Bertolt Brecht's Approach in Theatrical Art

Categories: Play


Bertolt Brecht's approach in theatrical art is inclusive of science, politics and his ever evidently upheld ideas of Marxism. In the play titled “Life of Galileo", all three subjects are vivid as artistically principled, societally educational as well as politically sensible literary instruments without separating any one of these from the other. In an attempt to make art an educational platform and not just about entertaining, Brecht developed the Verfremdungseffekt (V-effect) to capture, create an interest and facilitate the critical functioning in the cognitive realm of his audience.

This essay will be focused on describing the manner in which Brecht uses the V-effect to stimulate the cognitive flexibility of his audience in theatrical plays by artistically involving physical science in relation to Marxism. In conjunction with the main focus, I will also examine the magnitude of his perceived relation of "pure science" and its political concerns within the society as demonstrated in the selected play.

Korschian Marxism

With vast intelligence, Brecht's approach of the Korschian Marxist societal ideas has proven inseparable from his plays especially in “Life of Galileo”.

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Karl Korsch is the late Marxist scholar who Brecht later referred to as his "teacher", although Brecht was distinctive in his demonstration of how he understood Marxism. Despite his not so obvious difference in understanding Marx's societal theory as compared to how Korsch taught him, one may still conclude that Brecht fully apprehended the Korschian Marxist teachings. I can explain Brecht's followed perception of the Korschian Marxism model, as evident in his selected play for this essay using the following key points:

  • Korsch distinguished the typical nature of Marxism as one that is principled upon historical descriptions and the provision of detailed analysis.
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    He believes that Marx was able to unmistakeably identify historical and particular attributes of capitalism and bourgeois society. He also esteems Marx's methodical development that stimulates one's ability to analytically make distinctions of social emergences in a critical manner and to radically modify them.

  • Inevitably, Marxism is accustomed as a revolutionarily principled ideology. This key point directs us to the Marxist belief of observing reality as an on going activity whose interests are based on inconsistent elements and dissensions that conceive the plausibility of radical transformation (particularly for the working class to attain communal ownership in the production process).

In a more general yet abbreviated sense, Marxism was created as an opposition force aimed at confronting the principles of the powerful bourgeois class in advocacy of securing socialism for the working class (Kellner, 2009).

Physics, Marxism and Brecht's Aesthetic

Physics as a study that is concerned with the behavioural changes that occur in nature is linked with Marxism and Brecht's aesthetic since change is common in all. “The Earth Moves", which is the original title of “Life of Galileo", is demonstrative of how inevitable change occurs in nature (as most scientific studies prove) and within the society (as Brecht substantiates) (Unwin, 2005).

Physics requires one to be a critical thinker; Brecht's theatrical principle has an element of stimulating cognitive mobility for its audience in promotion of radical transformation (Brecht, 1948, Thesis 35). There exists also a clear evidence of critical thinking in the examination of Marxism's ideas since analysing (as key in Marxism regarding the awareness of society's formation) is recognized generally as a critical thinking skill. In the opening scene of the play, Galileo is represented as a critical thinker who belongs to the working class and this can be immediately connected to Brecht's esteemed audience (Brecht, 1948, Thesis 40). Moreover, Galileo's representation on its own is Brecht's ideal goal of the society (which is the audience). The societal structure is produced in theatre (Brecht, 1948, Thesis 33) and Brecht's representation of Galileo throughout the play is a practical representation of the working class as it was during his time as well as in the sense of how he wanted it to become in thinking. Galileo's understanding of physics can be described as almost absolute because of his practicality and provision of proof in his discovery of the earth moving around the sun. Brecht ensures that he maintains this aspect about Galileo and this is followed by the exposition of a morally questionable relationship between physical science and other institutions that are structured to shape the society in a certain way (Unwin, 2005).

Bearing in my mind that physics, Marxism and Brecht's aesthetic are studies that relate to change Galileo's presentation of his discovery encountering rejection despite being complemented by non-fabricated evidence. This rejection of Galileo's accurately fashioned discovery is supportive of the statement Unwin (2005) wrote which says “The play also has a more difficult subject -...- and shows that claims about the benevolence of science are not always as straightforward as they seem”. This brings us to the relationship between institutional controls over science as influential in the formation of society. From the time that Galileo presented the Copernicus discovery (as he called it), we learn that institutions such as universities and the church (specifically the Catholic) caused the working class to remain excluded from benefitting much from governance as a whole.

