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Bertolt Brecht

Born 10 February 1898(1898-02-10)
Augsburg, Germany
Died 14 August 1956 (aged 58)
East Berlin, German Democratic Republic
Occupation Dramatist · Theatre Director · Poet
Genres Non-Aristotelian drama ·
Epic theatre · Dialectical theatre
Notable work(s) The Threepenny Opera
Life of Galileo
Mother Courage and Her Children
The Good Person of Szechwan
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Spouse(s) Marianne Zoff (1922–1928)
Helene Weigel (1930–1956)
Children Frank Banholzer, Hanne Hiob,
Stefan Brecht, Barbara Brecht

About this sound Bertolt Brecht (born About this sound Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht ; 10 February 1898–14 August 1956) was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director. An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the Berliner Ensemble—the post-war theatre company operated by Brecht and his wife and long-time collaborator, the actress Helene Weigel—with its internationally acclaimed productions.[1]

From his late twenties Brecht remained a life-long committed Marxist who, in developing the combined theory and practice of his 'epic theatre', synthesized and extended the experiments of Erwin Piscator and Vsevolod Meyerhold to explore the theatre as a forum for political ideas and the creation of a critical aesthetics of dialectical materialism. Brecht's modernist concern with drama-as-a-medium led to his refinement of the 'epic form' of the drama. This dramatic form is related to similar modernist innovations in other arts, including the strategy of divergent chapters in James Joyce's novel Ulysses, Sergei Eisenstein's evolution of a constructivist 'montage' in the cinema, and Picasso's introduction of cubist 'collage' in the visual arts.[2] In contrast to many other avant-garde approaches, however, Brecht had no desire to destroy art as an institution; rather, he hoped to 're-function' the theatre to a new social use. In this regard he was a vital participant in the aesthetic debates of his era—particularly over the 'high art/popular culture' dichotomy—vying with the likes of Adorno, Lukács, Bloch, and developing a close friendship with Benjamin. Brechtian theatre articulated popular themes and forms with avant-garde formal experimentation to create a modernist realism that stood in sharp contrast both to its psychological and socialist varieties. "Brecht's work is the most important and original in European drama since Ibsen and Strindberg", Raymond Williams argues, while Peter Bürger dubs him "the most important materialist writer of our time".[3]

Collective and collaborative working methods were inherent to Brecht's approach, as Fredric Jameson (among others) stresses. Jameson describes the creator of the work not as Brecht the individual, but rather as 'Brecht': a collective subject that "certainly seemed to have a distinctive style (the one we now call 'Brechtian') but was no longer personal in the bourgeois or individualistic sense". During the course of his career, Brecht sustained many long-lasting creative relationships with other writers, composers, scenographers, theatre directors, dramaturgs and actors; the list includes: Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, Ruth Berlau, Slatan Dudow, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau, Caspar Neher, Teo Otto, Karl von Appen, Ernst Busch, Lotte Lenya, Peter Lorre, Therese Giehse, Angelika Hurwicz, Carola Neher, and Helene Weigel herself. This is "theatre as collective experiment [...] as something radically different from theatre as expression or as experience".[4]

There are few areas of modern theatrical culture that have not felt the impact or influence of Brecht's ideas and practices; dramatists and directors in whom one may trace a clear Brechtian legacy include Dario Fo, Augusto Boal, Joan Littlewood, Peter Brook, Peter Weiss, Heiner Müller, Pina Bausch, Tony Kushner, Robert Bolt and Caryl Churchill. In addition to the theatre, Brechtian theories and techniques have exerted considerable sway over certain strands of film theory and cinematic practice; Brecht's influence may be detected in the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Lindsay Anderson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Joseph Losey, Nagisa Oshima, Ritwik Ghatak, Lars von Trier, Jan Bucquoy and Hal Hartley.[5]


Life and career


Bavaria (1898–1924)

Brecht was born in Augsburg, Bavaria (about 50 miles (80 km) north-west of Munich) to a conventionally-devout Protestant mother and a Catholic father (who had been persuaded to have a Protestant wedding). His father worked for a paper mill, becoming its managing director in 1914.[6] Thanks to his mother's influence, Brecht knew his Bible, a familiarity that would impact on his writing throughout his life. From her, too, came the "dangerous image of the self-denying woman" that recurs in his drama.[7] Brecht's home life was comfortably middle class, despite what his occasional attempt to claim peasant origins implied.[8] At school in Augsburg he met Caspar Neher, with whom he formed a life-long creative partnership, Neher designing many of the sets for Brecht's dramas and helping to forge the distinctive visual iconography of their epic theatre.

When he was sixteen, the first World War broke out; initially enthusiastic, Brecht soon changed his mind on seeing his classmates "swallowed by the army".[6] On his father's recommendation, Brecht sought a loophole by registering for an additional medical course at Munich University, where he enrolled in 1917.[9] There he studied drama with Arthur Kutscher, who inspired in the young Brecht an admiration for the iconoclastic dramatist and cabaret-star Wedekind.[10]

From July 1916, Brecht's newspaper articles began appearing under the new name "Bert Brecht" (his first theatre criticism for the Augsburger Volkswille appeared in October 1919).[11] Brecht was drafted into military service in the autumn of 1918, only to be posted back to Augsburg as a medical orderly in a military Sexual health clinic; the war ended a month later.[6]

In July 1919, Brecht and Paula Banholzer (who had begun a relationship in 1917) had a son, Frank. In 1920 Brecht's mother died.[12]

Karl Valentin as the barber in Mysteries of a Barbershop (1923).

Some time in either 1920 or 1921, Brecht took a small part in the political cabaret of the Munich comedian Karl Valentin.[13]. Brecht's diaries for the next few years record numerous visits to see Valentin perform.[14]. Brecht compared Valentin to Chaplin, for his "virtually complete rejection of mimicry and cheap psychology" [15] Writing in his Messingkauf Dialogues years later, Brecht identified Valentin, along with Wedekind and Büchner, as his "chief influences" at that time:

"But the man he [Brecht writes of himself in the third person] learnt most from was the clown Valentin, who performed in a beer-hall. He did short sketches in which he played refractory employees, orchestral musicians or photographers, who hated their employer and made him look ridiculous. The employer was played by his partner, a popular woman comedian who used to pad herself out and speak in a deep bass voice".[16]

Brecht's first full-length play, Baal (written 1918), arose in response to an argument in one of Kutscher's drama seminars, initiating a trend that persisted throughout his career of creative activity that was generated by a desire to counter another work (both others' and his own, as his many adaptations and re-writes attest). "Anyone can be creative", he quipped, "it's rewriting other people that's a challenge".[17] Brecht completed his second major play, Drums in the Night, in February 1919.

In 1922 while still living in Munich, Brecht came to the attention of an influential Berlin critic, Herbert Ihering: "At 24 the writer Bert Brecht has changed Germany's literary complexion overnight"—he enthused in his review of Brecht's first play to be produced, Drums in the Night—"[he] has given our time a new tone, a new melody, a new vision. [...] It is a language you can feel on your tongue, in your gums, your ear, your spinal column".[18] In November it was announced that Brecht had been awarded the prestigious Kleist Prize (intended for unestablished writers and probably Germany's most significant literary award, until it was abolished in 1932) for his first three plays (Baal, Drums in the Night, and In the Jungle, although at that point only Drums had been produced).[19] The citation for the award insisted that:

Poster for the Riverside Shakespeare Company's production of Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger's Edward II. New York City, 1982.
"[Brecht's] language is vivid without being deliberately poetic, symbolical without being over literary. Brecht is a dramatist because his language is felt physically and in the round".[20]

That year he married the Vienna opera-singer Marianne Zoff. Their daughter—Hanne Hiob (1923–2009)—was a successful German actress.[6]

In 1923, Brecht wrote a scenario for what was to become a short slapstick film, Mysteries of a Barbershop, directed by Erich Engel and starring Karl Valentin.[21] Despite a lack of success at the time, its experimental inventiveness and the subsequent success of many of its contributors have meant that it is now considered one of the most important films in German film history.[22] In May of that year, Brecht's In the Jungle premiered in Munich, also directed by Engel. Opening night proved to be a "scandal"—a phenomenon that would characterize many of his later productions during the Weimar Republic—in which Nazis blew whistles and threw stink bombs at the actors on the stage.[23]

In 1924 Brecht worked with the novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger (whom he had met in 1919) on an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II that proved to be a milestone in Brecht's early theatrical and dramaturgical development.[24] Brecht's Edward II constituted his first attempt at collaborative writing and was the first of many classic texts he was to adapt. As his first solo directorial début, he later credited it as the germ of his conception of 'epic theatre'.[25] That September, a job as assistant dramaturg at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater—at the time one of the leading three or four theatres in the world—brought him to Berlin.[26]

Weimar Republic Berlin (1925–33)

In 1924 Brecht's marriage to Zoff began to break down (though they did not divorce until 1928). Brecht had become involved with both Elisabeth Hauptmann and Helene Weigel.[27] Brecht and Weigel's son, Stefan, was born in October 1924.

