Authors: Bertolt Brecht

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German playwright and theater theorist

Author Works

Drama:

Baal, wr. 1918, pb. 1922 (English translation, 1963)

Trommeln in der Nacht, wr. 1919-1920, pr., pb. 1922 (Drums in the Night, 1961)

Die Hochzeit, wr. 1919, pr. 1926 (also known as Die Keinbürgerhochzeit; The Wedding, 1970)

Im Dickicht der Städte, pr. 1923 (In the Jungle of Cities, 1961)

Leben Eduards des Zweiten von England, pr., pb. 1924 (with Lion Feuchtwanger; based on Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II; Edward II, 1966)

Mann ist Mann, pr. 1926 (A Man’s a Man, 1961)

Die Dreigroschenoper, pr. 1928 (libretto; based on John Gay’s play The Beggar’s Opera; The Threepenny Opera, 1949)

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, pb. 1929 (libretto; Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, 1957)

Das Badener Lehrstück vom Einverständnis, pr. 1929 (The Didactic Play of Baden: On Consent, 1960)

Happy End, pb. 1929 (libretto; lyrics with Elisabeth Hauptmann; English translation 1972)

Der Ozeanflug, pr., pb. 1929 (radio play; The Flight of the Lindberghs, 1930)

Die Ausnahme und die Regel, wr. 1930, pb. 1937 (The Exception and the Rule, 1954)

Der Jasager, pr. 1930 (based on the Japanese No play Taniko; He Who Said Yes, 1946)

Die Massnahme, pr. 1930 (libretto; The Measures Taken, 1960)

Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe, pb. 1931 (St. Joan of the Stockyards, 1956)

Der Neinsager, pb. 1931 (He Who Said No, 1946)

Die Mutter, pr., pb. 1932 (based on Maxim Gorky’s novel Mat; The Mother, 1965)

Die Sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger, pr. 1933 (cantata; The Seven Deadly Sins, 1961)

Die Horatier und die Kuriatier, wr. 1934, pb. 1938 (The Horatians and the Curatians, 1947)

Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe, pr. 1935 (based on William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure; The Roundheads and the Peakheads, 1937)

Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar, pr., pb. 1937 (Señora Carrar’s Rifles, 1938)

Furcht und Elend des dritten Reiches, pr. 1938 (The Private Life of the Master Race, 1944)

Leben des Galilei, first version wr. 1938-1939, pr. 1943; second version (in English), pr. 1947; third version (in German), pr., pb. 1955, revised pb. 1957 (The Life of Galileo, 1960; better known as Galileo)

Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, wr. 1938-1940, pr. 1943 (The Good Woman of Setzuan, 1948)

Das Verhör des Lukullus, pr. 1940 (radio play), pb. 1940 (libretto; The Trial of Lucullus, 1943)

Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti, wr. 1940, pr. 1948 (Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti, 1976)

Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, pr. 1941 (based on Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen’s Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus; Mother Courage and Her Children, 1941)

Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui, wr. 1941, pb. 1957 (The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, 1972)

Die Gesichte der Simone Machard, wr. 1941-1943, pb. 1956 (with Feuchtwanger; The Visions of Simone Machard, 1961)

Schweyk im zweiten Weltkrieg, wr. 1941-1943, pb. 1957 (based on Jaroslav Hašek’s novel Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za svetove války; Schweyk in the Second World War, 1975)

Der kaukasische Kreidekreis, wr. 1944-1945, pr. in English 1948, pb. 1949 (based on Li Hsing-dao’s play The Circle of Chalk; The Caucasian Chalk Circle, 1948)

Die Antigone des Sophokles, pr., pb. 1948

Die Tage der Commune, wr. 1948-1949, pr. 1956 (based on Nordahl Grieg’s Nederlaget; The Days of the Commune, 1971)

Der Hofmeister, pr. 1950 (adaptation of Jacob Lenz’s Der Hofmeister; The Tutor, 1972)

