Last night I dreamed I saw fingers pointing at me
As at a leper. They were worn with toil and
They were broken. ‘You don’t know!’ I cried
(Bertolt Brecht, ‘Nasty Morning’)
I had to leave Germany in 1933, in February … Then I went to Denmark,
but when war seemed imminent in ‘39 I had to leave for Sweden, Stock-
holm. I remained there for one year and then Hitler invaded Norway and
Denmark. I had to leave Sweden and I went to Finland, there to await for
my visa to the United States.
(Bertolt Brecht, Testimony to HUAC, 30 Oct. 1947)1
In his Brecht in Context, the late John Willett commented that whereas other artists have confined their political commitment to particular aspects of their work, ‘Brecht systematically made it a part of everything he did. Far more than Picasso or Eluard, or George Grosz or André Malraux, he was all of a piece, fusing political and aesthetic considerations on a whole series of different levels. It is this that makes him special to admirers and critics alike…’2 Certainly no twentieth-century dramatist and poet has excited such controversy, such adulation and furious condemnation, as Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956). No dramatist loomed larger in cold war cultural conflict than he.
He was a Marxist, yet his theory of theatre, of which a central pillar was Verfremdung (alienation), was anathema to orthodox socialist realism. The kind of radical theatre practised by Brecht and Erwin Piscator in Weimar