Examples from Brecht’s Plays
This is a cheat sheet for the teacher to assist in acquiring excerpts from Brecht’s plays for the following activity.
In each of these plays, Brecht’s use of historicisation effectively distances the audience from the immediacy of the narrative, encouraging them to view the story intellectually rather than emotionally. Though far removed from the contemporary context of when the plays were written or performed, the historical settings resonate powerfully with Brecht’s critiques of society, politics, and morality.
“The Life of Galileo”
Historicisation: The play presents the life of the Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei, focusing on his conflicts with the Catholic Church over his support for the heliocentric model.
Effect: By depicting the clash between science and dogma in the Renaissance, Brecht critiques the contemporary suppression of dissenting voices, whether they are opposing political, scientific, or ideological authorities.
“Mother Courage and Her Children”
Historicisation: The action is set during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), but the play was written on the brink of World War II.
Effect: The historical setting serves as an allegory for the conflicts of the 20th century, underscoring the human cost of war and the cyclical nature of history.
“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”
Historicisation: The play is a satirical allegory of the rise of Adolf Hitler, represented by Arturo Ui, a gangster in Chicago during the 1930s.
Effect: By recasting Hitler’s rise in terms of 1930s Chicago gangland events, Brecht highlights the systemic factors and individual choices that allowed such a rise to power, implying that it could happen anywhere if conditions allow.
“The Caucasian Chalk Circle”
Historicisation: The play is framed by a prologue set in post-World War II Soviet Georgia, but the main story, derived from an ancient Chinese tale, is set amidst a civil war and revolution in a Caucasian city.
Effect: Brecht uses the historical setting to comment on justice, morality, and societal order issues. The ancient tale becomes a lens through which to view and critique contemporary societal upheavals and transformations.
“Saint Joan of the Stockyards”
Historicisation: While invoking the story of Joan of Arc, the narrative transposes to 1930s Chicago amidst the stockyard businesses and their exploitation.
Effect: Brecht critiques the capitalism of his time, drawing parallels between religious fervour and faith in the capitalist system.