In his role as dramaturg, Brecht had much to stimulate him but little work of his own.[28] Reinhardt staged Shaw's Saint Joan, Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters (with the improvisational approach of the commedia dell'arte in which the actors chatted with the prompter about their roles), and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author in his group of Berlin theatres.[29] A new version of Brecht's third play, now entitled Jungle: Decline of a Family, opened at the Deutsches Theater in October 1924, but was not a success.[30]

In the asphalt city I'm at home. From the very start
Provided with every last sacrament:
With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy
To the end mistrustful, lazy and content.
Bertolt Brecht, "Of Poor BB".

At this time Brecht revised his important 'transitional poem' "Of Poor BB".[31] In 1925, his publishers provided him with Elisabeth Hauptmann as an assistant for the completion of his collection of poems, Devotions for the Home (Hauspostille, eventually published in January 1927). She continued to work with him after the publisher's commission ran out.[32]

In 1925 in Mannheim the artistic exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit ('new objectivity') had given its name to the new post-Expressionist movement in the German arts. With little to do at the Deutsches Theater, Brecht began to develop his Man Equals Man project, which was to become the first product of "the 'Brecht collective'—that shifting group of friends and collaborators on whom he henceforward depended".[33] This collaborative approach to artistic production, together with aspects of Brecht's writing and style of theatrical production, mark Brecht's work from this period as part of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement.[34] The collective's work "mirrored the artistic climate of the middle 1920s", Willett and Manheim argue:

with their attitude of 'Neue Sachlichkeit' (or New Matter-of-Factness), their stressing of the collectivity and downplaying of the individual, and their new cult of Anglo-Saxon imagery and sport. Together the 'collective' would go to fights, not only absorbing their terminology and ethos (which permeates Man Equals Man) but also drawing those conclusions for the theatre as a whole which Brecht set down in his theoretical essay 'Emphasis on Sport' and tried to realise by means of the harsh lighting, the boxing-ring stage and other anti-illusionistic devices that henceforward appeared in his own productions.[35]

Chaplin's silent comedy The Gold Rush (1925).

In 1925, Brecht also saw two films that had a significant influence on him: Chaplin's The Gold Rush and Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin.[36] Brecht had compared Valentin to Chaplin, and the two of them provided models for Galy Gay in Man Equals Man.[37] Brecht later wrote that Chaplin "would in many ways come closer to the epic than to the dramatic theatre's requirements".[38] They met several times during Brecht's time in the United States, and discussed Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux project, which it is possible Brecht influenced.[39]

In 1926 a series of short stories was published under Brecht's name, though Hauptmann was closely associated with writing them.[40] Following the production of Man Equals Man in Darmstadt that year, Brecht began studying Marxism and socialism in earnest, under the supervision of Hauptmann.[41] "When I read Marx's Capital", a note by Brecht reveals, "I understood my plays". Marx was, it continues, "the only spectator for my plays I'd ever come across".[42]

For us, man portrayed on the stage is significant as a social function. It is not his relationship to himself, nor his relationship to God, but his relationship to society which is central. Whenever he appears, his class or social stratum appears with him. His moral, spiritual or sexual conflicts are conflicts with society.
Erwin Piscator, 1929.[43]

In 1927 Brecht became part of the 'dramaturgical collective' of Erwin Piscator's first company, which was designed to tackle the problem of finding new plays for its "epic, political, confrontational, documentary theatre".[44] Brecht collaborated with Piscator during the period of the latter's landmark productions, Hoppla, We're Alive! by Toller, Rasputin, The Adventures of the Good Soldier Schweik, and Konjunktur by Lania.[45] Brecht's most significant contribution was to the adaptation of the unfinished episodic comic novel Schweik, which he later described as a "montage from the novel".[46] The Piscator productions influenced Brecht's ideas about staging and design, and alerted him to the radical potentials offered to the 'epic' playwright by the development of stage technology (particularly projections).[47] What Brecht took from Piscator "is fairly plain, and he acknowledged it" Willett suggests:

The emphasis on Reason and didacticism, the sense that the new subject matter demanded a new dramatic form, the use of songs to interrupt and comment: all these are found in his notes and essays of the 1920s, and he bolstered them by citing such Piscatorial examples as the step-by-step narrative technique of Schweik and the oil interests handled in Konjunktur ('Petroleum resists the five-act form').[48]

Brecht was struggling at the time with the question of how to dramatize the complex economic relationships of modern capitalism in his unfinished project Joe P. Fleischhacker (which Piscator's theatre announced in its programme for the 1927–28 season). It wasn't until his Saint Joan of the Stockyards (written between 1929–1931) that Brecht solved it.[49] In 1928 he discussed with Piscator plans to stage Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Brecht's own Drums in the Night, but the productions did not materialize.[50]

1927 also saw the first collaboration between Brecht and the young composer Kurt Weill.[51] Together they began to develop Brecht's Mahagonny project, along thematic lines of the biblical Cities of the Plain but rendered in terms of the Neue Sachlichkeit's Amerikanismus, which had informed Brecht's previous work.[52] They produced The Little Mahagonny for a music festival in July, as what Weill called a "stylistic exercise" in preparation for the large-scale piece. From that point on Caspar Neher became an integral part of the collaborative effort, with words, music and visuals conceived in relation to one another from the start.[53] The model for their mutual articulation lay in Brecht's newly-formulated principle of the 'separation of the elements', which he first outlined in "The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre" (1930). The principle, a variety of montage, proposed by-passing the "great struggle for supremacy between words, music and production" as Brecht put it, by showing each as self-contained, independent works of art that adopt attitudes towards one another.[54]

In 1930 Brecht married Weigel; their daughter Barbara Brecht was born soon after the wedding. She also became an actress and currently holds the copyrights to all of Brecht's work.

Brecht formed a writing collective which became prolific and very influential. Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, Emil Burri, Ruth Berlau and others worked with Brecht and produced the multiple teaching plays, which attempted to create a new dramaturgy for participants rather than passive audiences. These addressed themselves to the massive worker arts organisation that existed in Germany and Austria in the 1920s. So did Brecht's first great play, Saint Joan of the Stockyards, which attempted to portray the drama in financial transactions.

This collective adapted John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, with Brecht's songs set to music by Kurt Weill. Retitled The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) it was the biggest hit in Berlin of the 1920s and a renewing influence on the musical worldwide. One of its most famous lines underscored the hypocrisy of conventional morality imposed by the Church, working in conjunction with the established order, in the face of working-class hunger and deprivation:

Erst kommt das Fressen
Dann kommt die Moral.
First the grub (lit. "eating like animals, gorging")
Then the morality.

The success of The Threepenny Opera was followed by the quickly thrown together Happy End. It was a personal and a commercial failure. At the time the book was purported to be by the mysterious Dorothy Lane (now known to be Elisabeth Hauptmann, Brecht's secretary and close collaborator). Brecht only claimed authorship of the song texts. Brecht would later use elements of Happy End as the germ for his Saint Joan of the Stockyards, a play that would never see the stage in Brecht's lifetime. Happy End's score by Weill produced many Brecht/Weill hits like "Der Bilbao-Song" and "Surabaya-Jonny".

The masterpiece of the Brecht/Weill collaborations, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), caused an uproar when it premiered in 1930 in Leipzig, with Nazis in the audience protesting. The Mahagonny opera would premier later in Berlin in 1931 as a triumphant sensation.

Brecht spent his last years in the Weimar-era Berlin (1930–1933) working with his ‘collective’ on the Lehrstücke. These were a group of plays driven by morals, music and Brecht's budding epic theatre. The Lehrstücke often aimed at educating workers on Socialist issues. The Measures Taken (Die Massnahme) was scored by Hanns Eisler. In addition, Brecht worked on a script for a semi-documentary feature film about the human impact of mass unemployment, Kuhle Wampe (1932), which was directed by Slatan Dudow. This striking film is notable for its subversive humour, outstanding cinematography by Günther Krampf, and Hanns Eisler's dynamic musical contribution. It still provides a vivid insight into Berlin during the last years of the Weimar Republic.

By February 1933, Brecht’s work was eclipsed by the rise of Nazi rule in Germany. (Brecht would also have his work challenged again in later life by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which believed he was under the influence of communism.[55][56])

Nazi Germany and World War II (1933–1945)

Unhappy the land where heroes are needed.
Galileo, in Brecht's Life of Galileo (1943)

Fearing persecution, Brecht left Germany in February 1933, when Hitler took power. He went to Denmark, but when war seemed imminent in 1939, he moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where he remained for a year. Then Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark, and Brecht was forced to leave Sweden for Finland where he waited for his visa for the United States until 3 May 1941.

During the war years, Brecht expressed his opposition to the National Socialist and Fascist movements in his most famous plays: Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Good Person of Szechwan, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, and many others.

Though he derived only money, no real success or pleasure in this, he worked on a few screenplays for Hollywood movies, including Hangmen Also Die!.

Cold War and final years in East Germany (1945–1956)

Brecht and Weigel on the roof of the Berliner Ensemble in 1954.

In the years of the Cold War and "red scare", the House Un-American Activities Committee called Brecht to account for his communist allegiances, and he was soon blacklisted by movie studio bosses. Brecht, along with about 41 other Hollywood writers, directors, actors and producers, was subpoenaed to appear before the HUAC in September 1947.