Turandot: Oder, Der Kongress der Weisswäscher, wr. 1950-1954, pr. 1970

Der Prozess der Jeanne d’Arc zu Rouen, 1431, pr. 1952 (based on Anna Seghers’s radio play; The Trial of Jeanne d’Arc at Rouen, 1431, 1972)

Coriolan, wr. 1952-1953, pb. 1959 (adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus; Coriolanus, 1972)

Don Juan, pr. 1953 (adaptation of Molière’s play; English translation, 1972)

Pauken und Trompeten, pb. 1956 (adaptation of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer; Trumpets and Drums, 1972)

Collected Plays, pb. 1994

Long Fiction:

Der Dreigroschenroman, 1934 (The Threepenny Novel, 1937, 1956)

Die Geschäfte des Herrn Julius Caesar, 1956

Short Fiction:

Geschichten von Herrn Keuner, 1930, 1958 (Stories of Mr. Keuner, 2001)

Kalendergeschichten, 1948 (Tales from the Calendar, 1961)

Me-ti: Buch der Wendungen, 1965

Prosa, 1965 (5 volumes)

Collected Stories, 1998

Poetry:

Hauspostille, 1927, 1951 (Manual of Piety, 1966)

Lieder, Gedichte, Chöre, 1934 (Songs, Poems, Choruses, 1976)

Svendborger Gedichte, 1939 (Svendborg Poems, 1976)

Selected Poems, 1947

Hundert Gedichte, 1951 (A Hundred Poems, 1976)

Gedichte und Lieder, 1956 (Poems and Songs, 1976)

Gedichte, 1960-1965 (9 volumes)

Poems, 1913-1956, 1976 (includes Buckower Elegies)

Bad Time for Poetry: 152 Poems and Songs, 1995

Nonfiction:

Der Messingkauf, 1937-1951 (The Messingkauf Dialogues, 1965)

Kleines Organon für das Theater, 1948 (A Little Organum for the Theater, 1951)

Schriften zum Theater, 1963-1964 (7 volumes)

Brecht on Theatre, 1964 (John Willett, editor)

Arbeitsjournal, 1938-1955, 1973 (3 volumes; Bertolt Brecht Journals, 1993)

Tagebücher, 1920-1922, 1975 (Diaries, 1920-1922, 1979)

Letters, 1990

Brecht on Film and Radio, 2000

Screenplays:

Kuhle Wampe, 1932 (English translation, 1933)

Hangmen Also Die, 1943

Das Lied der Ströme, 1954

Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti, 1955

Biography

The reigning figure of international twentieth century theater is Bertolt Brecht (brehkt), who was born Eugen Berthold Brecht in the Bavarian city of Augsburg in 1898. Brecht came from bourgeois origins. His father began as a clerk in a paper mill and rose through the ranks to become its manager. Brecht completed his secondary education in Augsburg’s Realgymnasium in 1917, after being threatened with dismissal the preceding year because he had written a pacifist essay during wartime. Brecht’s pacifist sentiments, which eventually led to his being awarded the International Stalin Peace Prize in 1954, remained strong throughout his life and are at the thematic center of much of his writing.{$I[AN]9810001334}{$I[A]Brecht, Bertolt}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Brecht, Bertolt}{$I[tim]1898;Brecht, Bertolt}

Upon completing his secondary education, Brecht entered the University of Munich, where he studied medicine for one year. Then he was conscripted, and during his military service he was a corpsman in a military hospital in Augsburg. His conscription marked the end of his formal education. After being discharged he supported himself in Munich as a freelance writer, often writing theatrical reviews and thereby gaining a broad exposure to theater during the postwar years.

In 1924, two years after he was married to his first wife, Marianne Zoff, from whom he was divorced in 1927, Brecht was in Berlin at the Deutsches Theater, where he worked with Max Reinhardt for two years. In 1926 Brecht began to study Marxist economics, which changed his thinking and the course of his life. Already convinced that theater’s role in society is essentially educational and didactic, Brecht now came under the influence of Erwin Piscator’s political theater, which is reflected in his dramatic theory as well as such early political pieces as A Man’s a Man and The Threepenny Opera, the first of his plays to use songs to stop rather than advance the action.

