Brecht’s Life of Galileo as an Examination of Key Life Events of a Great Physicist
The Eyes of Knowledge
Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo portrays key incidents within the life of the great Italian physicist, Galileo Galilei. Throughout reading this play, it’s easy to discover the play’s central concern between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church. The scientist’s “unorthodox” discoveries about the solar system cast a terrible light upon him from the Inquisition and led to his theories being silenced by the Church. It gives the impression that Galileo’s hypothesis, that place the sun at the centre of the Universe, did not correspond with how to Church felt the sun, the moon, and the stars were positioned in the sky. They realised that the new findings would demolish their concept of the Universe and threatened the teachings which they advocated and followed. Ultimately, the Roman Catholic Church was successful in silencing Galileo, as the preservation of their power was their top priority.
Galileo spent his entire life trying to solve the mysteries of the world, and by writing his findings down in a series of books and journals, he hoped that future generations would continue his research to keep the thirst for knowledge alive. That is why he continued to teach Andrea about the universe and his latest discovery for Andrea represented who Galileo was writing science for. He believed that science was for everyone and not just nobles or the clergy. Scene fourteen gives a hint of what Galileo was trying to accomplish before his sudden death by Andrea passing on the knowledge he collected within his life to the next generation.
At this moment, Andrea has collected his things, along with Galileo’s book ‘The Discorsi’, and is attempting to get across the Italian border. The set would be simple to represent an open space like the Italian countryside. A treadmill would be placed along down stage, running from left to right, so when Andrea is “crossing the border”, it will look as if he is travelling thousands of miles. Entering stage right, Andrea would proceed forward until a Guard approaches him to see if he can pass or not. After the Guard gives him permission to go across border lines, the Guard and boy would then walk towards downstage left, while the treadmill is moving, making it look like Andrea is the one moving the entire time.
A few moments later, a girl will enter causing Andrea to stop. Andrea would pass along his wisdom to the little girl before continuing to cross the border. At this moment, the treadmill will not come back on so that when Andrea starts to walk off stage, he would fully leave.
Lighting would have to be the second most important part when one wants to create a scene. The reason light is so important, it that it lets the audience know what time of the day, or night, that it is taking place. The light I would use for this scene would be one of a sunset. Having Andrea across the board at sunset can symbolise the end of one life and the beginning of a new. The sun would be a dull white light, but as the scene progresses, it would continue to get duller until Andrea is almost entirely off the stage at which time the scene will go completely dark. The placement of the lights helps in separating modern theatre from the ‘epic’ theatre. In modern theatre, the lights are hidden to keep the connection between the actors and audience intact. With ‘epic’ theatre, the lights are positioned in front of the public as a constant reminder that they are watching a play.
Music and song are used within epic theatre to help in expressing the play’s themes more independent from the main spoken text throughout the play. Music was also used to help defuse emotions, rather than intensifying them as we see in the modern-day theatre. The music that would be utilised within this scene would begin soft and gentle, which is playing off the calm demeanour that Andrea is portraying, while the Guard is searching through his cart.
Since this is the final scene of the play, it would make sense that there would be a limited number of props used by the characters. For the Guard, he would have a helmet, sword resting in its holder, and a shield on his arm. It would make sense for the Guard to be armed at his post since he is the only person to whom grants people passage into and out of the country. There are two children within the scene so it would make sense to have them playing together at the border since the scene description informs us of that. When the little boy confronts Andrea, he will hold a toy in his hands to demonstrate the playful gestures. Later, when the little girl faces Andrea before he leaves, she would most likely not have a toy in her hands so she can point towards Galileo’s book that in resting within the trunk.
Andrea would be the only character were a multitude of props within this scene would be needed. Upon entering the scene, he is pulling a cart full of personal belongings including a trunk full of books. When Galileo’s book is pulled out, it is wrapped in a cloth to keep it from being destroyed. However, having it covered in a ratty cloth makes the book seem worthless and helps to deceive the Guard so Andrea may cross the border without delay.
Costuming for a character within epic theatre is simple and to the point instead of having racks and racks of pieces for just one character. Since Andrea was Galileo’s assistant, it would make sense that he would dress nicely but still show that he is not a noble, despite his vast knowledge. Andrea would wear a white shirt, brown pants, and a brown vest. Simple but can be worn for any occasion.
The Guard would be dressed in a uniform that would representation as to what side he is fighting for. The combination would stick to bright colours. He would be dressed in red puffy pants, blue stockings, and a blue shirt. This mix of colours would act as an excellent contrast with the silver helmet, sword, and shield. Children at this time would be dressed simple but still able to show class like everyone else within this play. The costume for the little boy would be like Andrea since they would most likely be the same quality status. His costume would be a pair of blue, puffy pants, a white long-sleeve shirt, and a blue vest. There would be little dirt stains on the knees of the pants and a few the sleeve of the shirt to show that he has been playing on the ground for some time. The little girl would be dressed to the same status as both the little boy and Andrea. Her costume would be a floor-length, pink dress with white trim. Her hair would be pulled back into braids so that the audience can see her face.
Character interactions and relationships assist in setting up a play’s plot line and can help determine the outcome of some events. Even a scene with four characters in it will have different connections between one character and another. Andrea would be the one character who has the most connections to each of these characters within the scene.
Firstly, Andrea’s connection to the Guard is one of respect but also discernment. When the Guard stops him at the border, he treats the Guard with utmost respect; However, by using his advanced knowledge to trick the Guard into believing Galileo’s book to be a worthless piece of work from Aristotle. Secondly, Andrea’s connection to the Boy is one of fairy tales. When Andrea tries to cross the border, he informs him “not to wait long. There’s a witch lives here. She flies through the air at night” (pg. 79). He can also represent the children of the past who would believe anything they were told without doing the research themselves. And finally, Andrea’s connection to the girl is one of potential. For she is always asking the adults in the scene for the truth behind situations. The first, is when she asks “can people fly through the air?” (pg. 80); However, she has been shoved aside. The second is when Andrea has finally crossed the border, and she states “box is gone now. It was the devil.” (pg. 80); Nevertheless, this time she is not shoved aside.
Andrea explains to her how the box moved from one side of the border to the other. He also answers her previous question as to “can people fly through the air?” (pg. 80) which he intends to start the little gears in her head moving in hopes science will find the answer someday.
Epic theatre was created to be a reaction against popular and modern forms of theatre, particularly the naturalistic approach. One of the goals of epic theatre is for the audience always to be aware that they are watching a play and not to get sucked into the story realm. Brecht episodes, his word for scenes, would be simple and to the point. He would attempt to show everyday events and social situations that ordinary people wouldn’t even think over, by shoving it in their face to make them look. This play is demonstrating how important knowledge is to a growing society and how we shouldn’t let someone, let alone a Church, tell us what we can and cannot believe in. In doing the scene in this manner, it would fulfil Brecht’s criteria for an ‘epic’ theatre.
Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo portrays key incidents within the life of the great Italian physicist, Galileo Galilei. Throughout reading this play, it’s easy to discover the play’s central concern between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church. The scientist’s “unorthodox” discoveries about the solar system cast a terrible light upon him from the Inquisition and led to his theories being silenced by the Church. It gives the impression that Galileo’s supposal, that place the sun at the centre of the Universe, did not correspond with how to Church felt the sun was positioned.
They realised that the new findings would demolish this notion of the Universe and threatened the teachings which they advocated and followed. Ultimately, they Roman Catholic Church was successful in silencing Galileo, as the preservation of their power was their top priority.
Galileo spent his entire life trying to solve the mysteries of the world, writing it down in a book, and taught the next generation to keep the desire of science alive within the next generation. Brecht has expressed this through his play and reminds that the saying “knowledge is power” is more true then the stars themselves.
The Life of Galileo Galilei Through the Eyes of Bertolt Brecht
Does the trial of Galileo indicate that the church was hostile to new ideas in science? Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) proved to be the first dramatic example of conflict between science and religion. Galileo introduced and correctly explained the idea- what is the acceleration of a free falling object, by doing this he quashed the previous theories of his predecessor, Aristotle.