Initially, Brecht was one of 19 witnesses who declared that they would refuse to testify about their political affiliations. Eleven members of this group were actually questioned on this point but, as Brecht later explained, he did not want to delay a planned trip to Europe, so he followed the advice of attorneys and broke with his earlier avowal. On 30 October 1947, he appeared before the committee and testified that he had never actually held party membership.[56]

During his appearance before the committee, Brecht wore overalls and smoked an acrid cigar that made some of the committee members feel slightly ill. He made wry jokes throughout the proceedings, punctuating his inability to speak English well with continuous references to the translators present, who transformed his German statements into English ones unintelligible to himself.

Brecht's decision to testify led to criticism, including accusations of betrayal. The remaining witnesses, the so called Hollywood Ten, refused to testify and were cited for contempt. HUAC Vice Chairman Karl Mundt thanked Brecht for cooperating. The day after his testimony, on 31 October, Brecht flew to Europe.[57]

His involvement as a member of the "Hollywood 19" is referenced in Robert Greene's book The 48 Laws of Power.[58]

In Switzerland, Brecht composed an adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone, which was performed at Chur. It was based on the translation by Hölderlin, but was considerably modified. It was published under the title Antigonemodell 1948, accompanied by an essay on the importance of creating a 'non-Aristotelian' form of theatre. He was subsequently invited to return to Berlin by the Communist regime in East Germany. Horrified at the reinstatement of former Nazis into West Germany's government, Brecht accepted the offer and made East Berlin his home in 1949. He was enticed by the offer of his own theatre (completed in 1954) and theatre company (the Berliner Ensemble). He retained his Austrian nationality (granted in 1950), however, and overseas bank accounts from which he received valuable hard currency remittances. The copyrights on his writings were held by a Swiss company.[59] He used to drive around East Berlin in a pre-war DKW car—a rare luxury in the austere divided capital.

While Brecht's communist sympathies were a bane in the United States, East German officials sought to make him their hero. Though he had not been a member of the Communist Party, he had been deeply schooled in Marxism by the dissident communist Karl Korsch, and his communist allegiances were sincere. He claimed communism appeared to be the only reliable antidote to militarist fascism and spoke out against the remilitarization of the West and the division of Germany. Brecht used Korsch's version of the Marxist dialectic in both his aesthetic theory and practice in a central way when presenting his plays. He received the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954.

Statue of Brecht outside the Berliner Ensemble's theatre in Berlin

Brecht wrote very few plays in his last years in East Berlin, none of them as famous as his previous works. Instead, he dedicated himself to directing plays and developing the talents of the next generation of young directors and dramaturges, such as Manfred Wekwerth, Benno Besson and Carl Weber. Some of his most famous poems, however, including the "Buckow Elegies", came from this era. One of the poems in these Elegies, Die Lösung (The Solution) was Brecht's belated commentary[60] on the uprising of 17 June 1953 in East Germany:

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had thrown away the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Brecht had at first supported the measures taken by the East German government to crush the uprising, including the use of Soviet military force; he even wrote a letter on the day of the uprising (17 June) to SED First Secretary Walter Ulbricht stating that, "History will pay its respects to the revolutionary impatience of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. The great discussion [exchange] with the masses about the speed of socialist construction will lead to a viewing and safeguarding of the socialist achievements. At this moment I must assure you of my allegiance to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany".[61]

Graves of Helene Weigel and Bertolt Brecht.


Brecht died on 14 August 1956 of a heart attack at the age of 58. He is buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof on Chausseestraße in the Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin, overlooked by the residence he shared with Helene Weigel.

Dramatic works

Entries show: English-language translation of title (German-language title) [year written] / [year first produced][62]

Theory and practice of theatre

Along with his contemporary Erwin Piscator, Brecht created an influential theory of theatre—the epic theatre—that proposed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage. Brecht thought that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognise social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change in the world outside. For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.

One of Brecht's most important principles was what he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as "defamiliarization effect", "distancing effect", or "estrangement effect", and often mistranslated as "alienation effect").[63] This involved, Brecht wrote, "stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them".[64] To this end, Brecht employed techniques such as the actor's direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, and, in rehearsals, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense, and speaking the stage directions out loud.[65]

Major theoretical works

  • "The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre" (1930)
  • "The Threepenny Lawsuit" ("Der Dreigroschenprozess") (written 1931; published 1932)
  • "The Book of Changes" (fragment also known as Me-Ti; written 1935–1939)
  • "The Street Scene" (written 1938; published 1950)
  • "The Popular and the Realistic" (written 1938; published 1958)
  • "Short Description of a New Technique of Acting which Produces an Alienation Effect" (written 1940; published 1951)
  • "A Short Organum for the Theatre" ("Kleines Organon für das Theater", written 1948; published 1949)
  • The Messingkauf Dialogues (Dialogue aus dem Messingkauf, published 1963)

Collaborators and associates


Brecht left the Berliner Ensemble to his wife, the actress Helene Weigel, which she ran until her death in 1971. Perhaps the most famous German touring theatre of the postwar era, it was primarily devoted to performing Brecht's plays.

His son, Stefan Brecht, became a poet and theatre critic interested in New York's avant-garde theatre.

Brecht has been a controversial figure in Germany, and in his native city of Augsburg there were objections to creating a birthplace museum. By the 1970s, however, Brecht's plays had surpassed Shakespeare's in the number of annual performances in Germany.

Brecht's influence can be seen in the cinema. Such filmmakers as Lars von Trier, Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Nagisa Oshima, and Ritwik Ghatak were influenced by Brecht and his theory of the Verfremdungseffekt.[67]

Brecht in fiction

  • Brecht at Night by Mati Unt, transl. Eric Dickens (Dalkey Archive Press, 2009)
  • In The Lives of Others, a Stasi agent is partially inspired to save a playwright he has been spying on by reading a book of Brecht poetry that he had stolen from the artist's apartment.
  • In the ABC Family series The Middleman episode "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown", the show's title character quotes Brecht, "Hungry, man? Reach for a book. It is a weapon".