Galileo's rejection of his scientific discovery showed up as a threat to the qualifications of renowned scholars of that time (Brecht, 1940, scene 4) and the religiously governing theories (Brecht, 1940, scene 6) that were involved in the manipulative design of society. In support of this view, Unwin (2005) believes that Brecht's understanding of "pure" science is related to the society's construction in the sense that scientific research depends on money and supremacy. Unwin (2005) extends his belief by mentioning that science does not relieve the working class from poverty but benefits the manipulative ruling class who use it repressively and for control. This is true because Galileo committed to his work so that he may be able to have a better economic life but despite his diligence and intelligence, supremacy had the final and denying word to his honestly laboured-for aspirations. More weight is placed on this character that Brecht uses to expose issues about powerful structures when Galileo's very life was threatened, which is also suggests that brutality is an agent of power. In scene 14 of the play, Andrea says that science only demands one's contribution to it and through these words I can deduce that the extent towards which the powerful demanded contribution to science put citizens with new ideas in jeopardy.

Galileo's Recanting vs. Heroism

After being threatened with death, Galileo decided to withdraw from pursuing the authorities to restructure the scientific knowledge that has been fed the society through different institutions. In Brecht’s article "A Short Organum for Theatre”, a question which is directly reflective of Galileo Galilee's words is posed. He wrote to one of his friends in the year 1615 (recently after Pope Paul V declared the Copernicus theory as philosophically false) and said "Of all the hatreds, none is greater than that of ignorance against knowledge". The question Brecht poses in his aesthetic regarding the conventional portrayal of society in theatre queries if the simple-pleasure-orientated production of theatre has failed to cultivate special pleasures that suit the entertainment during the scientific age (Brecht, 1948, Thesis 11). The representation of Brecht's Galileo in the play and Galilei the father of modern science supports Bogad's belief of Brecht's disregard for conventional theatre, conventional thinking and his high esteem of Galilei the scientist (Bogad, 2012). Brecht's theatrical version of Galilei is that of a sensible man who is no hero since out of the fear for physical pain as he states in scene 14, he backs off for dear life because it was reasonable enough to do. Galilei went on to say that he believes in “reason's gentle tyranny over people” and it is also clear from what he did in reality as well as in the play when he recanted that Brecht supported sensibility over heroism. Brecht deviated from conforming to conventional theatre and by applying his followed ideology of Marxist principles; he became like Galileo Galilei but as the “father of modern theatrical science" and not a hero whose appraisal was to hail from counter-revolutionary supremacy that did despised reason.

Brecht and Galileo did not aspire being celebrated as heroes but were proper citizens as probably envisioned by the very governance of their times. One may thoughtfully derive that Galileo's experiences of rejection still existed when Brecht was born (just over 300 years later) and even at the time Brecht presented his aesthetic to institutions through which the society is formed and controlled. I am of the opinion that Marxist ideas certainly form the basis of arguable studies such as physics and through those very ideas an artistic form of revolution evolved.


In developing his theatrical aesthetic and the criticism he posed on simply-pleasing theatre, Brecht's creation of a multiplex language for his theatre introduced what is also called the alienation effect. From the source titled "A Short Organum for Theatre”, Brecht demonstrates how conventional "bourgeois" theatre was produced (Brecht, 1948, Thesis 1-14). Bourgeois theatrical technology manipulated its audience's emotions through its technological and literary elements like lighting and the vain but charming use of language. According to Bogad (2012), Brecht's realisation of how the Nazi's used the same emotional manipulation used in theatre to promote marginalization in many forms (like racism and xenophobia) caused him to develop the V-effect among other components of his complex aesthetic components. It is not vanity to conclude that the alienation effect is a direct product of Marxism, the element of critical thinking stimulation and one of the most important components in Brechtian theatrical lexicon. Following this establishment, I will demonstrate the manner in which the also known as “distancing effect” is used to adjust the societal members' perception of itself as the theatrical audience, from a mere pleasure receiving crowd to a technically educated group of people.