Aristotle came up with the theory that the weight of an object and the medium through which it was moving determined the downward speed of the object. Galileo, after having carried out numerous experiments concluded that in a vacuum, an object accelerated independent of its weight. He proved this by rolling a ball down a ramp at different angles and calculated the acceleration. He found that the rate of acceleration was constant, according to the equation: a=v/t. Aristotle s thoughts tended to deal with the physical world we live in, Galileo on the other hand was more concerned with an ideal world. The modern age of science began in 1543 with the publication of Copernicus s book On the revelation of the celestial orbs . A key feature of the new science was mathematical reasoning and quantifiable observations.
According to the Copernican model the planets and the earth revolve around the sun, this is accurate although mathematically simpler. One of the important changes taking place was that people began to view the earth as a mathematical structure, relationships were quantative, not qualative as they had been for Aristotle. The scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century owes a lot to maths. Galileo found additional evidence to support the copernican theory, with a combination of theory and experiment, which was essential to his study, this can also be traced back to Archimedes in Ancient Greece. At first the church didn t take Copernicus s theory very seriously as astronomy and maths didn t seem to have any significant philosophical or theological relevance although Copernicus s book was dedicated to Pope Paul III and he received it gratefully.
Copernicus still made use of Ptolemy s cycles and epicycles and he also borrowed from Aristotle the idea that the planets must move in circles because it is the only perfect form of motion. In reality copernicus s book marked a change in human thought. Owen Barfield, in his book Saving the Appearances calls it the real turning point in the history of science. It took place when copernicus began to think, and others, like Kepler and Galileo , began to affirm that the heliocentric hypothesis not only saved the appearances, but was physically true It was not simply a theory of the nature of celestial movements that was feared but a new theory of the nature of theory; namely that , if a hypothesis saves all the appearances , it is identical with the truth. Copernicus s book stated that the earth was not at the centre of the universe with the sun revolving around it, this is problematic for Christians who viewed the Aristotlian image of the earth at the centre as in the bible the sun moves around the earth; Joshua 10:13 And the sun and moon stood still, till the people revenged themselves of their enemies. Is not this written in the book of the just? So the sun stood still in the midst of the heaven, and hasted not to go down the space of one day. It took Copernicus four years to have the confidence to publish the book, he wasn t afraid about how the church would react but how academics would view it. He was afraid because Aristotle s work was highly praised whereas he was introducing a new, unproved system of cosmology which apparently went against the teachings of the bible.
In 1609 telescopic observations of the skies were made by Galileo. After hearing about the invention of a telescope in Holland he built one for himself and what he found were to have major consequences for the Aristotelian cosmos. Using the telescope he saw that the sun is a lump of rock like the earth, not a perfect sphere and he assumed that other planets are the same. He also discovered that the planet of Jupiter had at least four satellites and the phases of Venus , meaning that Venus moves around the sun and not the earth. What he was actually saying was that the earth is just an ordinary planet and that stars must be much further away, or you would see the motion of the earth. Motion is trivial compared to the distance of the distance of the sun to the nearest star and stars are so bright, like our own sun. The problem this posed was that the earth seems to be insignificant physically as the universe is so big, so does this mean it is also insignificant spiritually? Protestants found it very difficult to come to terms with Copernicus and the Catholic church were resistant to change. During the seventeenth century there were many problems for Christians coming to terms with these new discoveries.
A leading Jesuit astronomer of the time, Christopher Calvius was at first skeptical of Galileo s observations but once he saw the planet Jupiter for himself through a telescope he knew what Galileo was saying was correct. The Jesuits then confirmed the theory about the phases of Venus although they came up with the system of Tycho Brahe, which had all the planets orbiting the sun, except the earth. In 1611 Galileo visited Rome where Pope Paul V offered his support, then he returned to Florence where he became obsessed with the Copernican theory and where he discussed, argued and sold the Copernican model at every opportunity. Galileo wanted to convert the public to his way of thinking. Galileo s trial by the Inquisition would not have taken place had he been more diplomatic although Galileo was overly confident and not very tactile.
The church were not totally hostile to science although they did have problems with this particular area. There are also strong suspicions that trial was his own fault, he was insensitive and his book poked fun at the pope. There wasn t a clash of principles but an unfortunate misunderstanding of how galileo had handled the church. Galileo s situation was extremely ironic, he was obsessed with the Copernican model and intent on ramming it down the throat of the Catholic Church yet at the beginning of his campaign he was held in high regards by the church. His views left the church with three options; i) to accept the Copernican model(even though it wasn t properly proven) and to adapt Scripture to this theory, ii) to condemn it, or iii) that the Copernican theory could be accepted but only as a hypothesis until proof could be supplied. Galileo rejected this. As far as the church was concerned the Copernican model was such a controversy as it implied that due to the immensity of the universe, humans might be peripheral to the creation and the fact of biological evolution, evolution changes our view of ourselves(therefore we aren t a special creation).
Several biblical passages were also read as indicating a stationary earth, this wasn t what Galileo thought. Galileo himself knew that he could not prove heliocentricism. He couldn t even answer an argument brought forward by his predecessor, Aristotle. That is, if the earth did go around the sun then there would be a shift in the position of a star observed from the earth on one side of the sun , and then six months later from the other side. This was not answered until 1838 by Friedrich Bessel. Another problem which Galileo encountered was that he was adamant that despite discoveries by Kepler, that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles. Despite this Galileo sent letters and articles throughout Europe and he was involved in disputes with churchmen which only proved to decrease his popularity among the church. As Galileo was so confident and not afraid to speak his mind he moved his debate from a scientific background onto theological grounds. Had Galileo s arguments remained purely scientific there is no question that the church would have shrugged them off but in 1614 Galileo insisted that he had to answer queries about this new science contradicting certain passages of the bible, some of the bible passages cited are; Ecclesiastes 1:4-6 , the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth , and the sun goeth down and hastethto his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south and turneth about the north, also Psalm93:1, the world also is stabilished that it cannot be moved and Psalm 104:5, who laid the foundation of the earth, that it should not be removed forever. Also Joshua which I have previously mentioned. The literal meaning of these passages would have to be scraped if the Copernican model was to be believed. Galileo addressed this problem in his letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615. He laid down interpretations of when science theories seem to conflict with the literal interpretation of the scripture. First of all Galileo claims that science and religion are independent of one another, that they have both dofferent goals and are irrelevant to each other, for example, theology is neutral in respect to cosmology and he goes on to describe how these scientific theories should be evaluated by scientific criteria alone. If Galileo had adhered to what he proposed and the church had accepted it, a conflict between Galileo and the church would never have taken place. In December 1614 a Dominican priest named Thomas Caccini held a sermon in Florence which was anti-Copernican and which was a clear attack against Galileo.
One month later and another Dominican, Father Niccolo Lorini, read a copy of Galileo s letter to Castelli and was very annoyed how he adapted scripture to suit his own purposes. He sent a copy to the Inquisition in Rome, slightly altering Galileo s words although the case was dismissed. At this point Cardinal Bellarmine , one of the most important theologians of the Catholic Reformation proposed a face saving compromise for Galileo. In 1615, he wrote a letter outlining the church s position. He said that it was acceptable to keep the Copernican model but only as a hypothesis and if there were real proof that the earth circles the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of scripture which appear to teach the contrary Galileo was however determined to have a showdown and so he went to Rome to confront Pope Paul V. He referred the matter to the Inquisition and apparently an injuction was sent to Galileo telling him to abstain altogether from teaching or defending this opinion and doctrine, and from even discussing it .