  1. ^ The introduction of this article draws on the following sources: Banham (1998, 129); Bürger (1984, 87–92); Jameson (1998, 43–58); Kolocotroni, Goldman and Taxidou (1998, 465–466); Williams (1993, 277–290); Wright (1989, 68–89; 113–137).
  2. ^ On these relationships, see "autonomization" in Jameson (1998, 43–58) and "non-organic work of art" in Bürger (1984, 87–92). Willett observes: "With Brecht the same montage technique spread to the drama, where the old Procrustean plot yielded to a more 'epic' form of narrative better able to cope with wide-ranging modern socio-economic themes. That, at least, was how Brecht theoretically justified his choice of form, and from about 1929 on he began to interpret its penchant for 'contradictions', much as had Eisenstein, in terms of the dialectic. It is fairly clear that in Brecht's case the practice came before the theory, for his actual composition of a play, with its switching around of scenes and characters, even the physical cutting up and sticking together of the typescript, shows that montage was the structural technique most natural to him. Like Hašek and Joyce he had not learnt this scissors-and-paste method from the Soviet cinema but picked it out of the air" (1978, 110).
  3. ^ The quotation from Raymond Williams is on page 277 of his book (1993) and that from Peter Bürger on page 88 of his (1984).
  4. ^ Jameson (1998, 10–11). See also the discussions of Brecht's collaborative relationships in the essays collected in Thomson and Sacks (1994). John Fuegi's take on Brecht's collaborations, detailed in Brecht & Co. (New York: Grove, 1994; also known as The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht) and summarized in his contribution to Thomson and Sacks (1994, 104–116), offers a particularly negative perspective; Jameson comments "his book will remain a fundamental document for future students of the ideological confusions of Western intellectuals during the immediate post-Cold War years" (1998, 31); Olga Taxidou offers a critical account of Fuegi's project from a feminist perspective in "Crude Thinking: John Fuegi and Recent Brecht Criticism" in New Theatre Quarterly XI.44 (Nov. 1995), p. 381–384.
  5. ^ On Jan Bucquoy, see Jan Bucquoy, La vie est belge; Le paradis, là, maintenant, tout de suite!, (2007), p. 98: Sans illusion car j'avoue que mon but dans la vie c'était de monter Mère Courage de Berthold Brecht au théâtre de l'Odéon à Paris. Au lieu de ça ce sont les escaliers du Dolle Mol que j'ai plutôt bien descendus. C'est le destin.. English translation: "It was my destiny that I never would bring Mother Courage and Her Children at the theatre of the Odéon in Paris".
  6. ^ a b c d Thomson (1994).
  7. ^ Thomson (1994, 22–23). See also Smith (1991).
  8. ^ See Brecht's poem "Of Poor B.B". (first version, 1922), in Brecht (2000b, 107–108).
  9. ^ Thomson (1994, 24) and Sacks (xvii).
  10. ^ Thomson (1994, 24). In his Messingkauf Dialogues, Brecht cites Wedekind, along with Büchner and Valentin, as his "chief influences" in his early years: "he", Brecht writes of himself in the third person, "also saw the writer Wedekind performing his own works in a style which he had developed in cabaret. Wedekind had worked as a ballad singer; he accompanied himself on the lute". (1965, 69). Kutscher was "bitterly critical" of Brecht's own early dramatic writings (Willet and Manheim 1970, vii).
  11. ^ Thomson (1994, 24) and Willett (1967, 17).
  12. ^ Willett and Manheim (1970, vii).
  13. ^ Sacks (1994, xx) and McDowell (1977).
  14. ^ McDowell (2000)
  15. ^ Willett and Manheim 1970, x.
  16. ^ Brecht (1965, 69–70).
  17. ^ Quoted in Thomson (1994, 25).
  18. ^ Herbert Ihering's review for Drums in the Night in the Berliner Börsen-Courier on the 5 October 1922. Quoted in Willett and Manheim (1970, viii–ix).
  19. ^ See Thomson and Sacks (1994, 50) and Willett and Manheim (1970, viii–ix).
  20. ^ Herbert Ihering, quoted in Willett and Manheim (1970, ix).
  21. ^ McDowell (1977).
  22. ^ Culbert (1995).
  23. ^ McDowell (2000).
  24. ^ Thomson (1994, 26–27), Meech (1994, 54–55).
  25. ^ Meech (1994, 54–55) and Benjamin (1983, 115). See the article on Edward II for details of Brecht's germinal 'epic' ideas and techniques in this production.
  26. ^ Brecht was recommended for the job by Erich Engel; Carl Zuckmayer was to join Brecht in the position. See Sacks (1994, xviii), Willett (1967, 145), and Willett and Manheim (1970, vii).
  27. ^ Thomson (1994, 28).
  28. ^ According to Willett, Brecht was disgruntled with the Deutsches Theater at not being given a Shakespeare production to direct. At the end of the 1924–1925 season, both his and Carl Zuckmayer's (his fellow dramaturg) contracts were not renewed. (Willett 1967, 145). Zuckmayer relates how: "Brecht seldom turned up there; with his flapping leather jacket he looked like a cross between a lorry driver and a Jesuit seminarist. Roughly speaking, what he wanted was to take over complete control; the season's programme must be regulated entirely according to his theories, and the stage be rechristened 'epic smoke theatre', according to his view that people might actually be disposed to think if they were allowed to smoke at the same time. As this was refused him he confined himself to coming and drawing his pay". (Quoted by Willett 1967, 145).
  29. ^ Willett (1967, 145).
  30. ^ Willett and Manheim (1979, viii).
  31. ^ Willett and Manheim point to the significance of this poem as a marker of the shift in Brecht's work towards "a much more urban, industrialized flavour" (1979, viii).
  32. ^ Willett and Manheim (1979, viii, x).
  33. ^ Willett and Manheim (1979, viii); Joel Schechter writes: "The subjugation of an individual to that of a collective was endorsed by the affirmations of comedy, and by the decision of the coauthors of Man is Man (Emil Burri, Slatan Dudow, Caspar Neher, Bernhard Reich, Elisabeth Hauptmann) to call themselves 'The Brecht Collective'". (1994, 74).
  34. ^ Willett (1978).
  35. ^ Willett and Manheim (1979, viii–ix).
  36. ^ Willett and Manheim (1979, xxxiii).
  37. ^ Schechter (1994, 68).
  38. ^ Brecht (1964, 56).
  39. ^ Schechter (1994, 72).
  40. ^ Sacks (1994, xviii).
  41. ^ Thomson (1994, 28–29).
  42. ^ Brecht (1964, 23–24).
  43. ^ Erwin Piscator, "Basic Principles of a Sociological Drama" in Kolocotroni, Goldman and Taxidou (1998, 243).
  44. ^ Willett (1998, 103) and (1978, 72). In his book The Political Theatre, Piscator wrote: "Perhaps my whole style of directing is a direct result of the total lack of suitable plays. It would certainly not have taken so dominant form if adequate plays had been on hand when I started" (1929, 185).
  45. ^ Willett (1978, 74).
  46. ^ See Brecht's Journal entry for 24 June 1943. Brecht claimed to have written the adaptation (in his Journal entry), but Piscator contested that; the manuscript bears the names "Brecht, Gasbarra, Piscator, G. Grosz" in Brecht's handwriting (Willett 1978, 110). See also Willett (1978, 90–95). Brecht wrote a sequel to the novel in 1943, Schweik in the Second World War.
  47. ^ Willett (1998, 104). In relation to his innovations in the use of theatre technology, Piscator wrote: "technical innovations were never an end in themselves for me. Any means I have used or am currently in the process of using were designed to elevate the events on the stage onto a historical plane and not just to enlarge the technical range of the stage machinery. This elevation, which was inextricably bound up with the use of Marxist dialectics in the theatre, had not been achieved by the plays themselves. My technical devices had been developed to cover up the deficiencies of the dramatists' products" ("Basic Principles of a Sociological Drama" [1929]; in Kolocotroni, Goldman and Taxidou [1998, 243]).
  48. ^ Willett (1978, 109–110). The similarities between Brecht's and Piscator's theoretical formulations from the time indicate that the two agreed on fundamentals; compare Piscator's summation of the achievements of his first company (1929), which follows, with Brecht's Mahagonny Notes (1930): "In lieu of private themes we had generalisation, in lieu of what was special the typical, in lieu of accident causality. Decorativeness gave way to constructedness, Reason was put on a par with Emotion, while sensuality was replaced by didacticism and fantasy by documentary reality". From a speech given by Piscator on 25 March 1929, and reproduced in Schriften 2 p.50; Quoted by Willett (1978, 107). See also Willett (1998, 104–105).
  49. ^ Willett (1998, 104–105).
  50. ^ Willett (1978, 76).
  51. ^ The two first met in March 1927, after Weill had written a critical introduction to the broadcast on Berlin Radio of an adaptation of Brecht's Man Equals Man. When they met, Brecht was 29 years old and Weill was 27. Brecht had experience of writing songs and had performed his own with tunes he had composed; at the time he was also married to an opera singer (Zoff). Weill had collaborated with Georg Kaiser, one of the few Expressionist playwrights that Brecht admired; he was married to the actress Lotte Lenya. Willett and Manheim (1979, xv).
  52. ^ Willet and Manheim (1979, xv–xviii). In Munich in 1924 Brecht had begun referring to some of the stranger aspects of life in post-putsch Bavaria under the codename 'Mahagonny'. The Amerikanismus imagery appears in his first three 'Mahagonny Songs', with their Wild West references. With that, however, the project stalled for two and a half years. With Hauptmann, who wrote the two English-language 'Mahagonny Songs', Brecht had begun work on an opera to be called Sodom and Gomorrah or The Man from Manhattan and a radio play called The Flood or 'The Collapse of Miami, the Paradise City', both of which came to underlie the new scheme with Weill. See Willett and Manheim (1979, xv–xvi). The influence of Amerikanismus is most clearly discernible in Brecht's In The Jungle of Cities.
  53. ^ In this respect, the creative process for Mahagonny was quite different from The Threepenny Opera, with the former being durchkomponiert or set to music right through, whereas on the latter Weill was brought at a late stage to set the songs. See Willett and Manheim (1979, xv).
  54. ^ Willett and Manheim (1979, xvii) and Brecht (1964, 37–38).
  55. ^
  56. ^ a b Brecht_HUAC_hearing
  57. ^
  58. ^ Robert Greene: The 48 Laws of Power. The story is under the Law 22 "Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power"; under the observance of the law on page 165–167, the author goes into detail about Brecht and how he handled the committee.
  59. ^ GradeSaver: ClassicNote: Biography of Bertolt Brecht
  60. ^ It was printed first in the Springer paper Die Welt, in 1959, then in the first book editions of the Buckow Elegies in Frankfurt am Main, 1964. It was first published in the GDR in 1969, by Aufbau publishers, Berlin and Weimar, in their Brecht, Collected Poems edition. Helene Weigel had insisted on it.
  61. ^ [Neues Deutschland, 21 June 1953.]
  62. ^ The translations of the titles are based on the standard of the Brecht Collected Plays series (see bibliography, primary sources). Chronology provided through consultation with Sacks (1994) and Willett (1967), preferring the former with any conflicts.
  63. ^ Brooker (1994, 193). Brooker writes that "the term 'alienation' is an inadequate and even misleading translation of Brecht's Verfremdung. The terms 'de-familiarisation' or 'estrangement', when understood as more than purely formal devices, give a more accurate sense of Brecht's intentions. A better term still would be 'de-alienation'".
  64. ^ Brecht, quoted by Brooker (1994, 191).
  65. ^ Brecht (1964, 138).
  66. ^ Sorrel Carson The Stage features]
  67. ^ Ritwik Ghatak first translated Brecht into Bengali, before then making use of some of his key theories in the later films Cloud-Capped Star and Subarna-Rekha. See BANGLAPEDIA: Film, Feature, accessed 27 July 2006.


