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 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 (tr. The Threepenny Opera, 1928), with music by 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 (tr. 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 (tr. 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).


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), P. Thomson (1989), and P. Katz (2015).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Bertolt Brecht: Selected full-text books and articles

Bertolt Brecht By Meg Mumford Routledge, 2008
Threepenny Novel By Bertolt Brecht; Desmond I. Vesey; Christopher Isherwood Grove Press, 1956
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Performing Brecht By Margaret Eddershaw Routledge, 1996
Essays on Twentieth-Century German Drama and Theater: An American Reception, 1977-1999 By Hellmut Hal Rennert Peter Lang, 2004
Librarian's tip: Part IV "Bertolt Brecht"
Playwrights and Acting: Acting Methodologies for Brecht, Ionesco, Pinter, and Shepard By James H. McTeague Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Bertolt Brecht"
Lukacs and Brecht By David Pike University of North Carolina Press, 1985
Librarian's tip: Part Two "Brecht"
No Kidding! Clown as Protagonist in Twentieth-Century Theater By 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 By Edward Braun Holmes & Meier, 1982
Librarian's tip: Chap. 11 "Brecht's Formative Years"
The "Brecht Effect": Politics and American Postwar Art By 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 By Fischer, Gerhard Cultural Studies Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2008
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Wagner's Ring and German Drama: Comparative Studies in Mythology and History in Drama By 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"
Bert Brecht By Willy Haas; Max Knight; Joseph Fabry Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1970
Ideology and Art: Theories of Mass Culture from Walter Benjamin to Umberto Eco By 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 By Evans, David Afterimage, Vol. 30, No. 5, March-April 2003
Tales from the Calendar By Bertolt Brecht; Yvonne Kapp; Michael Hamburger Methuen, 1961
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
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