It is debated whether this is genuine or was forged. Sixteen yers later Galileo wrote his famous Dialogue on the two great world systems which began the famous trial of Galileo in 1633. Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition in Rome, he was condemned and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It is unfair to say that the church has been hostile to new ideas in science. There have been a number of areas where religion has promoted science, for example , Kepler s discovery that the planets orbit the sun in ellipsis. Also Newton s idea that the pull of gravity holds planets around the sun, the Catholic Church have paved the way for people like Galileo and Newton. iv)
Critical Analysis of Life of Galileo
The scene 14 in the play specifically depicts the dismal fate of those individuals who attempt to challenge the established status quo in the light of their own rational thinking and radical thoughts. The scene explores the vivid exchanges between Galileo and his “visitor from the past” who strives to “excite him” to such an extent that we see the old Galileo back. With an ardent conversation that follows as they discuss the secret manuscript,”Discoursi”, we see that Galileo lurking from the dark shadows of his present dreary life, who was full of energy with his revolutionary ideas of logic and science. Here, the audience feels relieved and contented that their old Galileo is now back, the present version of him that was passive and subdued cease to satisfy their expectations from him. A man of his time who has guts to challenge not only the revered Ideas of Aristotle but also the sacred doctrine of the church regarding astronomy was no walk in the park. It had its dire implications and an impending destiny, but there is more what made Galileo completely lose hope from his own people. Despite being a “faithful son of the church” Galileo had staunch belief that the church would never abandon him. However his confident came crashing down his feet when the church chose its own egoistical standing instead of a man who spoke the truth with well-founded evidence. From the trial to a threatening punishment of burning in flames if he doesn’t “recant”, this scene explores the Galileo who suffered the severe repercussions of his mistake of speaking the truth and his attempt to revitalize human thinking regarding the working of the universe. By witnessing the miserable fate of the great man of his time, audience may cry their heart out, however Brecht had more in store for the audience. The latter part of the scene explores that Galileo who is his old self again and here the playwright makes the audience optimistic by the fact in the light of determination and the idea that there is scope of human improvement, no authority can make the rational individual diminish his fiery desire of propagating change.
The exchanges between Galileo and his daughter Virginia depicts a submissive and a cowed Galileo. Virginia is seen contented that her father has at last chosen a life of a recluse. She has joined hands with the monk who sits as a guard outside Galileo dwelling and both control his visitors. This is the first betrayal Galileo receives and a dire punishment for speaking truth from his immediate family. These exchanges are short and impassive and here we feel pitied for a man who had suffered just because he chose truth above everything else.
At present, Galileo has forsaken his greatness and have descended in to the dark shadows of his. He has chosen a life of seclusion in order to escape punishment and a dire fate of a heresy. For such a great man, this approach is antithesis to his esteemed ideals and principles and that is exactly what Brecht serves to preach the audience. No one knows, even Virginia who hangs on Galileo like a sleuth that beyond the apparent picture there is more than that meets the eye.
Questioning the church’s authority gave Galileo two options. With the sinister imagery of flames and burning that dominates the play and this scene in particular, execution which is so severe and cruel that it becomes an eye opener for those who dare to question the church. The second option is more than death could offer alone exactly what Galileo chose which made his followers and audience shriek with disbelief. Andrea’s anguish, “ And we thought you had deserted” is totally relatable because he looks to Galileo with so much respect that his move to escape punishment was totally opposed to his greatness. However, the dramatic irony is prevalent in this scene when Andrea visits his esteemed teacher. The scene takes an U-turn from Galileo’s passive writing that were in line with the church’s demands to the ardent depiction of his secret manuscript. By bringing such contrasts, Brecht puts forth the claim that true believers of knowledge and truth would never recreate on the sidelines and will continue to challenge the proposed authority no matter what the consequences of these acts would be.
Galileo’s radical thinking and hypothesis undermined the century old traditions and ideals that were revered and held sacred. People have blindly accepted them because the source was the church. The church had such an unprecedented influence upon people that it had curbed their ability to think beyond what was presented to them. Galileo was an ordinary man with intellect and logic; he seemed not to be satisfied with the church even though he was a staunch follower of it. By making Galileo life an example, Brecht reiterates the idea that in the face of logic and rationality, outdated ideas as no validity because there is always a room for human advancement discovery that has no bounds.
With Galileo’s faltering situation, Brecht makes the audience see that church’s imprisonment have broken him physically and emotionally. By renouncing his views, he lost comradeship with his close fellows and lost his enthusiasm in work. His harsh life seems to impair his eyesight and it was emotionally difficult to work under threat of execution and surveillance. If church wanted Galileo’s life as an example to those who challenge the authority, Brecht has a different lesson for audience. There is no doubt that Galileo’s suffering was poignant and audience feel remorseful however with Galileo’s exchanges with his student we see his underlying zeal amidst the physical impairment as he asks Andrea to steal his manuscript to the foreign country by “stuffing it in his coat”
Galileo’s discoveries were revolutionary and grand but his manner of articulating them was simplistic. He used wooden objects and apples to teach his servant’s son Andrea the real depiction of universe. Even the apple symbolism is present in this scene as Galileo asks Virginia to cook geese with apple. For Galileo apple reminds him of his methods of teachings and his flourishing phase of life when he was cherishing people’s lives with a revitalized and a logical thinking. This is want made the playwright place Galileo on a pedestal. According to him this is the true greatness, and this greatness is further emphasized in this scene. By opting for a life that is even more painful and eminent than death, Galileo lived not only to escape severe execution but lived to make a difference in people’s thinking. Even in the darkest nights when he worked and wrote his discoveries, the motive was solely to bring about change and revitalize people mindset. Andrea’s dialogue, “they give you pen and paper to keep you quiet” is full of irony; his secret manuscript spoke more than his mouth could articulate alone. As his revolutionary ideas found their long awaited escape by getting stuffed in Andrea’s coat and sneaked to the foreign country, church pen and paper could hardly keep him quiet. Brecht invites the audience to live like Galileo, even when the lives are at their darkest phase, a determined individual like Galileo would make use of whatever appears before him to satisfy his quest of change and knowledge. Galileo’s submission did not meant his renouncement from his work, rather he created for himself such conditions that helped him further his work.
Thus, by this scene, Brecht demonstrates before the audience the fact that church attempt to make Galileo’s repressed life as an eye opener for others failed terribly. Galileo’s utter determination was at odds with the life of total abandonment a repressive institution like church sought to teach. Brecht shows the audience that, Galileo, when challenging the church’s teaching was not at rest himself. With his radical ideas propagated through science and logic, his religious views also got challenged. This situation was very traumatic given that he was a staunch Catholic. But for the sake of betterment of his people he was ready to compromise his religious views with open mindedness. However what he didn’t realized that the church was still conservative and was deeply rooted in traditional thinking that it was not ready to compromise on whatever logic is presented to them. Such flexibility was not permitted by the church that controlled people’s lives with their unwavering influence.
Biography of Galileo Galilei – the Scientific Revolutionist
Galileo was born in Pisa, Tuscany, on February 15, 1564. He is the oldest son. He and his family moved to Florence in the early 1570s. He attended a monastery school at Vallombrosa. In 1581 he enrolled in University of Pisa where he would study medicine. However he got obsessed with mathematics and decided to make the mathematical subjects and philosophy his profession. In 1585 Galileo left the university without having a degree. For a long time he gave private lessons in the mathematical subjects in Florence and Siena.
During this period he designed a new form of hydrostatic balance for weighing small quantities and wrote a short treatise, The Little Balance. Because of the Little Balance he began studies in motion which he studied for the many years. He applied for the chair of mathematics at the university of bologna but he didn’t get it. However his reputation was growing. He founded some ingenious theorems on centers of gravity. A year later he received the chair of mathematics. Galileo dropped bodies of different weights from the top of the famous Leaning Tower, to prove the speed of fall of a heavy object is not proportional to its weight, as Aristotle had claimed. He was abandoning Aristotelian instead taking an Archimedean approach to the problem. That decision made him unpopular. Galileo’s salary was higher there, he had responsibilities as the head of the family because his father had died in 1591 meant that he was pressed for money. His university salary could not cover all his expenses, and he tutored students privately. He also sold a proportional compass, or sector, of his own type, made by an artisan which he employed in his house. It might be financial problems that caused him not to marry, but he did have an arrangement with a woman, Marina Gamba, who bore him two daughters and a son.
Galileo found out that the Netherlands had an invention that magnifies things from a far and makes it up close. Galileo quickly figured out how to improve it and practiced the art of lens grinding and made some of the most powerful telescopes of his time. In the fall of 1609 he began to study the moon and it phases. He found out that it is not like they thought it is rough and rigid. In January 1610 he found out that Jupiter has three moons and can see more star with the telescope than the naked eye.
Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht: Analysis of the Scene 12
Galileo Galilei was the man who used science and the telescope to prove to the church that the sun is the center of the universe instead of the Earth.