Primary sources

Essays, diaries and journals
  • Brecht, Bertolt. 1964. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Ed. and trans. John Willett. British edition. London: Methuen. ISBN 041338800X. USA edition. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0809031000.
  • ---. 2000a. Brecht on Film and Radio. Ed. and trans. Marc Silberman. British edition. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413725006.
  • ---. 2003a. Brecht on Art and Politics. Ed. and trans. Thomas Kuhn and Steve Giles. British edition. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413758907.
  • ---. 1965. The Messingkauf Dialogues. Trans. John Willett. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen, 1985. ISBN 0413388905.
  • ---. 1990. Letters 1913-1956. Trans. Ralph Manheim. Ed. John Willett. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413510506.
  • ---. 1993. Journals 1934–1955. Trans. Hugh Rorrison. Ed. John Willett. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0415912822.
Drama, poetry and prose
  • Brecht, Bertolt. 1994a. Collected Plays: One. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413685705.
  • ---. 1994b. Collected Plays: Two. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413685608.
  • ---. 1997. Collected Plays: Three. Ed. John Willett. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413704602.
  • ---. 2003b. Collected Plays: Four. Ed. Tom Kuhn and John Willett. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-70470-X.
  • ---. 1995. Collected Plays: Five. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-69970-6.
  • ---. 1994c. Collected Plays: Six. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-68580-2.
  • ---. 1994d. Collected Plays: Seven. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-68590-X.
  • ---. 2004. Collected Plays: Eight. Ed. Tom Kuhn and David Constantine. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77352-3.
  • ---. 1972. Collected Plays: Nine. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0-394-71819-4.
  • ---. 2000b. Poems: 1913–1956. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-15210-3.
  • ---. 1983. Short Stories: 1921-1946. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Trans. Yvonne Kapp, Hugh Rorrison and Antony Tatlow. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London and New York: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-52890-1.
  • ---. 2001. Stories of Mr. Keuner. Trans. Martin Chalmers. San Francisco: City Lights. ISBN 0-87286-383-2.

Secondary sources

  • [Anon.] 1952. "Brecht Directs". In Directors on Directing: A Source Book to the Modern Theater. Ed. Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy. Rev. ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1963. ISBN 0-02-323300-1. 291- [Account of Brecht in rehearsal from anonymous colleague published in Theaterarbeit]
  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. "Brecht, Bertolt" In The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43437-8. 129.
  • Benjamin, Walter. 1983. Understanding Brecht. Trans. Anna Bostock. London and New York: Verso. ISBN 0-902308-99-8.
  • Brooker, Peter. 1994. "Key Words in Brecht's Theory and Practice of Theatre". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 185–200).
  • Bürger, Peter. 1984. Theory of the Avant-Garde. Trans. of Theorie der Avantgarde (2nd ed., 1980). Theory and History of Literature Ser. 4. Trans. Michael Shaw. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-1068-1.
  • Calandra, Denis. 2003. "Karl Valentin and Bertolt Brecht". In Popular Theatre: A Sourcebook. Ed. Joel Schechter. Worlds of Performance Ser. London and New York: Routledge. 189–201. ISBN 0-415-25830-8.
  • Counsell, Colin. 1996. Signs of Performance: An Introduction to Twentieth-Century Theatre. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-10643-5.
  • Culbert, David. 1995. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (March). [Bibliographic information on this article is missing at present — need article title, is this the author of article?, and page numbers]
  • Demetz, Peter, ed. 1962. "From the Testimony of Berthold Brecht: Hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 30 October 1947". Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays. Twentieth Century Views Ser. Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-081760-0. 30–42.
  • Diamond, Elin. 1997. Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theater. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-01229-5.
  • Eagleton, Terry. 1985. "Brecht and Rhetoric". New Literary History 16.3 (Spring). 633–638.
  • Eaton, Katherine B. "Brecht's Contacts with the Theater of Meyerhold". in Comparative Drama 11.1 (Spring 1977)3-21. Reprinted in 1984. Drama in the Twentieth Century ed. C. Davidson. New York: AMS Press, 1984. ISBN 0-404-61581-3. 203-221. 1979. "Die Pionierin und Feld-Herren vorm Kreidekreis. Bemerkungen zu Brecht und Tretjakow". in Brecht-Jahrbuch 1979. Ed. J. Fuegi, R. Grimm, J. Hermand. Suhrkamp, 1979. 1985 19–29. The Theater of Meyerhold and Brecht. Connecticut and New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-24590-8.
  • Eddershaw, Margaret. 1982. "Acting Methods: Brecht and Stanislavski". In Brecht in Perspective. Ed. Graham Bartram and Anthony Waine. London: Longman. ISBN 0-582-49205-X. 128–144.
  • Ewen, Frederic. 1967. Bertolt Brecht: His Life, His Art and His Times. Citadel Press Book edition. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1992.
  • Fuegi, John. 1994. "The Zelda Syndrome: Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 104–116).
  • ---. 2002. Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama. New York: Grove. ISBN 0-8021-3910-8.
  • Giles, Steve. 1998. "Marxist Aesthetics and Cultural Modernity in Der Dreigroschenprozeß". Bertolt Brecht: Centenary Essays. Ed. Steve Giles and Rodney Livingstone. German Monitor 41. Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi. ISBN 90-420-0309-X. 49–61.
  • Hayman, Ronald. 1983. Brecht: A Biography. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-78206-1.
  • Jameson, Fredric. 1998. Brecht and Method. London and New York: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-809-5.
  • Jacobs, Nicholas and Prudence Ohlsen, eds. 1977. Bertolt Brecht in Britain. London: IRAT Services Ltd and TQ Publications. ISBN 0-904844-11-0.
  • Kolocotroni, Vassiliki, Jane Goldman and Olga Taxidou, eds. 1998. Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-0973-3.
  • Krause, Duane. 1995. "An Epic System". In Acting (Re)considered: Theories and Practices. Ed. Phillip B. Zarrilli. 1st ed. Worlds of Performance Ser. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-09859-9. 262–274.
  • Leach, Robert. 1994. "Mother Courage and Her Children". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 128–138).
  • Meech, Tony. 1994. "Brecht's Early Plays". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 43–55).
  • Mitter, Schomit. 1992. "To Be And Not To Be: Bertolt Brecht and Peter Brook". Systems of Rehearsal: Stanislavsky, Brecht, Grotowski and Brook. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-06784-7. 42–77.
  • McDowell, W. Stuart. 1977. "A Brecht-Valentin Production: Mysteries of a Barbershop." Performing Arts Journal 1.3 (Winter): 2-14.
  • ---. 2000. "Acting Brecht: The Munich Years". In The Brecht Sourcebook. Ed. Carol Martin and Henry Bial. Worlds of Performance ser. London and New York: Routledge. 71–83. ISBN 0-415-20043-1.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1990. Germania. Trans. Bernard Schütze and Caroline Schütze. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Ser. New York: Semiotext(e). ISBN 0-936756-63-2.
  • Needle, Jan and Peter Thomson. 1981. Brecht. Chicago: U of Chicago P; Oxford: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0-226-57022-3.
  • Pabst, G.W. 1984. The Threepenny Opera. Classic Film Scripts Ser. London: Lorrimer. ISBN 0-85647-006-6.
  • Reinelt, Janelle. 1990. "Rethinking Brecht: Deconstruction, Feminism, and the Politics of Form". The Brecht Yearbook 15. Ed. Marc Silberman et al. Madison, Wisconsin: The International Brecht Society-University of Wisconsin Press. 99–107.
  • ---. 1994. "A Feminist Reconsideration of the Brecht/Lukács Debate". Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 7.1 (Issue 13). 122–139.
  • Rouse, John. 1995. "Brecht and the Contradictory Actor". In Acting (Re)considered: A Theoretical and Practical Guide. Ed. Phillip B. Zarrilli. 2nd ed. Worlds of Performance Ser. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26300-X. 248–259.
  • Sacks, Glendyr. 1994. "A Brecht Calendar". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, xvii–xxvii).
  • Schechter, Joel. 1994. "Brecht's Clowns: Man is Man and After". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 68–78).
  • Smith, Iris. 1991. "Brecht and the Mothers of Epic Theater". Theatre Journal 43: 491–505.
  • Szondi, Peter. 1965. Theory of the Modern Drama. Ed. and trans. Michael Hays. Theory and History of Literature Ser. 29. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8166-1285-4.
  • Taxidou, Olga. 1995. "Crude Thinking: John Fuegi and Recent Brecht Criticism". New Theatre Quarterly XI.44 (Nov. 1995): 381–384.
  • ---. 2007. Modernism and Performance: Jarry to Brecht. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-4101-7.
  • Thomson, Peter. 1994. "Brecht's Lives". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 22–39).
  • ---. 2000. "Brecht and Actor Training: On Whose Behalf Do We Act?" In Twentieth Century Actor Training. Ed. Alison Hodge. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-19452-0. 98–112.
  • Thomson, Peter and Glendyr Sacks, eds. 1994. The Cambridge Companion to Brecht. Cambridge Companions to Literature Ser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-41446-6.
  • Willett, John. 1967. The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht: A Study from Eight Aspects. Third rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1977. ISBN 0-413-34360-X.
  • ---. 1978. Art and Politics in the Weimar Period: The New Sobriety 1917–1933. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996. ISBN 0-306-80724-6.
  • ---. 1998. Brecht in Context: Comparative Approaches. Rev. ed. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-72310-0.
  • Willett, John and Ralph Manheim. 1970. Introduction. In Collected Plays: One by Bertolt Brecht. Ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry and Prose Ser. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-416-03280-X. vii–xvii.
  • Weber, Carl. 1984. "The Actor and Brecht, or: The Truth Is Concrete: Some Notes on Directing Brecht with American Actors". The Brecht Yearbook 13: 63–74.
  • ---. 1994. "Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble — the Making of a Model". In Thomson and Sacks (1994, 167–184).
  • Williams, Raymond. 1993. Drama from Ibsen to Brecht. London: Hogarth. ISBN 0-7012-0793-0. 277–290.
  • Witt, Hubert, ed. 1975. Brecht As They Knew Him. Trans. John Peet. London: Lawrence and Wishart; New York: International Publishers. ISBN 0-85315-285-3.
  • Wright, Elizabeth. 1989. Postmodern Brecht. Critics of the Twentieth Century Ser. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-02330-0.
  • Youngkin, Stephen D. 2005. The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2360-7. [Contains a detailed discussion of the personal and professional friendship between Brecht and classic film actor Peter Lorre.]
  • Wizisla, Erdmut. 2009. Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht — The Story of a Friendship. Translated by Christine Shuttleworth. London / New Haven: Libris / Yale University Press. ISBN 1-870352-78-5. ISBN 9781870352789 [Contains a complete translation of the newly-discovered Minutes of the meetings around the putative journal Krise und Kritik (1931)].

