, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 637-653
Date: 07 Nov 2012

Bertolt Brecht: the naturalist, the theatricalist, and the dramatist-as-director

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Abstract

There are many things about Brecht and his artistic achievement that are either unaccepted, unknown, misunderstood, or disputed by a majority of people, including those who already possess firm ideas about his character, his worth, and his politics. Despite this fact, as well as because of it, he has achieved the status of “classic” artist, in the process becoming an academic staple: university professors lecture on him because he must be “covered,” even if they do not appreciate his artistic accomplishments. At the same time, Brecht’s innovations in dramatic form and theatrical style have become clichés: indeed, he has already been rejected by many theater people who hastened to copy those innovations without understanding them. Given his recent dismissals by both the academic and the commercial theater worlds, then, Brecht is in danger of becoming a legend without ever having been thoroughly known. But it remains true that knowing him thoroughly is very difficult—and altogether necessary. The purpose of this essay is to facilitate the “knowing” of his dramatic oeuvre through an investigation of it not only in the context of Brecht’s own dramatic theory, but also in the context of the history of drama; through a consideration of his dramatic work, as well as his directing style, from the point of view of its naturalism versus its theatricalism, its obeisance to tradition and its devotion to experimentation; and through a discussion of acting for Brecht’s theater. In the end, Brecht was dedicated to transforming the theater into something that would entertain by asking us to exercise our critical intelligence, rather than something that would divert by making us forget the world. This essay concludes by asking whether this kind of theater—epic theater—continues to exist now.