Firstly, the V-effect in its figurative, unique and revolutionary aspects of Brechtian theatre isolates itself from the known way of producing theatre for mere pleasure and the showing off of literary (and technological) capabilities of theatrical production. As much as it distances itself from the conventional, one can also say that it is a component which is designed for those who are distanced from the benefits of the ruling class and alienated from the full apprehension of their societal truth. Brecht portrays the relationship between power and the citizens who belong to the working class through Galileo and the Inquisition (Brecht, 1940, scene 14). This relation is one which is infested with an inconsistency betwee actuality and the fundamentally scientific truth held by Galileo. Most readers would agree that power and domination are distinct in this relational aspect. Through this scene, Brecht's use of a single character to uproot the configuration of the socio-political composition without seeming to care much about heroism achieves for him the ability to expose the bourgeois or capitalist structure as it is. To the amazement of the audience (Brecht, 1948, Thesis 44) and the surprise of those who belong to the ruling class, Brecht is able to alienate his theatre from being just a business for the financial gain and pleasure of the repressive high class. He instead empathises with the working class and also brings them to the light regarding the construction as well as representation of their society on stage and in reality (Brecht, 1948, Thesis 33). In thesis 23 of the theatrical organum, Brecht is of the belief that the representation of society in theatre has to be conjunctional with reality so that its representation can be operative.

Secondly, Brecht's V-effect does not only focus on the audience and power structure but ensures that the actor also displays his or her own views through the character he takes plays. In thesis 47, Brecht makes it clear that even the actor has to separate himself from his performed character so that the audience can discover what is left of that specific character (this provides the audience with room for cognitive mobility).

He makes an example of acting as a possessed man and mentions that if the actor fully provides those who are watching with almost all the traits of a possessed man, a question of how the audience will make up their own inferences of what is portrayed can arise.

Furthermore, thesis 55 informs that the actor has to have the knowledge of what he displays on stage, be comfortable with that knowledge and that knowledge has to be aligned with the audience's understanding of that particular act.

Although we only had the script of the play in our course, I watched the video of the play via YouTube and could vividly identify the use of the V-effect. Chaim Topol, famously known as Topol seems to be more of himself instead of Galileo as the main character of the play. He is not completely dissolved in Galileo's emotions as one may think when reading the script. I remember that when reading the script, I thought of Galileo as a very serious man who was a bit grumpy but with a slight touch of humour in his character but all that changed when I watched the play. Topol as a professional actor has been able to grasp use of the alienation effect fully because one can tell that he is there as himself as well as a figure of Galileo. He is usually humorous and it is impossible to miss a great touch of humour in the video and this is reflective of the V-effect. Another personal trait of his is that of being a very knowledgeable person and although Galileo was also knowledgeable (in science); Topol seems very comfortable with the version of himself as a scientist.

Another actor through whom the alienation effect is vivid is the young boy whose real name is not provided. The young boy plays Cosimo, who I imagined as an older prince instead of a child. As I watched scene 4, I tried to attach the attributes I had already imagined about Cosimo onto the lad and actually thought that the use of the lad in acting the part of someone of high status, is also reflective of the alienation effect. Joseph Hosey (the producer of the film on YouTube) probably chose a lad to play Cosimo's part to advocate for Brecht's wit in outsmarting the powerful class in hiding information from the working class by exposing it through a single character (Galileo). Secondly, the use of the lad may be symbolic of the rejection towards and need for development by those who are nurtured by supremacy. Lastly, the lad leaves room for the audience to judge Cosimo's character in reality just as the V-effect is created to function in Brechtian theatre.

My final but opinionated judgement of Brecht's aesthetic is that he created a learning space in the play that this essay I based on. Through realising the voids that existed in the construction of society, it was quite empathetic for Brecht to exercise his individualistically redesigned ideas of Marxism in order to alleviate members of the working class from being poor in the knowledge of the society they lived in.


Believably so, Brecht chose Galileo's study of Physics with the specific aim of supporting his art's aesthetic for theatre to expose the existence of resistance to change, due to the ignorance of truth by manipulative authorities. Marxist revolutionary ideas are clearly significant in Brecht's aesthetic to its main components such as the Verfremdungseffekt. The possibility of making art an educational platform is melodic to the revolution whose course is to extract poverty from the human brain.


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Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Bertolt Brecht's Approach in Theatrical Art. (2021, Sep 12). Retrieved from

Bertolt Brecht's Approach in Theatrical Art essay
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