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Let nothing be called natural
In an age of bloody confusion,
Ordered disorder, planned caprice,
And dehumanized humanity, lest all things
Be held unalterable!

Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht (10 February 189814 August 1956), commonly known as Bertolt Brecht, was an influential German Marxist dramatist, stage director, and poet of the 20th century.



Mixing one's wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably.
Our theater must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality. Our audience must experience not only the ways to free Prometheus, but be schooled in the very desire to free him.
Do not treat me in this fashion. Don't leave me out. Have I not
Always spoken the truth in my books?
Even the most blockheaded bureaucrat,
Provided he loves peace,
Is a greater lover of the arts
Than any so-called art-lover
Who loves the arts of war.
Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.
For art to be 'unpolitical' means only to ally itself with the 'ruling' group.
  • People remain what they are even if their faces fall apart.
    • Garga, in In the Jungle of Cities [Im Dickicht der Städte] (1923) , sc. 9; also translated as In the Swamp and Jungle of Cities.
  • A man who strains himself on the stage is bound, if he is any good, to strain all the people sitting in the stalls.
    • "Emphasis on Sport" in the Berliner Börsen-Courier (6 February 1926), as quoted in Brecht on Theatre (1964) edited and translated by John Willett.
  • The theater-goer in conventional dramatic theater says: Yes, I've felt that way, too. That's the way I am. That's life. That's the way it will always be. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is no escape for him. That's great art — Everything is self-evident. I am made to cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh. But the theater-goer in the epic theater says: I would never have thought that. You can't do that. That's very strange, practically unbelievable. That has to stop. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is an escape for him. That's great art — nothing is self-evident. I am made to laugh about those who cry, and cry about those who laugh.
    • "Entertainment or Education? (1936)
  • Let nothing be called natural
    In an age of bloody confusion
    Ordered disorder, planned caprice,
    And dehumanized humanity, lest all things
    Be held unalterable!
    • The Exception and the Rule (1937), Prologue
  • Literary works cannot be taken over like factories, or literary forms of expression like industrial methods. Realist writing, of which history offers many widely varying examples, is likewise conditioned by the question of how, when and for what class it is made use of.
    • "The Popular and the Realistic" (written 1938, published 1958), as translated in Brecht on Theatre (1964) edited and translated by John Willett.
  • For this world we live in
    None of us is sly enough.
    Never do we notice
    All is lie and bluff.

    Caesar beat the Gauls.
    Was there not even a cook in his army?
    • To Posterity," (1939) as translated by H. R. Hays (1947)
  • Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.
    • Referring to Arturo Ui (representing Adolf Hitler), in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941)
  • Do not treat me in this fashion. Don't leave me out. Have I not
    Always spoken the truth in my books?
    And now
    You treat me like a liar! I order you:
    Burn me!
    Those who lead the country into the abyss
    Call ruling too difficult
    For ordinary men.
    Ah, what an age it is
    When to speak of trees is almost a crime
    For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
    • A response to the Nazi book burnings, in "To Posterity" (1939) as translated by H. R. Hays (1947)
  • To live means to finesse the processes to which one is subjugated.
    • "Notes on Philosophy" in On Politics and Society (1941).
  • Mixing one's wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably.
    • The Singer, in The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1944), Prologue
  • I see with sympathy
    The swollen veins on his brow, showing
    How exhausting it is to be evil.
    • "The Mask of Evil", as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 14
  • It is not enough to demand insight and informative images of reality from the theater. Our theater must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality. Our audience must experience not only the ways to free Prometheus, but be schooled in the very desire to free him. Theater must teach all the pleasures and joys of discovery, all the feelings of triumph associated with liberation.
    • Essays on the Art of Theater (1954).
  • The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot.
    • On defendants in the Moscow Trials and on innocents betrayed by Communist Party members, as recounted by philosopher Sidney Hook, as quoted in Intellectuals (1990) by Paul Johnson, p. 190; though this might easily be interpreted as implying that anyone who had failed to conspire against Stalin deserved to be shot, Hook implies that he meant that the betrayal of innocents was justified. Henry Pachter is also quoted in Intellectuals as saying that Brecht had made similar remarks in his presence, and had added "Fifty years hence the communists will have forgotten Stalin, but I want to be sure that they will still read Brecht. Therefore I cannot separate myself from the Party."
  • Some party hack decreed that the people
    had lost the government's confidence
    and could only regain it with redoubled effort.

    If that is the case, would it not be be simpler,
    If the government simply dissolved the people
    And elected another?
    • "The Solution" ["Die Lösung"] (c. 1953), as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 17
    • Variant translation:
    • The Secretary of the Writers Union
      Had flyers distributed in Stalin Way that said
      That the People had frivolously
      Thrown away the Government's Confidence
      And that they could only regain it
      Through Redoubled Work. But wouldn't it be
      Simpler if the Government
      Simply dissolved the People
      And elected another?
  • Firebugs dragging their gasoline bottles
    Are approaching the Academy of Arts, with a grin.
    And so, instead of embracing them, Let us demand the freedom of the elbow
    To knock the bottles out of their filthy hands.
    Even the most blockheaded bureaucrat,
    Provided he loves peace,
    Is a greater lover of the arts
    Than any so-called art-lover
    Who loves the arts of war.
    • "Freedom for Whom", as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 18
  • Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.
    • As quoted in Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations (1976) by John Gordon Burke and Ned Kehde, p. 224, also in The Book of Positive Quotations (2007) by John Cook, p. 390

The Threepenny Opera (1928)

Quotations from Die Dreigroschenoper using primarily the translation by Desmond Vesey and Eric Bentley (1949; 1960) ISBN 0-8021-5039-X
Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
And he keeps it out of sight.
  • First comes a full stomach, then comes ethics.
  • And the shark he has his teeth and
    There they are for all to see
    And Macheath he has his knife but
    No one knows where it may be.
    • "The Moritat of Mackie the Knife" in Prologue, p. 3
    • Translation note: A "moritat" (a word meaning both "muderous deed" and "ballad") is a street song telling of murderous crimes.
    • Variant translation: Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear,
      And he shows them pearly white
      Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
      And he keeps it out of sight.
  • So it happens, for instance, that a man who sees another man on the street corner with only a stump for an arm will be so shocked the first time that he'll give him sixpence. But the second time it'll only be a threepenny bit. And if he sees him a third time, he'll hand him over cold-bloodedly to the police.
    • Polly Peachum in Act 1, scene 1, pp. 5-6
    • Variant translation: A man who sees another man on the street corner with only a stump for an arm will be so shocked the first time he'll give him sixpence. But the second time it'll only be a threepenny bit. And if he sees him a third time, he'll have him cold-bloodedly handed over to the police.
  • You may proclaim, good sirs, your fine philosophy
    But till you feed us, right and wrong can wait!
    • Macheath in "Second Threepenny-Finale"; Act 2, scene 3, p. 67
    • Variant translations:
    • However much you twist, whatever lies you tell
      Food is the first thing, morals follow on.
      • Used by the Pet Shop Boys, in "What Keeps Mankind Alive?", Can You Forgive Her (1993 EP)
    • Food first, then morality.
  • For once you must try not to shirk the facts:
    Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts.
    • "What Keeps Mankind Alive?" Act 2, sc. 6
  • The law is simply and solely made for the exploitation of those who do not understand it or of those who, for naked need, cannot obey it.
    • Polly Peachum, in Act 3, scene 1, p. 74
    • Variant translation: The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it.
  • For the task assigned them
    Men aren't smart enough or sly
    Any rogue can blind them
    With a clever lie.
    • Polly Peachum, in "The Song of the Futility of All Human Endeavor"; Act 3, scene 1, p. 75
  • What is the burgling of a bank to the founding of a bank?
    • Macheath, in Act 3, scene 3, p. 92

Happy End (1929)

  • Mr. Wurlitzer, I am now in a position to receive your organ.