In Scene 12, we see the arrival of a new pope Barberini which is a plot twist to the drama that is occurring in the play. Since the former Pope is now out of frame, the audience is left in confusion and suspense as to how the new Pope reacts to Galileo’s ideas. In the previous scenes, we learn that Galileo has been accused of selling “pamphlets against the Bible” all around the city. Due to these rumors the Pope would now want to see him which puts the audience along with Galileo in a stressed and uncomfortable atmosphere. Unexpectedly, the Pope defends Galileo saying he “is the greatest physicist of our time.” The audience is pleased but at the same time astonished because the Pope is supporting the facts but going against the church whereas, he is the head of church. Working against each other the Pope and the inquisitor are trying to manipulate each other in believing what they believe. The Pope tries to convince the inquisitor that Galileo might indeed be right however, he changes his mind realizing his position of authority. Thus, the Pope finally agrees with the inquisitor. The Audience is impressed by how the Pope stood for the truth yet still being loyal to the church and the people. He let Galileo “write his book on condition that he finished it by saying that the last word lay with faith, not science.” It was a brilliant idea to please both parties. In contrary, to the new Pope the inquisitor is similar to the old Pope is willing to go to any extend just to prove that the Church as an institution is right. We see this in Scene 8, when the inquisitor talks highly of Galileo with Virginia his daughter saying he is “a great man, one of the greatest” and furthermore when he learns the Virginia knows nothing about Galileo’s theories and instead follows the teachings of the church he confident that she will convince her father to step back. The church is threatened by Galileo therefore, they are willing to take risks.
Similarly, in Scene 12 we see the difference in tones when the Inquisitor speaks about Galileo in-front of the Pope versus Virginia. In this Scene he refers to Galileo as “this fellow” whereas in front of Virginia he praises him and gives him respect. The inquisitor mocks Galileo’s book by saying “His book shows a stupid man representing the view of Aristotle.” This shows how eager the inquisitor is to gain the Pope’s support to prove Galileo wrong. The inquisitor who happens to represent the ideas and views of the church is concerned about Galileo’s point of view. If the common people paid more attention and understood Galilee’s theories they would eventually walk away from the belief of the work of God. Galileo being the brave soul that he is chose bring forward the truth about the facts of Astronomy which other scientists have been holding to themselves due to the fear of the Church. The truth can make a difference whether it is good or bad but that can change the way someone thinks. The only thing holding back the truth from being exposed is the fear of the consequences that comes with it.
In addition, Scene 12 shows the comparison between the old and the new Pope because the new Pope is more open minded towards Galileo’s theory whereas, the old Pope wanted to prove that without a doubt Galileo’s idea was wrong because of the fact that he didn’t have a position of power. The audience feels that in the eyes of the old Pope power justifies whether a person is right or wrong regardless, if in reality it is true or not. Since, Barberini- the new Pope is the leader of the Christians responsibility comes with it. He would have to make the right decision which would make the people’s faith strong. But, instead it is clear through the conversation between the inquisitor and the Pope that it is politicized. We also learn that Barberini has a different perspective about science than the church.
As the audience learns in Scene 7, Barberini confirms that he “once studied some astronomy.” Thus, the audience realizes his purpose of saving Galileo in scene 12. This gives the audience hope that this may help to change the traditional views and understanding of the church so they may approve of Galileo’s hypothesis just like they had approved of Aristotle’s. Science and Religion are two subjects that are oppose each other. Science is based on facts and religion is based on belief. And we see this in Scene 12, where the Pope is supporting the subject of Science whereas the inquisitor is encouraging the religious point of view of the topic.
Scene 12, prepares the audience for the clash between religion and science in other words the Church and Galileo. The audience experiences a rush of rising anxiety and suspense as to where this meeting will lead. The purpose for Brecht to put Scene 12 in the play is to show the different perspective of Galileo’s theory from the point of view of the church. In conclusion, the addition of this scene is to make the plot more developed and interesting. The audience is engaged in this plot because due to this scene now they know both sides of the argument and wonder what will happen when both the sides clash. The scene leaves the audience excited yet uneasy.
Analysis of “Life of Galileo” by Berthold Brecht
Brecht’s play, Life of Galileo, shows a journey of hardships and struggles faced by Galileo as he tries to build to make the society understand and come to believe the truth about the Earth. The play shows an interesting view into the typical common man’s mentality in the society, who finds himself incapable of being open enough to believe or understand new theories or ideas, or even if they do, they are easily shaken away from their belief because they do not have the courage to stand up for it.
In this scene, we are shown two previous characters, the formal Cardinal Barberini and the Cardinal Inquisitor. As the scene progresses we are shown a greater look into how threatened the Church feels by the theories and scientific revelations of Galileo. Even though Cardinal Barberini tries to be supportive, it becomes increasingly clear in the scene that the Inquisitor has paid the visit only to remind the new, open minded Pope about his duties to the Church.
In Scene 7, we can remember in one the dialogues of Cardinal Barberini, he said,
‘Can one go up on hot coals and his feet not be burned?’, as a quote from the Scriptures as Galileo had previously used one saying,
“But a broken spirit drieth the bones. Doth wisdom not cry?”
This is a predetermining dialogue which showed us that even though the Pope was quite sympathetic to the theories and work of Galileo, he was still a man of the Church at the end of the day, and his quote from the scripture about hot coals, and being burnt showed a subtle hint into how he felt about crossing too many lines with religion. This shows a huge similarity to the punishment previous scientists had received for speaking about the Earth being a star, and not being the center of the Universe.
At the end of scene 11, we are left completely unsure of what exactly has happened. A small hint to what is coming in the next scene is given when the Cardinal Inquisitor crosses paths with Galileo and gives him a deep bow. As audience we are left to wonder and stay curious about what next will happen to Galileo, and exactly what the Church will do him as a consequence of trying to give his book.
At the starting of Scene 12, we are more aware that the Inquisitor is out to trap Galileo and stop him from pursuing his line of research and giving it to the people. We are made aware that the Inquisitor has deep resentment for him as he gives argument to the Pope about how he feels that the logic between the science and the religion cannot stay in harmony. This gives us a look into the typical thinking of all of the Church’s people who followed religion blindly. Here, we see as the audience how much the Church fears the establishment of Galileo’s theories because it not only threatens the power of the church, which is very important for them to keep manipulating their own people in the name of God. This can be seen more clearly as the Inquisitor uses a quote from Aristotle,
“Once the Shuttle weaves by itself and the plectrum plays the zither with its own accord, then masters would need no apprentice and lords no servants”
This quote establishes the Church’s own selfish needs from the people, which is to keep them thinking that they need to the Church to carry on their daily tasks or get ahead in life. In turn, we see how the Church needs the people more than the people need it.
It is in this scene that Galileo’s fate is not only decided but sealed, as the Pope’s word is final. At the starting of the scene, the Pope is appreciative of the work done by Galileo and does not wish to have the multiplication board broken, but in the end of the scene, the audience can establish how the inquisitor has manipulated the Pope into taking the matter into a different perspective. In this Perspective, the Pope is left to believe that if he chooses to side with Galileo and his theories as blindly as before, he would be held as the most important person responsible for the Church’s failing. It shows the audience how the Pope cannot make a decision he knows which is correct based on his own understanding as an astronomer because of his own selfish motives to remain a respectable Pope who is not hated by the people as the Inquisitor manipulates him to believe.
It is also shown in this Scene that regardless of whether the Inquisitor makes a compelling argument towards the punishment of Galileo, it is made even more obvious that the Church would have had to refrain from supporting Galileo because it would indirectly have meant accepting that the Church was wrong about the Earth. Accepting this, would have given way to the religion being disproved. This can be seen in the Scene as the Inquisitor mentions how Galileo’s start charts are being demanded by North Italian ports for their ships. This gives the audience a sense into exactly what a difficult the Church was also put in.
Along with this, it can be seen how this scene is quite cognitively dissonant by the new Pope and his outlook on the whole situation, it make seem that the Pope is quite unusual with his beliefs and finds himself in a very confusing situation. The audience can now see how the Church is manipulating one of its own by using the power of the society as the Inquisitor goes on to mention how rumours have spread about the Pope and his plans to join the protestant Christians in Sweden and how the paintings he has used are becoming open to criticism as well. This begins to set up a new motive for the Pope when it comes to making his decisions, and he bases them on how he would like to be treated as the new Pope, trying to give Galileo the very least punishment than he could be offered.
