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Compare and contrast the historical, social and cultural context of both 'Art' by Yasmina Reza and 'The Good Person of Szechuan'

Both ‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza and ‘The Good Person of Szechuan’ by Bertolt Brecht have been performed worldwide, both playwrights also having the same interest in examining society and the world we live in today. Whilst ‘Art’ raises a diversity of questions about friendship and art, ‘The Good Person of Szechuan’ portrays a society of exploitations, evidently showing us how money can order morality.

‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza is a comedy which explores friendship through the vehicle of art. The play’s narrative revolves around three friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan.

Serge who expresses a thorough love in art, buys a large, expensive, white canvas painting. However, Marc is sickened by the painting, who thinks of it as a “White piece of shit”, and throughout the play we see how their long- time relationship suffers as a result of them both having different views about what they consider to be ‘art’. Yvan, the third of the friends, is caught in the middle of this disagreement; he tries to satisfy both of them.

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The play mainly is structured into monologues and duologues, and one dialogue amongst all three characters. The setting of the play at the beginning and the end, and for the majority of the scenes is set in Serge’s flat, where the audience can see the painting clearly.

‘The Good Person of Szechuan’ is about a prostitute called Shen Te. One day she is visited by three gods who are very content with her hospitality, in which they think it is a sign of her goodness.

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As a reward for her generosity, the gods give her some money. Brecht challenges audiences by setting her out as the Good person, who acts as a moral guide throughout the play. Where many would judge her due to her profession, Brecht encourages audiences to not be so quick to judge someone but examine the evidence.

‘Art’ which was premiered in 1995 in Paris was written by Yasmina Reza who was porn in 1959(picture on right), she was a French Playwright, actress and novelist. Her parents were of different nationality, her father coming from Iran and her mother from Hungary; however, she was brought up in France. After the premiere in 1995

Yasmina Reza went to win the Moliere award for best author. Since then it went on to produce world-wide and was also translated and performed in over thirty different languages. The history of art has changed significantly over time, as before today’s digital technology paintings were judged on skill, which was evidently portrayed in the thoughts of marc in ‘Art’. However, since the revolution, art is not so much about realism and the rational painting, art has become more about the underlying meaning, rather than depicting the painting.

In contrast ‘The Good Person of Szechuan’ was written by the German Playwright, poet, political activist and theorist Bertolt Brecht (picture on left). The play was written between 1939 and 1941; however, the play wasn’t completed until 1943 whilst he was living in exile in the USA. The play during the time was an example of epic theatre, and was not written to the assumptions of the realistic theatre. Brecht is considered by many to have had the greatest influence upon post modern drama.

Throughout his life he revolutionised drama so that it could be used as a vehicle to examine the society in which he lived. Being a Marxist, he was concerned with the Marx’s philosophy, based on power and how they treat those beneath them. Although, overall what Bertolt conveyed really well through life in the majority of all his works is inventing the expectation of the character by not giving the stereotypical character. In ‘The Good Person of Szechuan’, according to Brecht, he examined how society functioned with the central character scrutinised who finds it would be impossible to give without also taking. Historically, both writers had a reason for writing such plays. Yasmina Reza wrote her play as a vehicle to examine the current debate at the time with reference to what is art with close reference to the examination of friendship in our rapidly increasing modern society; whereas, Bertolt Brecht was using the vehicle of theatre to examine social injustice in society. Read examples of lack of communication in Romeo and Juliet

Like many playwrights, both Reza and Brecht were interested in using the forum of drama to examine society and the world we live in. Reza clearly shows this in another of her plays called ‘God of Carnage’, in which she examines family life in our modern day society; furthermore, she also wrote the ‘Unexpected man’. ‘Art’ is a clear example of examining society, in the way that the cost of art is altered in different views by different classes of people, which is also evident as the three characters have different social differences. By

Serge buying such a high quality, expensive painting shows his superiority and aspiration toward upper- middle class. Compared to Marc where us as an audience see his clear lack of knowledge in painting. Through time the issues of friendship have changed drastically. The picture to the left, is from the play ‘Art’, it is clearly visible to see how scenery and costume is used to make the play seem more realistic. There are many ways of communicating with one an- other today; technology has changed rapidly, meaning people can talk from the other side of the world by phone and computer. This is what Yasmina Reza was exploring in her play, scrutinising the dynamics of modern friendship. Stanislavski a theatre director known for advocating realism and naturalism; however, compared to Brecht’s idea, who thought of epic theatre, and used a variety of strange making devices to alienate the audience. Brecht wanted people to come out of the theatre and think of it as a play, not the real life of the play; ‘The Good Person of Szechuan’ tends itself to this alienated performance style.

However, Yasmina Reza’s play ‘Art’ tends itself to realistic interpretation so that the conflict between the three friends is largely realistic. In ‘The Good women of Szechuan’, it is written to illustrate how money is the root from all evil, showing that the proletariat people were working class good people, compared to the bourgeoisie who were upper class corrupt people.

The picture on the right is from the performance of ‘The Good Person of Szechuan’ which was seen in September 2007. The picture is a prime example of how Bertolt Brecht used only the most significant features on a costume. The performers would all be wearing a plain colour in which they added one or two key features to make them look like the specific character. The picture also illustrates how, electronic presentations are used to convey visual presentations, placards, and what they really used it for was to communicate the message to the audience.

In conclusion, there were many differences in historical, cultural and social context; however, there weren’t many similarities. Personally, one of the biggest factors which made the plays so different was the difference in playwright. Both playwrights had a dissimilar stylistic interpretation of the plays, which made them so diverse to one another. The fact that Reza’s play was largely realistic and naturalistic compared to Bertolt who used a range of techniques to break the illusion of realism.

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Compare and contrast the historical, social and cultural context of both 'Art' by Yasmina Reza and 'The Good Person of Szechuan'. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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