of human situation.

Brecht, in his plays, indicates that one of the leading problems of the contemporary human society is the situation of man in it-the theme of "belongingness" in the present world. Man remains a searcher with no clear-cut destination. He has no place in the highly industrialized setup of modern society. At best, he remains an outsider, an alienated person from the beginning to the end of his life.

Brecht's plays "touch something fundamental in those who expose themselves to their effect. They reach down to frightening depths; they step on private, social, religious, philosophical, and aesthetic issues. They either evoke immoderate enthusiasm or provoke immoderate anger. …

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