The Inquisitor, a smart man, knowing that the new replacement would give special rights to Galileo because of his unorthodox thinking and love for astronomy, begins to sow in the seeds for the all the traps that he has already set for Galileo since the last few years, as we see in Scene 7, and how at the end he takes note of the conversations between Cardinal Barberini and Cardinal Bellarmin, along with having a discussion with Virginia, about her father. In a lot of places, he can be seen going against all the things that Galileo stands for, as he says,
“Ever since they began voyaging across the seas- and I’ve got nothing against that- they have placed their faith in a brass ball they call a compass, not in God.”
This shows exactly how much he opposes the advancement of all things and regards it to be useless, while Galileo would have believed it would be a step towards advancement and modernity. Therefore he is an opposing personality to him, and gives the audience a different argument than presented before by Galileo in all other scenes.
Brecht’s careful construction of the scene and the stream of events and arguments give the audience a very convincing argument towards why the Church chooses the fate they do for Galileo. It shows them the view of the Church for the first time, by two important figures of the church.
A very important part of the scene is the constant shifting of steps which indicate the unbearable, yet very unavoidable sound of the people outside the room, who keeps the audience reminded that no decision can be made without keeping the consideration of keeping them completely happy. They symbolize the society and the thinking of the society.
This scene plays a role in making the decision of what would happen to Galileo’s work. While the play itself focuses on the theme of the society being very stubborn and oblivious to the work done by Galileo because it was so new and went against everything they believed in, the greater theme and argument present throughout the play is that concerning the one between science and religion and this scene plays a pivotal part in reaching the final conclusion that science could not coexist with religion at the time. It also plays a very big part in making Galileo a traitor to his pupils, because of the clever antics of the Inquisitor who knows too well that no matter how passionate the man may be, he is after all, a man of flesh.
Brecht’s The Life of Galileo: Overturning ‘Naturalist’ Theatre
Brecht’s development of epic theatre challenged many aspects of the popular conventions of naturalism and expressionism that were prevalent during his rise to prominence in the 1920s. In The Life of Galileo, elements of epic theatre such as the use of song and verse, and, most notably, the presentation of arguments and reasoning as opposed to emotion and feeling, would have disconcerted an audience predominantly exposed to naturalistic concepts. This is due to the radically different way in which one must observe and react to the drama. In this essay, I will evaluate the profound variances between the conventional naturalistic or ‘dramatic’ theatre, and the new ‘epic’ theatre formulated by Brecht.Brecht and his contemporaries were exposed to the naturalistic drama of playwrights such as Gerhardt Hauptmann, prior to the development of Brecht’s own practice of epic theatre. Audience expectation included the principle of the suspension of disbelief, whereby the audience would forget they are watching a play and become complicit in the action. Characters were explored and developed in depth in order to connect the audience on a sympathetic level; the morals, sympathies and judgments were handed directly to the audience rather than suggested. This was true of expressionist theatre, which was also popular at this time. Esslin has criticised this style of theatre, as, in his opinion, it seeks to create ‘the maximum impression of emotional intensity by indulgence in hysterical outbursts and paroxysms of uncontrolled roaring and inarticulate anguish’ and included ‘orgies of vocal excess and apoplectic breast beating’ (Esslin 1970: 88). Indeed, Brecht found such dramatic theatre to be lacking in intellectual provocation, and thus wanted to produce a style of theatre which demanded more, mentally, from the audience. Rorrison notes that ‘from the beginning of his career Brecht had fought a running battle against the conventional theatre of his day which he dismissed as ‘culinary’, since, like expert cooking, it delighted the senses without impinging on the mind’ (Rorrison: xxxiv). Indeed, Brecht went on to develop a type of theatre that solicited the audience to make informed and subjective judgments about the issues presented. He questioned: ‘how can theatre be entertaining and at the same time instructive? How can it be taken…from a place of illusion to a place of insight?’ (Brecht 1939). In The Life of Galileo, Brecht presents a scientific debate concerning the universe; the audience is not expected to identify with the characters, as they are in naturalistic theatre. Indeed, Galileo is a fundamentally non-heroic protagonist, in that we are not privy to his thought processes as one may be in one a Shakespearean character’s soliloquy, and Brecht invites the audience to make judgements on the scientific debate and not to feel catharsis or sympathy with characters. This would be a radical challenge for those used to applying their empathy rather than their reason to their experience of drama.Unlike the ‘fourth wall’ convention of naturalistic theatre, Brecht used the verfremdungseffekt or ‘alienation technique’ to ensure that the audience was not influenced by their emotions and could make subjective conclusions about the historical account. Certainly, in The Life of Galileo, the characters are rarely explored or presented in a way that would suggest obvious spectator sympathy, as the scenes consist almost entirely of academic discourses and demonstrations; the scenes are representational of historical events (presented for didactic purposes), which differs from naturalistic drama that portrays action to be happening in the present, right before the eyes of the spectators (indented to produce an emotional response). Brecht’s development of the principle of gestus additionally helps to remind the audience that the actors are not the characters themselves, and are merely accounting for a past event. Unlike the approach expected by Brecht’s contemporary audience, whereby the actor works to identify with their character, gestus is the concept of representing a basic social attitude in a stylized way, which helps to make a point rather than exploiting, on an emotional level, the actor-audience relationship. For instance, The First Secretary replies ‘(mechanically)’ (Brecht 1980: 61); the characterisation is representational of a type of role, as opposed to a life-like impersonation. In Brecht’s productions, ‘no emotional faking was tolerated’ (Volker 1979: 72) and actors were asked to almost narrate the characters’ gestures and movements rather than becoming the character. Smith notes that, ‘by means of gestus, epic theatre draws the spectator away from the well-made play, with its closed forms and consumer ideologies, breaking the play’s conventions open to view and leaving them open at the play’s conclusion. Gestus attempts to energize the spectator to continue the text outside the theatre’ (Smith: 493). Brecht’s intentions are indeed to allow his audience to make their own conclusions of the information they have been presented; the ‘naturalist’ audience would have been more familiar with being spoon-fed a conclusive moral or feeling. Brecht first developed gestus to satirise fascists, but also ‘probably sensed…that dilemmas facing women, as estranged and disenfranchised members of society, would articulate his own views’ (Smith: 491). In scene 3, Galileo dismisses Virginia’s interest in the telescope, saying that ‘it’s not a toy’ (Brecht 1980: 31), when she asks to have a look. He is then ‘Talking past his daughter to Sagredo’ (Brecht 1980: 33). This demonstrates how Brecht undermines his characters to make us maintain a critical detachment; his inclusion of such obvious sexism (acknowledged in the stage directions) illustrates how Brecht’s Marxist beliefs encourage the viewer to challenge the status quo. Thus, here Brecht demonstrates the injustices of the privileged towards those with less power. Certainly, ‘the success of gestus depends on the production’s sensitivity to context and audience’ (Smith: 494). Therefore, by using this reference, Brecht is suggesting the importance of social change through his epic principles. Although unsettling, such issues raised in this play were of relevance to the contemporary audience. Indeed, through the satirical nature of gestus, the audience is exposed more explicitly to the themes and purpose of the play than the conventional naturalistic theatre. In Scene 6, the stage directions describe the atmosphere as ‘extremely hilarious’ (Brecht 1980: 50). Pathos may be expected in this scene as, in naturalistic theatre, the tension as Galileo awaits the results of his case would be created so that the audience may sympathise with the character. However, giving it a ‘hilarious’ atmosphere (with the monks comically mocking Galileo) steers away from this so that the audience may make their own judgments about the action without being made to feel a certain emotion. This would have been a peculiar change for the spectators used to the building of suspense and tension that articulates how the audience should feel. Through this, Brecht does not enforce a specific emotion on the observers, so that they may make independent judgments of the action. In The Life of Galileo, Brecht uses imagery as rhetoric devices, which is further indicative of a narrative in place of a dramatic plot, exploring less into character and more into the issue in the storyline. For instance, in scene 7, Galileo gives the example of when he was young: ‘When I was so high…I stood on a ship and called out ‘The shore is moving away.’ Today I realise that the shore was standing still and the ship moving away’ (Brecht 1980: 57) This simple, yet effective, image that he uses to explain the realisation of new theories and discoveries in the world of science serves as a rhetorical device, aiding Brecht’s argument, rather than the audience’s relationship with the protagonist. It also helps to shift the perspectives of the audience and challenge their fundamental assumptions. This is similarly true of the example of the oyster and the pearl that Galileo uses to describe the significance of reason over faith (Brecht 1980: 66), which would feel, to the audience, more like a stylistic argument than realistic dialogue. Brecht outlines the difference between dramatic and epic theatre as being concerned with reason rather than feeling. Indeed, these images are fluently delivered rhetoric, and therefore less naturalistic, and more of an ‘argument’ than a ‘suggestion’; ‘epic theatre was to tell a story in a way that invited the audience to consider the events involved and then to make their own assessment of them’ (Rorrison: xxxvi) In scene 7, Brecht uses Lorenzo di Medici’s famous poem: ‘this lovely springtime cannot last/ So pluck your roses before May is past’ (Brecht 1980: 60). This reference to Galileo’s limited timespan in which to research his theories portrays the information the audience requires in a stylized way, so that they are being given details of the plot rather than learning more about the thought processes of the characters, which would cause increased audience sympathy and withdraw from a subjective assessment of events. Additionally, scenes 10 and 15 include the songs and role-play with puppets. The songs are more obviously ‘gestic’ than the dialogue (much like the ‘epic’ demonstrations of fundamental theories presented in comic and infantile ways, such as the apple or the chair demonstrations of the rotation of the earth around the sun) which would have been more unsettling for an audience accustomed to viewing realistic action. It is, however, of particular importance to portray these ‘epic’ moments as the whole play is based on the arguments for and against Galileo’s theories, so must be understood by the audience even if it seems less naturalistic; the emphasis, in Brecht’s productions, was on the audience’s own informed judgement and less on displaying a realistic story. The Life of Galileo, in particular, is anti-emotionalist because the theme of the play asks the audience to use this independent judgment rather than empathy; Galileo’s theories of reason over faith directly mirror Brecht’s theories of the significance of personal reflection over dictated catharsis. Slide projections and music aid the verfremdungseffekt by commenting on the action itself, so that ‘the audience can take pleasure in taking issue with the commentary. Slides and music, let us say, create a kind of meta-representation of events’ (Stewart and Nicholls: 60) or ‘anti-illusionistic devices to eliminate suspense’ (Rorrison: xxxviii)- for example, when, in scene 3 Galileo’s letter appears on a curtain. An audience used to naturalist theatre would find this unsettling because of the way it draws attention to the illusion being presented. However, ‘to suggest that scenic headings are devices which destroy suspense is like saying that newspaper headlines make reading the stories unnecessary’ (Needle: 201). Indeed, in epic theatre, we need to know the outcome, and with anti-naturalistic theatre we are more engaged with the consciously artificial process rather than the dramatic resolution. By choosing a well-known historical narrative with a renowned outcome, Brecht was left free to experiment with presentation that was less expected by the audience.Unlike most naturalistic plays of the 1920s, Brecht’s plays, including The Life of Galileo, were presented using a neutral and bare stage, with minimal and representation props and set. ‘The bareness of the stage exposed the action in a cool, unatmospheric space which was intended to counterbalance the relative lack of epic form in the writing’ (Rorrison: xl). Indeed, Galileo, unlike most of Brecht’s work, includes a linear plot with no narrator or third party commentary, making it, in some ways, more accessible for an audience with the expectation of a naturalistic style. However, this unrealistic, representational set forces the audience to acknowledge that they are facing the issues presented in the play, rather than being involved in a stage-world through a fourth wall, which would be a radically different way of viewing for this audience. Ultimately, while dramatic theory is based on Aristotelian aesthetics that influence the audience to accept things as they are, the Church similarly wishes to preserve the traditional beliefs of the universe. In this sense, Brecht is challenging both Aristotle and the Church with his epic drama and his representation of Galileo’s theories, which both aim to initiate social change. Therefore, Brecht chose the subject matter deliberately as consonant with his theme of reason over emotion. This would have certainly unsettled the expectations of an audience accustomed to naturalism, principally because of the way it requires a didactic rather than an emotional investment in the story. BibliographyBrecht, Bertolt (1964) Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. John Willett, New York: Hill and WangBrecht, Bertolt On Experimental Theatre (1939) quoted in Hugh Rorrison’s commentary (1986) of The Life of Galileo, London: Methuen London Ltd. p xxxvEsslin, Martin (1970) Brief Chronicles, London: Temple Smith, p 80Needle, Jan and Peter Thomson (1980), Brecht, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p 201)Rorrison, Hugh commentary (1986) of The Life of Galileo, London: Methuen London Ltd. pp xxxiv-xxxviiiSmith, Iris (1991) ‘Brecht and Mothers of Epic Theatre’ in Theatre Journal, The John Hopkins University Press pp. 491-493Steward, Robert Scott and Rod Nichollas (2002) ‘Pragmatic Choices: Teaching Applied Aesthetics through Brecht’s ‘Life of Galileo’’ in Journal of Aesthetic Education, University of Illinois Press pp.50-60Volker, K (1979) Brecht: a Biography, London: Marion Boyars p 72
A Play as a Mirror: Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) lived in a period when Europe went through the most massive economic, political, and social changes. He witnessed the two World Wars, the revolutions in Austria, Germany, Hungary in 1917-1918, the uprising of Communism in Russia, Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, and the Cold War between the United States and Russia (Geary 2). During the 1930s, the Nazi Party became more and more popular in Germany. In 1934, Adolf Hitler seized control in Germany and became the Fuhrer and Chancellor of the Reich (Gray 90). Brecht, a believer in Marxism and a socialist writer, became an obvious target of the Nazi German Government. When Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933, Brecht was exiled from Germany and his books were under a ban. During his exile from 1938 to 1945, he wrote five masterpieces that established his fame abroad: Mother Courage and Her Children (1939/1941), The Life of Galileo (1938/1943), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1940/1943), Mr. Puntila and his Servant Matti (1941), and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1944-1945). These plays are slightly different from his earlier propagandist and anti-Nazi works, in which his Marxist views are outspoken. They display human beings’ behaviors and ask the audience to question themselves as to what they would do in a similar situation (Gray 109). In Life of Galileo, Brecht used real historical figures and set the play in the past to distance his audience. Although the play deals with issues that happened in the seventeenth century in Italy, the play is about Brecht’s contemporary time. Brecht historicized Galileo’s life to make his audience reflect upon what they are seeing on stage and to make objective judgments on the characters’ behaviors. He also used the play to mask his political view in order to avoid direct trouble in this politically and socially restless period. The Life of Galileo is a story of Galileo’s struggle with the Catholic Church, which had all the political power in the seventeenth century Italy. Brecht wrote the play chronologically, beginning with a forty-six year old Galileo. He is a professor in the University of Padua, he is not wealthy, and he lives with his daughter Virginia, his housekeeper Mrs. Sarti, and Mrs. Sarti’s son Andrea. Galileo is trying to prove the theories of Copernicus, a study about the earth revolving around the sun. His findings, however, clash with the Church’s doctrine of the Earth being the universe’s centre. The Church claims that his teaching offends the Church’s proclaimed cosmic order and upsets its political power in society. The Pope agrees to have him investigated by the Inquisition. Although Galileo is eager to learn the truth and to show it to the world, he recants in 1633 when shown instruments of torture. His students despise his cowardice and abandon him. Until the end of his life, Galileo is guarded by the Inquisition and forbidden to write and publish. However, he secretly continues his research, finishes The Discorsi, and gives the book to his former student, Andrea, to smuggle it abroad. There are three versions of The Life of Galileo: the “Danish” version, the “American” version, and the “Berlin” version. The Danish version was written in 1938 in Denmark and was performed in Zurich in 1943. The plot of the play is more or less the same, but it concentrates on “the struggle between Galileo and the authorities” (Wilson 146). The character of Galileo is different from the American and the Berlin versions in that he is a hero who cunningly recants and accepts the authority of the church so he can finish the Discorsi. Brecht, however, changed his attitude toward Galileo during the Second World War. In 1944, he wrote the American version in collaboration with Charles Laughton, an English actor in Hollywood. This version is shorter than the Danish version, and Brecht changed some incidental characters and altered Galileo after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Galileo, at first a hero who outwits the Inquisition, becomes a coward who betrays his people because he is frightened of physical pain. However, Brecht was not satisfied with the American version. Laughton, who