Grandfather of political theatre

Brecht is often seen as the Grandfather of political theatre. Brecht called his modern theatre Epic Theatre; it was to be analytical and primarily concerned in analysing the social relations that determine bourgeois theatre. Epic theatre was supposed to be a theatre to be reasoned instead of empathizing with man. Brecht wanted theatre to be the forefront of the social and political life, a privileged scene of the social scene of the period. Brecht wanted theatre to represent the political consciousness of the period and the social conditions. Brecht believed that the social role of theatre included breaking the fourth wall; this creates new audience who can determine whether the choices made in the play are moral or social choices, also using a narrator who speaks directly to the audience and they summarise scenes. Brecht defined political theatre in terms of form not just content. He believed that new forms of theatre were needed to deal with modern day socio-economic reality. Brecht's view was that active techniques promoted conservative interests; this was partly because these forms allowed the audience to receive the play passively, but also because they propose that the audience are unable to alter society. Brecht believed that even naturalist theatre which dealt with political issues encouraged the audience to follow society, by presenting workers as powerless victims of their situation. Brecht was not alone in this opinion of seeing naturalist theatre as deficient for the modern society. "Erwin Piscator criticized the genre on the grounds that are presented only outbursts of despair, not solutions." 8

Beckett has sometimes been considered as a political artist, more interested in human condition than politics." In September 1941 Beckett, one of the twentieth century's most apparent non-political dramatist, secretly took up arms against fascism."7 His work is seen to represent the antithesis of any progressive political engagement. "Beckett was transformed as a writer by World War Two and the Holocaust, he was an active member of the French resistance"6; after the liberation of France, Beckett worked in a hospital in a town that was devastated by allied bombings, here Beckett seen a lot of human suffering and found voice of a writer after the war. Beckett creates ideas in his play to address subconsciously the historical, cultural, social and political issues of the time.

Beckett's Waiting For Godot, is often reviewed that the "relationship between Pozzo and Lucky is that of capitalist to his labour."5 This Marxist interpretation is understandable given that in Act two, Pozzo is blind to see what is going on around him and Lucky is mute to protest his treatment. "Waiting For Godot has also been seen as an allegory for French- German relations." 5 The play is an expression of what Beckett thought the world and people to be like in the 1950's after World War Two. "The play deliberately mystifies the conventional expectations of an audience, whose first response is often similar to that of the characters themselvesnothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes".6 In Waiting For Godot, Beckett expresses the modern human conditionhumans are divided from themselves as they tolerate the random cruelty of existence, which they are unable to understand, yet are condemned to live. Here Beckett is questioning the meaning of life, he is saying we are put on this earth, we suffer and we die. He also does this by Vladimir and Estragon contemplating suicide, but so powerless that they cannot end their own existence. Estragon says: "Don't let's do anything. It's safer"1 This is a metaphor for following the rules of society. It is morally wrong to commit suicide so therefore they don't go through with it. Within this world, human thought is both our friend and our enemy. Considering that Beckett wrote Waiting For Godot in the repercussion of the Holocaust, when human beings were inflicting cruelty on one another, the stoicism of the characters stands as a testimony to the ability of human beings to tolerate. Waiting for Godot also raises the question "Who is Godot?' some critics have said Godot is God. Beckett said that if he intended Godot to be God, he would have called him God in the play. Beckett has been known to be in a 'Trance' as he writes, which explains how he doesn't know who Godot is. Critics have interpreted the identity of Godot in many ways, ranging from being a saviour, to being a God. "The most popular and strongest identity of Godot has been that of God. In the bible God speaks to Moses, he fulfils the promise, he appears before Moses."2 But in Godot this does not happen Godot never comes; only his messengers appear. We can say if Beckett intended Godot to in fact be God then he has painted a bad image of God, by Godot not turning up as he has given Vladimir and Estragon false hope. "Godot's not turning up, even at the end of the play suggests that Beckett doubts the existence of God."2 People who watch Waiting for Godot could probably pick up on this and if this Beckett's intention he is subliminally questioning God's existence and making the audience question it too.

Brecht's Mother Courage is often said to have been wrote to question the ethics of war and the difficulty of poverty. Mother courage is possibly one of the greatest anti-war plays of all time. Brecht's alienation effect also known as the Verfremdungeffekt which hinges the success of each scene in Mother Courage For example Courage's "song of the great capitulation," when played without alienation risks seducing the audience with delight or surrender rather than revealing the depravity in the submission to an unfair authority. Written in the midst of the Nazi terror, Mother Courage impels the viewers to oppose war. The play shows how years of war have made people freeze their lives into a mould of surrender and lamentation. Standing against these surrenders is Kattrin, disfigured and silenced by war trauma to which she persistently bears witness and risks everything to save a town under attack, which shows Brecht being patriotic is a sense that Kattrin is risking her life to save her town, she doesn't want no harm to come to the town or community.

