Virtue Vs. Survival: The Concept of Morality in Some of Bertolt Brecht's Plays

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German, playwriting, morality, Bertolt Brecht, virtue, survival


German Language and Literature | Philosophy | Playwriting | Theatre and Performance Studies


A person seeing one of Bertolt Brecht's plays for the first time is probably amazed at the difference between his epic theater and the traditional dramatic theater. The epic theater grew out of a revolt against the dramatic theater. Brecht objected to the hypnotic and soothing effect which he felt the dramatic theater had upon the audience, and he discussed this in his Kleines Organon fur das Theater:

Denn der Zuschauer wunscht, in den Besitz ganz bestimmter Empfindungen zu kommen, wie ein Kind sie wunschen mag, wenn es sich auf eines der Holzpferde eines Karussells setzt: der Empfindung des Stolzes, dass es reiten kann und dass es ein Pferd hat; der Lust, dass es getragen wird, an andern Kindern vorbei; der absenteuerlichen Traume, dass es verfolgt wird oder andere verfolgt usw. Damit das Kind all das erlebe, spielt die Pferdeahnlichkeit des Holzvehikels keine grosse Rolle, noch stort die Beschrankung des Rittes auf einen kleinen Kreis. Alles, worauf es den Zuschauern in diesen Hausern ankommt, ist, dass sie eine widerspruchsvolle Welt mit einer harmonishen vertauschen konnen, eine nicht besonders gekannte mit einer traumbaren.

When the wooden horse is seen as the dramatic theater and the child as the audience, the desired effect of the dramatic theater upon the audience becomes clear. When a person goes to the theater, he expects to have his spirits raised and his nerves soothed. In short, he wants to be provided with two to three hours of escape from the problems of the everyday world, just as the child who rides his make-believe horse in a make-believe world. And he will not be disappointed, for the dramatic theater rests upon the principle of capturing the emotions of its spectators. He will be slowly drawn into the plot of the play and will identify with the characters until he is so involved that he is no longer able to think. In this state of hypnosis, he is unable to see that the world portrayed many times is not the real world, but a world of fantasy and illusion. The actor on the stage also adds to this feeling, for his emotions cover up those of the character he is portraying. In the dramatic theater, there is little chance of hearing any genuine human voice. Life as it is is not represented.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status


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