did not share Brecht’s exile and flight experience, eliminated many passages about truth being oppressed in Germany. Brecht said:The more incisive changes in the structure of entire scenes or even of the work itself were made solely to facilitate the forward movement of the action . . . L. (Laughton) treated the “printed text” with a revealing, sometimes brutal indifference that the playwright was seldom able to share. What we created was a script; the performance was everything. It was impossible to persuade him to translate portions that the dramatist was prepared to omit in the production, but that he, however, wanted to rescue for the “book.” The most important thing was the stage performance, for which the text was only the means, the vehicle: the text was used up in the production it was consumed like powder in fireworks. (Stern 137) Because of his dissatisfaction with the American version, Brecht revised the play with the help of Elisabeth Hauptmann, Benno Beson, and Ruth Berlau in 1953 in Berlin. This version was first performed by the Berliner Ensemble in 1957. The Berlin version, which Hill refers it as “an enriched and refined second version” (113), restored many materials from the Danish version that Laughton had cut, but Galileo’s character remains the same as the American version. Although The Life of Galileo is a historical play, it does not merely to show Galileo’s life as a scientist. Claude Hill in his book Bertolt Brecht explains, “A dramatist rarely if ever merely aims at total accuracy when he chooses historical material; he must be judged by other criteria” (114). Although the play is set in Italy in the seventeenth century, it is a play about the playwright’s time, not merely about Galileo’s. The emergence of totalitarianism in Europe in the early twentieth century, particularly in Germany, Italy, and Russia, brought a series of political and social changes to the world. Governments were imposing values and restrictions on people in order to keep them under their control. Individuality and freedom were taken away by these governments to achieve a “higher” goal and political ideology. The Nazi government managed to indoctrinate its people to believe that its political and social policies would bring the country to what Brecht called the “New Age” (“Foreword” 213) and Germany would no longer suffer from the economic depression and loss of cultural pride caused by the First World War. People blindly believed and listened to what the government told them to do without questioning the government’s real intention. In the foreword to The Life of Galileo, Brecht said, “And yet these disappointed men may still go on existing in a new age, an age of great upheaval. Only, they know nothing of new ages” (“Foreward” 214). It is clear that Brecht used the play to mirror what was going on in the contemporary world. Galileo is considered a revolutionary scientist who laid the foundation for the development of scientific research (Britannica). He discovered and proved that Earth did not stay still, but rather revolved around the sun. Even though he had the potential to show “the dawn of a new age” (“Portrayal” 217) to the world, he recanted to the Church and let the people blindly follow the Church’s teaching. People who lived under Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s were in a very similar situation. The public believed whatever the government told them without questioning whether it was true. Brecht says:In these days the conception of the new is itself falsified. The Old and the Very Old, now re-entering the arena, proclaim themselves as new, or else it is held to be new when the Old or the Very Old are put over in a new way. . . . The ‘new’ for example is the system of waging wars, whereas ‘old,’ so they say is a system of economy, proposed but never put into practice, which makes wars superfluous. In the new system, society is being entrenched in classes; and the old, so they say, is the desire to abolish classes. The hopes of mankind do not so much become discouraged in these times; rather, they become diverted. (“Foreward” 214-215) Through his presentation of the character of Galileo and his story of recantation, Brecht wanted his audience to question totalitarian government. In the play, the Church is afraid that Galileo’s radical discovery will upset its power and change the world’s order. It prefers a more stable world that sustains its authority even though its people would have to live under an illusion. Although he desires to change the world, Galileo betrays his people by admitting that the Church is right simply because he wants to live. His recantation delays the process of scientific development for years. Brecht, a committed Marxist writer, believed that “questioning, a refusal to accept anything as fixed” (Needle and Thomson 79) is necessary to improve human social conditions. By presenting Galileo’s weakness, he made his audiences realize that something else could have been done to alter what happened in the seventeenth century. By the same token, they could also take action to make a difference in their own society. Apart from showing the image of people being forced to believe those in positions of authority, Brecht also argued that the government’s attempt to suppress knowledge and truth would be futile (Wilson 147). In the first Danish version of The Life of Galileo, Galileo realizes that death or resistance to authority would not make the Church accept his discovery. He recants and the Inquisition believes he will stop his research. However, he continues and secretly finishes the Discorsi. Because of his recantation, he has the chance to smuggle the book abroad, spreading the truth that Earth revolves around the sun. In the end, knowledge and truth win out over the Church’s ideological impositions. Brecht experienced a similar situation to Galileo’s when Hitler came into power in 1933, and Brecht was driven into exile, all his works banned in Germany (Socialist Review). However, Brecht believed that Hitler’s censorship would eventually become pointless, which is why he kept on writing. Brecht wanted to fight against lies and ignorance and educate his audience of society’s ills. He believed truth would eventually defeat totalitarianism. The latter version of The Life of Galileo is still about the playwright’s own time. If the Danish version represents the playwright’s society in the 1930s, then the American version represents his society in the 1940s. In 1941, Brecht departed for the United States and he arrived in Los Angeles, where he settled in Santa Monica near Hollywood. With the help of Charles Laughton, he wrote the “American” English version of The Life of Galileo in 1944-47 (the American version is simply called Galileo). Laughton played the role of Galileo in the 1947 Los Angeles premier and in the production in New York later on. The American version is much shorter than the original Danish version. Brecht also changed the character of Galileo by changing his reason for finishing the Discorsi to “more as the result of habit than a deliberate act of defiance” (Hill 116). The reason Brecht changed the motive of Galileo’s recantation was the atomic bombings in the 1940s. In his Unvarnished Picture of a New Age: Preamble to the American Version, Brecht wrote:The ‘atomic’ age made its debut at Hiroshima in the middle of our work. Overnight the biography of the founder of the new system of physics read differently. The infernal effect of the great bomb placed the conflict between Galileo and the authorities of his day in a new, sharper light. (224)It is clear that Brecht wanted to use The Life of Galileo to mirror his time. In latter versions, Brecht raises the question of the role of science and scientists in relation to humanity. When Galileo presents the telescope as his new discovery to the Venetian court, his student Ludovico, who had told him about this new instrument in Amsterdam, says, “I am beginning to understand science” (Brecht and Laughton 58). Ludovico despises Galileo’s claiming the instrument as his own creation. Brecht thought some scientists would allow the bourgeois to put their research products into any use because this could earn them a decent living. Even though Galileo uses the telescope to let the world see what the earth looks like, the Venetian government uses it in its sea battles with other countries and states. A scientific invention that aims to bring good to humanity becomes a weapon that destroys lives. The atomic bombs made Brecht realize that the nuclear age was also a product of Galileo’s findings because he brought the world to a new “scientific age” in the seventeenth century. He then cast Galileo as a traitor to humanity because he was the “root” of the atomic bomb. In Brecht’s view, the scientists were not aware of the morality behind their research. In a draft for a foreword to the play he condemns those scientists who do not realize their moral values as scientists. Brecht writes: The bourgeois single out science from the scientist’s consciousness, setting it up as an island of independence to be able in practice to interweave it with politics, economics, and ideology. The research scientist’s object is “pure” research; the product of that research is not so pure. The formula E= mc2 is conceived of as eternal, not tied to anything. Hence other people can do the tying: Suddenly the city of Hiroshima became very short-lived. The scientists are claiming the irresponsibility of machines. (“Drafts” 220)Brecht believes scientists have gradually become a tool of the people who can afford to pay for inventions and research. In the last scene, Galileo says to Andrea, “I surrendered my knowledge to the powers that be, to use it, no, not use it, abuse it, as it suits their ends. I have betrayed my profession” (Brecht and Laughton 124). Scientists, who were supposed to invent for a better life and bring truth to human beings, were inventing dreadful weapons that destroyed lives and were pushing the world to an end because of their selfish needs. Although it is clear there are similarities between the playwright’s time and Galileo’s time, why did Brecht choose to write a historical play instead of a fictional play? Why did Brecht invent (or reinvent) the character of a historical figure? Eric Bentley, a well-known Brecht scholar, explains:Brecht became interested in the historical Galileo at a time when he was preoccupied with friends and comrades who remained in Germany and somehow managed to continue to work. Prominent in his thoughts was the underground political worker plotting to subvert the Hitler regime. (14-15) In the first version of the play Galileo says, “take care when you travel through Germany with the truth under your coat!”