Beckett's plays may appear to create rigorous, distant, painterly environments, but they are all based on very solid situations. "Endgame, for instance, invites the audience to think about the question of human morals, through a master/slave account."6 One character in the play, Hamm is anguished by the notion of human responsibility. "He finds cruelty easier to distribute rather than compassion."6 He works his way through the play trying to tell his story of how he was asked to rescue a child from starvation. Naturally, as Beckett is a post- Holocaust writer, death haunts his work. For Beckett, death is a representation of an end to an emotional dialogue with oneself. "Beckett's work is symbolical in both form and content."6 It is resistant, indeed intimidating, to any form of literalism, including political literalism, and resists any crude demand for optimism. We cannot stamp Beckett as a 'political artist', but who is to say that he was not shaped by the political issues of his time. In many ways, Beckett is a highly influenced political artist, but his politics are that of body and in all of his works the body is broken, isolated and absent; still his characters break the silence around them and speak, in some of his works even the deceased have a voice. Here he is showing that everyone is entitled to an opinion and everyone should be heard. He is standing up for equality.

Brecht grew up in Germany, and his childhood was filled with dramatic events, not only historical events famous in Germany, but the whole of Europe. "At this time World War One broke out and all of its destructive consequences."3 These events left their mark on the young Brecht and powerfully influenced the formation of his character. In his early works we see him using democratic and patriotic ideas. Also his first works came across as rich and many sided creatively and he often brought in the art of social realism. Later in Brecht's life he deepened his knowledge on Marxism, which started showing through in his works. Brecht wrote plays motivated by current events; in particular he drew close attention to the need for class observation against the danger of the war which the Nazi's were planning. "On the eve of the Nazi dictatorship Brecht raised alarm in the play 'Round Heads and Peaked Heads.' This was the first exposure of the National socialists (Hitler's Party). Brecht became a victim of fascist barbarism, the Nazi's burned his booked and the theatre was closed."3 The Nazi's deprived him of his German nationality; this was a very difficult time in Brecht's life. Between 1933 and 1947 Brecht roamed in Austria, Switzerland, France and Scandinavian countries. During this time away from Germany his exile was politically active. "He was front rank in the anti- fascist front. During this period some of his greatest plays were written, showing his thoughts on the art of socialist realism."3 Brecht's Play 'Drums In The Night' shows the revolution of 1919 in Germany. Brecht's aims were to "show that violent historical events cannot be understood except in relation to definite social classes. The clash of interests of historically irreconcilable classes leads to the breakdown of the social history."4 When Brecht started to think about writing about the art of socialist realism, social realism had already been established and been "embodied in the works of the great social realists Gorky and Mayakovski"3; so Brecht knew writing in this form would be a success.

In Brecht's writing the un-shamefaced political commitment has annoyed critics to no end. Like John Willet the author of many books of Brecht and his chief English translator- has chose to look at it as an irregularity, something adverse but subsidiary to his achievements as a playwright and poet." In contrast to this, Eric Bentley the most enthusiastic Brechtian in the USA lamented that Brecht "would be a better writer if he gave up Marxism"4 Others are "more disapproving and oppose his work on the grounds that it is coarsely didactic and lacks the subjective sentiments available only through a more personal theatre of an individual experience."

To conclude, both artists include social or political issues in their works, Brecht more so over Beckett. Beckett tends to involve them subconsciously rather than consciously. Beckett is not actually seen as a political writer but in many cases he is, hence why I chose to discuss him in this essay. Brecht's aim was to deliver a social or political message in his works and both dramatists have been successful in doing this, even if Beckett didn't intended to.

Bibliography

  1. Beckett, S. Waiting for Godot [online]. Available from: www.ebook.guttenburg.us/worldebooklibrary.com/godot.htm Accessed: 11th November 2009
  2. Kaur, A. 2007. Who is Godot? In waiting for Godot. [online] Available from: www.literarybonanza.blogspot.com/2007/08/who-is-godot-in-waiting-for godot.html Accessed: 15th January 2010
  3. Mato, J. Idriz, R. Ziko and V. Kapurani,A. 1998. Bertolt Brecht and Social Realism. [online] Available from: www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv4n2/brecht.htm Accessed: 14th January 2010
  4. Fuegi, J. 1995. Bertolt Brecht: the man who never was. [online] Available from: www.writing.upenn.edu/~Afilreis/50s/brecht-review.html Accessed: 10th January 2010
  5. Janjua, Q. Waiting for Godot- Samuel Beckett (a Critical Analysis) [online] Available from: http://www.scribd.com/doc/24941071/Waiting-for-Godot-Samuel-Beckett-a-Critical-Analysis-by-Qaisar-Iqbal-Janjua-Good-for-Literature-Student Accessed 12th january 2010
  6. Samuel Beckett: poet of pessimism or herald of resistance? [online] Available from: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php?article_id=8626 Accessed 10th January 2010
  7. Eagleton, T. Political Beckett?[online] Available from: http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2626 Accessed 10th January 2010
  8. Riley, D. The life and lies of Bertolt Brecht [online] Available from: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/61/002.html Accessed 12th January

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