Brecht’s work became increasingly political during the 1920’s and early 1930’s, as the Nazis were gaining power in Germany. He and his wife, Helene Weigel, to whom he was married in 1929, were forced to flee after the police in January, 1933, broke up a performance of The Measures Taken in Erfurt. Less than three months later Brecht’s works were publicly burned, and in 1935 his German citizenship was revoked.

Brecht and his family stayed in Denmark until 1939. Then, apprehensive about being so close to Germany, they moved to Sweden, later to Finland, and finally, in 1941, to the United States. They lived for six years in Santa Monica, California, where Brecht worked intermittently with film studios, although only one of his screenplays, Hangmen Also Die, was produced. In 1947, one day after the House Committee on Un-American Activities officially declared that he was not pro-Communist, Brecht left the United States for Zurich.

Brecht is best known for his theories of theater that center on a concept of epic theater he explains in A Little Organum for the Theatre and in the notes to Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. This approach to theater–and to directing, in which Brecht was fully engaged–is radically different from Konstantin Stanislavsky’s theory of method acting. Brecht’s was consciously and calculatedly a theater of alienation; he wanted to prevent audiences from identifying so much with his characters that they would miss the plays’ social and political impact. In his antidramatic works actors are witnesses to, rather than participants in, events.

According to Brecht, it is the social and political effect of a play upon audiences that is a measure of its success or failure. Although his theater is a theater of ideas, he wrote specifically for common people, not for intellectual or academic audiences. He wanted his plays to be performed not only in theaters but also in schools, union halls, factories–wherever workers gather. His fundamental aim was to deliver an abstract philosophy in a container–a play–designed to entertain as it instructs, as is evidenced in plays such as Galileo and in The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Brecht returned to Europe after the war, in 1948, to what was then East Berlin. Here he became the artistic manager of the Deutsches Theater, where he had begun his career, and the next year he and his wife established the Berliner Ensemble. He spent his final years preparing materials for his new theater and directing many of the plays performed in it. When he died of a coronary thrombosis on August 14, 1956, Brecht’s wife, one of the best interpreters of his work, took his place in the Berliner Ensemble.