The Mother (1930)

The strongest fight their whole life.They are the indispensable ones.
Die Mutter (1930)
  • Don't be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life.
    • Pelagea Vlasova in Scene 10
  • You don't need to pray to God any more when there are storms in the sky, but you do have to be insured.
    • Pelagea Vlasova in Scene 10
  • Those who are weak don't fight.
    Those who are stronger might fight
    for an hour.
    Those who are stronger still might fight
    for many years.
    The strongest fight
    their whole life.
    They are the indispensable ones.
    • "In Praise of the Fighters" (song)
    • Variant translation: There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.
      There are men who struggle for a year and they are better.
      There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still.
      But there are those who struggle all their lives:
      These are the indispensable ones.
      • As quoted in Democracy Unbound : Progressive Challenges to the Two Party System (1997) by David Reynolds; also quoted by Cuban musician and poet Silvio Rodríguez before his song "Sueño con serpientes"

Life of Galileo (1938)

Leben des Galilei (1938) using primarily the translation by Arvid Englind, in the version brought to stage by Charles Laughton, working in collaboration with Brecht; also translated as Galileo. ISBN 0-8021-3059-3
  • The world of knowledge takes a crazy turn
    When teachers themselves are taught to learn.
    • Scene 6
  • Andrea: "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero."
    Galileo: "No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero."
    • Scene 12, p. 115
    • Variant translations: Pity the country that needs heroes.
      Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes
  • Science has only one commandment: contribution.
    • Andrea, in Scene 13, p. 122
    • Variant: Science knows only one commandment — contribute to science.
      • As translated by Howard Brenton (1980)

Mother Courage and Her Children (1939)

Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (1939); as translated by Eric Bentley (1955), ISBN 0-8021-3082-8
  • What they could do with round here is a good war. What else can you expect with peace running wild all over the place? You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.
    • The Sergeant, in Scene 1
  • War is like love, it always finds a way.
    • The Chaplain, in Scene 6, p. 76

The Good Person of Sezuan (1943)

Der gute Mensch von Sezuan [The Good Person of Sezuan] using the translation The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943) by Eric Bentley ISBN 0-394-17108-8
  • Show interest in her goodness — for no one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand.
    • First God, in Scene 1a, p. 38

A Short Organum for the Theatre (1949)

Kleines Organon für das Theater, as translated in Brecht on Theatre (1964), translated and edited by John Willett
  • We need a type of theatre which not only releases the feelings, insights and impulses possible within the particular historical field of human relations in which the action takes place, but employs and encourages those thoughts and feelings which help transform the field itself.
    • ¶ 35
  • Society cannot share a common communication system so long as it is split into warring factions.
    • ¶ 55
  • For art to be 'unpolitical' means only to ally itself with the 'ruling' group.
    • ¶ 55
  • If art reflects life, it does so with special mirrors.
    • ¶ 73
  • Art and science coincide insofar as both aim to improve the lives of men and women. The latter normally concerns itself with profit, the former with pleasure. In the coming age, art will fashion our entertainment out of new means of productivity in ways that will simultaneously enhance our profit and maximize our pleasure.

Poems, 1913-1956 (1976)

Brecht, Bertolt (1976). John Willett, Ralph Manheim, eds.. ed (in English). Poems, 1913-1956. Erich Fried (2nd edition ed.). New York: Methuen. pp. 627 pages. ISBN 0-416-00091-6.  
  • Oh why do we not say the important things, it would be so easy, and we are damned because we do not.
    • "Song about my mother" [Lied von meiner Mutter], from "Thirteen Psalms" (1920), trans. Christopher Middleton in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 40
  • And when she was finished they laid her in earth
    Flowers growing, butterflies juggling over her...
    She, so light, barely pressed the earth down
    How much pain it took to make her as light as that!
    • "To my mother" [Meiner Mutter] (May 1920), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 49
  • Worship with fulness of heart the weak memory of heaven!
    It cannot trace
    Either your name or your face
    Nobody knows you're still living.
    • "Great hymn of thanksgiving" [Grosser Dankchoral] (1920) from The Devotions (1922-1927); trans. Karl Neumann in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 74
  • Oh the harsh snarl of guitar strings roaring!
    Heavenly distensions of our throats!
    Trousers stiff with dirt and love! Such whoring!
    Long green slimy nights: we were like stoats.
    • "Those days of my youth" [O, Ihr Zeiten meiner Jugend] (1921), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 76
  • Marie Farrar: month of birth, April
    Died in the Meissen penitentiary
    An unwed mother, judged by the law, she will
    Show you how all that lives, lives frailly.
    You who bear your sons in laundered linen sheets
    And call your pregnancies a "blessed" state
    Should never damn the outcast and the weak:
    Her sin was heavy, but her suffering great.
    Therefore, I beg, make not your anger manifest
    For all that lives needs help from all the rest.
    • "Of the infanticide Marie Farrar" [Von der Kindesmörderin Marie Farrar] (1920) from Devotions (1922-1927); trans. Sidney H. Bremer in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 92
  • Here today we huddle tight
    As the darkest heathens might
    The snow falls chilly on our skin
    The snow is forcing its way in.
    Hush, snow, come in with us to dwell:
    We were thrown out by Heaven as well.
    • "Christmas legend" [Weinachtslegende] (1923), Berliner Börsen-Courier (1924-12-25); trans. in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 99
  • Come in, dear wind, and be our guest
    You too have neither home nor rest.
    • "Christmas legend" [Weinachtslegende] (1923) Berliner Börsen-Courier (1924-12-25); trans in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 100
  • The rain
    Never falls upwards.
    When the wound
    Stops hurting
    What hurts is
    The scar.
    • "Poems Belonging to a Reader for Those who Live in Cities" [Zum Lesebuch für Städtebewohner gehörige Gedichte] (1926-1927), poem 10, trans. Frank Jones in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 148
  • Spring is noticed, if at all
    By people sitting in railway trains.
    • "Concerning spring" [Über das Frühjahr] (1928), Uhu, Berlin, IV, 6 (March 1928); trans. Christopher Middleton in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 158
  • On golden chairs
    Sitting at ease, you paid for the songs which we chanted
    To those less lucky. You paid us for drying their tears
    And for comforting all those whom you had wounded.
    • "Song of the cut-price poets" [Lied der preiswerten Lyriker] (1927/1933) from Songs Poems Choruses (1934); in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 161
  • All the gang of those who rule us
    Hope our quarrels never stop
    Helping them to split and fool us
    So they can remain on top.
    • "Solidarity song" [Solidaritätslied] (1931), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 186
  • Of all the works of man I like best
    Those which have been used.
    The copper pots with their dents and flattened edges
    The knives and forks whose wooden handles
    Have been worn away by many hands: such forms
    Seemed to me the noblest.
    • "Of all the works of man" [Von allen Werken] (c. 1932) in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 192
  • How long
    Do works endure? As long
    As they are not completed.
    • "About the way to construct enduring works" [Über die Bauart langdauernder Werke] (1932), trans. Frank Jones in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 193
  • With drooping shoulders
    The majority sit hunched, their foreheads furrowed like
    Stony ground that has been repeatedly ploughed-up to no purpose.
    • "Speech to Danish working-class actors on the art of observation" [Rede an dänische Arbeiterschauspieler über die Kunst der Beobachtung]] (1934), from The Messingkauf Poems, published in Versuche 14 (1955); trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 235
  • People will observe you to see
    How well you have observed.
    The man who only observes himself however never gains
    Knowledge of men. He is too anxious
    To hide himself from himself. And nobody is
    Cleverer than he himself is.
    • "Speech to Danish working-class actors on the art of observation" [Rede an dänische Arbeiterschauspieler über die Kunst der Beobachtung] (1934), from The Messingkauf Poems, published in Versuche 14 (1955); trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, pp. 235-236
  • Play your part creatively in all the struggles
    Of men of your time, thereby
    Helping, with the seriousness of study and the cheerfulness of knowledge
    To turn the struggle into common experience and
    Justice into a passion.
    • "Speech to Danish working-class actors on the art of observation" [Rede an dänische Arbeiterschauspieler über die Kunst der Beobachtung] (1934), from The Messingkauf Poems, published in Versuche 14 (1955); trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 238
  • Events cast long shadows before.
    One such event would be a war.
    But how are shadows to be seen
    When total darkness fills the screen?
    • "Alphabet" [Alfabet] from "Five Children's Songs" (1934), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 239
The plum tree in the yard's so small
It's hardly like a tree at all...
  • The plum tree in the yard's so small
    It's hardly like a tree at all.
    Yet there it is, railed round
    To keep it safe and sound.

    The poor thing can't grow any more
    Though if it could it would for sure.
    There's nothing to be done
    It gets too little sun.

    • "The Plum Tree" [Der Pfaumenbaum] (1934) from The Svendborg Poems (1938); in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 243
  • When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out "stop!"

    When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

    • "When evil-doing comes like falling rain" [Wenn die Untat kommt, wie der Regen fällt] (1935), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 247
  • The young Alexander conquered India.
    Was he alone?
    Caesar beat the Gauls.
    Did he not even have a cook with him?
    Philip of Spain wept when his armada
    Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
    Frederick the Second won the Seven Years' War. Who
    Else won it?

    Every page a victory.
    Who cooked the feast for the victors?
    Every ten years a great man.
    Who paid the bill?