BibliographyBartram, Graham, and Anthony Waine, eds. Brecht in Perspective. London: Longman, 1982. Thirteen excellent essays by highly qualified scholars. The topics range from German drama before Brecht through Brecht’s manifold innovations to Brecht’s legacy for German and English playwrights. Indispensable reading for understanding the broader context of his works.Bentley, Eric. Bentley on Brecht. New York: Applause, 1998. Noted Brecht scholar subsumes two earlier works on the German poet-playwright covering his knowledge of Brecht from 1942-1948. Cogently examines Brecht’s stagecraft and dramatic theory, his position as a poet, his influence, and fifteen of his plays (including their production). Contains personal reminiscences and includes an index to Brechtian works and characters and two bibliographies.Cook, Bruce. Brecht in Exile. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982. A series of essays that covers Brecht’s life in exile in America from 1933 until 1956. Briefly mentions that although Brecht had become quite skilled in the short story, he never mastered the novel. Discusses the story “The Augsburg Chalk Circle” as the source for the play The Caucasian Chalk Circle.Dickson, Keith A. Towards Utopia: A Study of Brecht. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1978. Contains a nine-range discussion of the short fiction, with analyses of three stories from Tales from the Calendar: “The Experiment,” “The Heretic’s Coat,” and “Caesar and His Legionary.” Places Brecht’s works in the context of literary, philosophical, social, and political history. German quotations are translated at the end of the book.Eddershaw, Margaret. Performing Brecht: Forty Years of British Performance. London: Routledge, 1996. Analyzes how British performances from the 1950’s to the 1990’s have been influenced and shaped by Brecht’s dramatic theories, his own practice and productions, and changing views of the plays’ meanings. Included are case studies of three 1990’s productions.Esslin, Martin. Brecht: The Man and His Work. 1960. Rev. ed. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A lucidly written biography. Emphasizes that Brecht’s lasting fame is mainly attributable to his masterful use of language, not to the intended message of the works, which often has the opposite of the desired effect. The reference section includes a useful descriptive list of Brecht’s principal works.Fuegi, John. Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama. New York: Grove, 1994. Fuegi has respectable academic credentials: He is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Maryland, founder of the International Brecht Society, and has had two previous books on Bertolt Brecht published. According to Fuegi, his newest work, dealing at great length not only with Brecht but also with a wide circle of his associates and collaborators, is the result of twenty-five years of research. It is bound to create intense controversy among Brecht scholars and critics.Fuegi, John. Bertolt Brecht: Chaos, According to Plan. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. While concentrating on the dramatic works, Fuegi stresses the enormous contribution made by Brecht’s loyal collaborators, including Elizabeth Hauptmann, who may actually have written most of “The Beast.” Contains a detailed chronology in the appendix.Giles, Steve, and Rodney Livingstone, eds. Bertolt Brecht: Centenary Essays. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1998. A collection of essays on Brecht written one hundred years after his birth. Bibliography.Hayman, Ronald. Brecht: A Biography. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983. A lengthy, dispassionately objective biography with many interesting details. Hayman skillfully integrates the facts of Brecht’s private life with the discussion of his works. Opens with a chronology and a list of performances.Hill, Claude. Bertolt Brecht. Boston: Twayne, 1975. An overall introduction to Brecht’s life and work. The only references to the short fiction are brief mentions of the Keuner stories and of the story “The Augsburg Chalk Circle” as the source for The Caucasian Chalk Circle. However, this is a good introduction to Brecht’s work written for the general reader.Jameson, Frederic. Brecht and Method. New York: Verso, 1998. A challenging study of Brecht as a modernist and postmodernist thinker by a noted neo-Marxist critic and theorist. Jameson discusses Brecht’s dialectical method, his relationship to the montage theory of filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, and the relationship between his theory and his practice.Martin, Carol, and Henry Bial. Brecht Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2000. Collection of protean essays in three sections: Brecht’s key theories, his theories in practice, and, most successful, the adoption of his ideas internationally.Mews, Siegfried, ed. A Bertolt Brecht Reference Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. An indispensable guide for the student of Brecht. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Speirs, Ronald, ed. Brecht’s Poetry of Political Exile. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A collection of essays that examine the poetry Brecht wrote while in exile from Germany during World War II.Thomson, Peter. Brecht: “Mother Courage and Her Children.” Plays in Production series. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. An examination of the stage history and dramatic production of Mother Courage and Her Children, the conclusion of which was written by Viv Gardner. Bibliography and index.Thomson, Peter, and Glendyr Sacks, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Brecht. Cambridge Companions to Literature series. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. This extensive reference work contains a wealth of information on Brecht. Bibliography and index.Völker, Klaus. Brecht: A Biography. Translated by John Nowell. New York: Seabury Press, 1978. Translation of Bertolt Brecht: Eine Biographie. Munich: Carl Hanser, 1976. A positive portrait of Brecht, with emphasis not necessarily on the major works. Interspersed with appropriate lines of Brecht’s poetry. Good photo section, name index, and title index.Walker, John. “City Jungles and Expressionist Reifications from Brecht to Hammett.” Twentieth Century Literature 44 (Spring, 1998): 119-133. Discusses how the fiction of Brecht and Dashiell Hammett presents the urban landscape as technological anti-utopia and primeval jungle. Discusses the urban jungle metaphor as background for both expressionism and noir. Argues that Hammett reproduces the model of human relations in Brecht’s fiction.Weideli, Walter. The Art of Bertolt Brecht. Translated by Daniel Russell. New York: New York University Press, 1963. One of the few studies of Brecht to mention his short stories. Suggests that the stories in Calendar Tales constitute a kind of popular almanac containing Brecht’s rules of conduct. Contends Brecht reduces various heroes of history to a common denominator in the collection.Willett, John. Brecht in Context: Comparative Approaches. Rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1998. A comparative analysis of the works of Brecht. Bibliography and index.
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