    • "Questions from a worker who reads" [Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters] (1935) from The Svendborg Poems (1938); trans. Michael Hamburger in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 252
  • The headlong stream is termed violent
    But the river bed hemming it in is
    Termed violent by no one.
    • "On Violence" [Über die Gewalt] (1930s), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 276
  • Little changes are the enemies of great changes.
    • "Quotation" [Zitat] (1930s), trans. Michael Morley in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 277
  • Their peace and their war
    Are like wind and storm.

    War grows from their peace.

    • "Those at the top say: peace and war" [Die Oberen sagen: Friede und Krieg] from "A German War Primer" [Deutsche Kriegsfibel] (1937), trans. Lee Baxendall in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 288
  • General, your tank
    is a powerful vehicle
    it smashes down forests
    and crushes a hundred men.
    but it has one defect:
    it needs a driver.
    • "General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle", in "From a German War Primer", part of the Svendborg Poems (1938); as translated by Lee Baxandall in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 289
  • General, man is very useful.
    He can fly and he can kill.
    But he has one defect:
    He can think.
    • "General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle", in "From a German War Primer", part of the Svendborg Poems (1938); as translated by Lee Baxandall in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 289
  • The man who laughs has simply not yet had the terrible news.
    • "To Those Born Later", part of the Svendborg Poems (1938)
    • quoted in Poems, 1913—1956, p. 318
    • Variation: He who laughs last has not yet heard the bad news.
    • German: Wer jetzt noch lacht, hat die neuesten Nachrichten noch nicht gehört.
  • In the dark times
    Will there also be singing?
    Yes, there will also be singing
    About the dark times.
    • "Motto to the 'Svendborg Poems' " [Motto der 'Svendborger Gedichte'] (1938), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 320
  • This is the year which people will talk about
    This is the year which people will be silent about.

    The old see the young die.
    The foolish see the wise die.

    The earth no longer produces, it devours.
    The sky hurls down no rain, only iron.

    • "Finland 1940" [Finnland 1940] (1940), trans. Sammy McLean in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 350
  • Every day, to earn my daily bread
    I go to the market where lies are bought
    I take up my place among the sellers.
    • "Hollywood" (1942)
    • quoted in Poems, 1913—1956, p. 382
  • High above the lake a bomber flies.
    From the rowing boats
    Children look up, women, an old man. From a distance
    They appear like young starlings, their beaks
    Wide open for food.
    • "This Summer's Sky" [Der Himmel dieses Sommers], (1953), trans. Michael Hamburger in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 444
  • And I always thought: the very simplest words
    Must be enough. When I say what things are like
    Everyone's heart must be torn to shreds.
    That you'll go down if you don't stand up for yourself
    Surely you see that.
    • "And I always thought" [Und ich dachte immer] (c. 1956), trans. Michael Hamburger in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 452


  • Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.
    • Attributed to Vladimir Mayakovsky in The Political Psyche (1993) by Andrew Samuels, p. 9; attributed to Brecht in Paulo Freire : A Critical Encounter (1993) by Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard, p. 80
    • Variant translation: Art is not a mirror held up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

 Bertolt Brecht (info • help) (born  Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht (info • help);* 10. February 1898 in Augsburg; † 14. August 1956 in Berlin) was a German poet and dramatist.


Brecht went to school in Augsburg, where his father was the director of a paper factory. He completed his degree in 1917. Afterwards he studied sciences, medicine and literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. He had to take a break in his studies because he had to join the army.

In the 1920's Brecht went to Berlin and became a part of the cultural scene. He met his second wife Helene Weigel in Berlin and married her, after divorcing his first wife. It was with his second wife that Brecht had another son.

In Berlin he met a lot of artists and intellectuals of the Weimar Republic. His works became very critical about the capitalistic society (e.g. "Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny" (1930)). Many of his friends were communists, but he never joined the KPD. His most famous work was from that time, the "Dreigroschenoper".

In 1933 the Nazis prohibited playing some of his works and arrested some of his friends. After the Reichstag fire he travelled from Germany to Prague, Vienna, Switzerland and Denmark.

For the next five years he lived in Denmark. In 1938 he wrote "Das Leben des Galilei" (The Life of Galilei) about Galileo Galilei, who was hunted by the Holy Inquisition because he wanted to tell the scientific truth.

When Germany occupied Denmark he had to flee once again.

He went to Sweden, then to Finland and finally to Moscow in the Soviet Union. Even under Stalin he was not safe. He therefore flew through China to the United States. He lived and worked in California and translated a lot of texts.

In 1947, in the McCarthy era, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated him, because they suspected him of being a communist. He gave a statement and said that he had never been a member of the communist party. He then flew back to Switzerland - the only place he could go to at the time.

In 1948 he was allowed to return to Berlin, East Berlin. He was an important writer and director for the young East Germany. After the workers' protest on June 17 1953, Brecht complained about the Eastern German government which landed him into some trouble. From that point on he got more and more isolated.

Brecht died in 1956 at the age of 58 years in Berlin.


Dramas (chronological)

  • Baal
  • Trommeln in der Nacht
  • Im Dickicht der Städte
  • Leben Eduards des Zweiten von England
  • Mann ist Mann
  • Die Dreigroschenoper
  • Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Opernlibretto)
  • Der Ozeanflug, auch Der Lindberghflug, auch Der Flug der Lindberghs
  • Das Badener Lehrstück vom Einverständnis, auch Lehrstück
  • Der Jasager. Der Neinsager (Opernlibretti / Lehrstücke [Schuloper])
  • Die Maßnahme (Lehrstück)
  • Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe
  • Die Ausnahme und die Regel (Lehrstück)
  • Die Mutter
  • Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe
  • Die Horatier und die Kuriatier (Lehrstück)
  • Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches
  • Leben des Galilei
  • Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder
  • Das Verhör des Lukullus, auch Lukullus vor Gericht, auch Die Verurteilung des Lukullus (Hörspiel, später Opernlibretto)
  • Der gute Mensch von Sezuan
  • Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti
  • Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui
  • Die Gesichte der Simone Machard auch Die Stimmen (vgl. Lion Feuchtwanger Simone)
  • Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg
  • Der kaukasische Kreidekreis
  • Die Tage der Commune
  • Turandot oder Der Kongreß der Weißwäscher
  • Bearbeitung der Antigone (1947)
  • Bearbeitung des Coriolanus von Shakespeare (1952/53)

One act dramas

  • Die Bibel
  • Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar
  • Die Hochzeit, auch Die Kleinbürgerhochzeit
  • Der Bettler oder Der tote Hund
  • Prärie (Opernlibretto)
  • Er treibt einen Teufel aus
  • Lux in Tenebris
  • Der Fischzug
  • Dansen
  • Was kostet das Eisen?
  • Die sieben Todsünden, auch Die sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger (Ballettlibretto)


Lyric cycles

  • Lieder zur Klampfe von Bert Brecht und seinen Freunden (1918)
  • Psalmen (1920)
  • Bertolt Brechts Hauspostille (1916–1925)
  • Die Augsburger Sonette (1925–1927)
  • Die Songs der Dreigroschenoper (1928)
  • Aus dem Lesebuch für Städtebewohner (1926–1927)
  • Die Nachtlager (1931)
  • Geschichten aus der Revolution (1932)
  • Sonette (1932–1934)
  • Englische Sonette (1934)
  • Lieder Gedichte Chöre (1933)
  • Chinesische Gedichte (1938–1949)
  • Studien (1934–1938)
  • Svendborger Gedichte ([1926]–1937)
  • Steffinsche Sammlung (1939–1942)
  • Hollywoodelegien (1942)
  • Gedichte im Exil ([1944])
  • Deutsche Satiren (1945)
  • Kinderlieder (1950)
  • Buckower Elegien (1953)

Lyirics and songs (not complete)

  • Choral vom Manne Baal
  • Ballade von den Seeräubern
  • Die Legende vom toten Soldaten
  • Die Liebenden, auch Terzinen über die Liebe
  • Der Schneider von Ulm
  • An die Nachgeborenen
  • Die Lösung
  • Mein Bruder war ein Flieger
  • Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters
  • Erinnerung an die Marie A.
  • Schlechte Zeit für Lyrik
  • Resolution der Kommunarden
  • Morgens und abends zu lesen
  • Kinderhymne


  • Bargan läßt es sein
  • Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner
  • Dreigroschenroman
  • Der Augsburger Kreidekreis
  • Flüchtlingsgespräche
  • Kalendergeschichten
  • Die unwürdige Greisin
  • Die Geschäfte des Herrn Julius Cäsar

Ausgaben [Bearbeiten]

  • Sämtliche Stücke in einem Band. Komet, 2002, ISBN 3-89836-302-3
  • Die Gedichte in einem Band. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-518-02269-5
  • Große kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe. Aufbau Verlag u. a., Berlin u. a. 1988–2000, ISBN 3-351-00601-2o 30 Bände [1]
  • Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner. Zürcher Fassung. Herausgegeben von Erdmut Wizisla. Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 2004. ISBN 3-518-41660-X (Enthält erstmals veröffentlichte Geschichten aus einem Zürcher Fund im Jahr 2000.)mrj:Брехт, Бертольт


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