(Bentley 15). Brecht understood that the only way to express the truth in Germany during 1930s was to hide it. He wrote “Writing the Truth: Five difficulties” before he finished the first version of The Life of Galileo. The five difficulties of writing truth, according to Brecht, are the courage to write it, the keenness to recognize it, the skill to manipulate it as a weapon, the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective, and the need of cunning to spread it among the many. Brecht thought that these five difficulties were “formidable problems for writers living under Fascism” (“Writing” 133).In the essay, he especially elaborates on the fifth difficulty, the need of “cunning” in writing the truth. He lived in a time of oppression where people could not freely tell the truth, in public or private, because they would be in great danger. Even Brecht had to escape his home country because his works expressed a political view opposing Hitler’s government. He said in the essay, “Lenin wished to deceive exploitation and oppression on Sakhalin Island, but it was necessary for him to beware of the Czarist police” (“Writing” 143). Many governments in Europe during that time, especially in Germany, censored all materials that went against their political and social policies. It became extremely hard for writers who wanted to tell the truth to the people. Brecht, however, thought that if a writer applied cunning devices, then “many things that cannot be said in Germany about Germany can be said about Austria” (“Writing” 143). Brecht suggested that a writer could provoke his audience to think about the government objectively by writing a play about other places or areas that share similarities to the contemporary society’s situation. Brecht’s The Life of Galileo, in this case, displays a critical situation that happened in the seventeenth century, with which his audience would be able to make an analogy to their own society. It is only by writing cunningly that a writer can spread the truth at a time when oppression exists. Brecht thought The Life of Galileo to be “technically a great step backwards” (Kellner 287) because he failed to distance his audience emotionally from feeling pity toward Galileo. However, he used historification, another famous epic technique, to allow his audience to think about Galileo’s situation and actions with appropriate socialistic values. Historification is a playwriting device of setting the action of a play in the historic past to draw parallels with contemporary event (Theatre Dictionary). Brecht often set his plays in the past or in a foreign country, such as The Good Woman of Setzuan takes place in China and Mother Courage and Her Children takes place in Germany’s Thirty Years War. He used this technique to get his audience to draw parallels between the past and the present in order to reflect on the social and political issues. In The Life of Galileo, Brecht set the play in the Catholic Church-dominated Italy of the seventeenth century and told the Galileo’s recantation story in order to express his opinions toward the oppressive contemporary world. He believed that by historicizing his play, the audience would then be able to detach themselves from their familiar environment and hence could adopt a critical attitude toward their society (Kellner 285). By seeing what happened in the past on stage, the audience would be able to suggest what should have been done in the past to solve the problems (Benjamin 8). By making parallels to the contemporary world, they would then be able to see what is going wrong in their societies and what could be done to solve the problems. Although it was not until the early 1950s that Brecht wanted to change his epic theatre to a “dialectic” theatre (Schumacher 113), The Life of Galileo, which was written ten to twenty years before he theorized his dialectic theatre, showed the nature of theatre that Brecht favored at the end of his life. He demonstrated his political view in The Life of Galileo; and questioned his audience’s political standpoints in relation to their society. The play, however, manages to educate its audience in an enjoyable way. Ernst Schumacher wrote in his essay “The Dialectics of Galileo” that “Galileo . . . is a demonstration, not only in its technique but in its aesthetic essence. It is the ‘merely’ narrative and ‘purely’ demonstrative structure, as well as the appropriately ‘calm’ production of this play that allows us to grasp and enjoy dialectics in the theatre” (123). Brecht skillfully used the theatre as a place to ask people to reflect and feel for what they were experiencing in the society. The Life of Galileo shows how an artist could take a social and political action in a time when oppression existed in the society by inspiring his audience to think and to judge their society critically. This is why The Life of Galileo is still considered as one of the greatest plays in the theatre history even though it was written over sixty years ago. Works Cited – Benjamin, Walter. Understanding Brecht. London: New Left, 1972. – Bentley, Eric. “Introduction: The Science Fiction of Bertolt Brecht.” Galileo. Bertolt Brecht and Charles Laughton. Ed. Eric Bentley. Grove Press: New York, 1966. 9-42. – Brecht, Bertolt, Charles Laughton. Galileo. Ed. Eric Bentley. New York: Grove Press, 1966. – Brecht, Bertolt. “Writing the Truth: Five difficulties.” Trans. Richard Wilson. Galileo. Bertolt Brecht and Charles Laughton. Ed. Eric Bentley. Grove Press: New York, 1966. 133-150. – Brecht, Bertolt. “Drafts for a Foreword to Life of Galileo.” Collected plays/Bertolt Brecht. Ed. Ralph Manheim and John Willet. Pantheon Books: New York, 1971. 219-223. – Brecht, Bertolt. “Foreword.” Collected plays/Bertolt Brecht. Ed. Ralph Manheim and John Willett. Pantheon Books: New York, 1971. 213-215. – Brecht, Bertolt. “Portrayal of the Church.” Collected plays/Bertolt Brecht. Ed. Ralph Manheim and John Willet. Pantheon Books: New York, 1971. 216-217. – Brecht, Bertolt. “Unvarnished Picture of a New Age: Preamble to the American Version.” Collected plays/Bertolt Brecht. Ed. Ralph Manheim and John Willet. Pantheon Books: New York, 1971. 224.- Dick, Geary. “Brecht’s Germany.” Brecht in Perspective. Ed. Graham Bartram and Anthony Waine. Longman: New York, 1982. 2-10. – “Galileo.” EncyclopÃ¦dia Britannica. 2006. EncyclopÃ¦dia Britannica Online. 10 Nov 2006
Church v. Hero: Should Either Win?
It is a volatile point in history: the intersection of science and religion at the height of the Inquisition; it is a time when the Church reigns and a man, a physicist, must choose life or death, himself or science. Galileo Galilei’s legendary dilemma and the circumstances surrounding it are presented in Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo from a perspective that is clearly criticizing institutions with such controlóin this case, the Catholic churchówhile reminding us that men are simply men, no matter how heroic their actions appear. These issues are expounded throughout the play; however, Scene 11 has the most significant role in Galileo’s development, as it simultaneously reveals the extent of the Church’s control and humanizes Galileo in just a few lines. Despite his courage to venture into unexplored realms of science and thought, Galileo is not a hero. He is only a man. Scene 11 is the shortest scene in the play and one of only three scenes in which the title character does not appear. Yet it is here that Galileo is made completely human. In the quest for a hero, one might ignore his almost hedonistic desire for food, thought, and fine wine and the sacrifices that he makes to acquire money. These characteristics of Galileo are revealed early in the play, when he plagiarizes another man’s telescope invention in order to get a salary raise from the city (Scenes 1 and 2), and then again in Scene 11 when the Pope says, “He has more enjoyment in him than any other man I ever saw. He loves eating and drinking and thinking. To excess. He indulges in thinking bouts! He cannot say no to an old wine or a new thought” (Brecht 109). However, one cannot ignore a hero’s cowardice in the face of physical pain. In this light, he is reduced from hero to ordinary man. In this scene, the Pope and the Inquisitor are in the midst of an argument over the pending examination of Galileo by the Inquisition and the torturous methods that may be involved. The scene subtly reveals the evil at the heart of the Inquisition: the Church, which should be Godly in practice, partakes in torturing individuals capable of testing the power of the institution, forcing them to conform to the Church’s will and thereby eliminating any danger of upheaval. The Inquisitor states, “He is a man of the flesh. He would soften at once” (Brecht 109). This describes the basic human instinct to shrink from pain. Every man has his breaking point, the point at which the pain and the fear and the shame are so great that he cannot withstand one moment more. Galileo is no different. Also, Galileo is a man of scienceóhe knows more of how pain can be inflicted than most men. As the Inquisitor later adds, “Mr. Galilei understands machinery” (Brecht 110). With this knowledge added to the fear of physical discomfort, Galileo later does what most men would do under the circumstances: he recants. Because this scene reveals the negative side of the Church and the human-ness of Galileo, the audience is not distracted from the criticism of the institution. If Galileo had been portrayed as a hero, that aspect of the story would have taken precedence over the theme of institutional control; the heroics would linger and the criticism would be forgotten. Brecht is also reminding us that heroes are unnecessaryóman is capable of anything if he opens his mind, just as Galileo does. Brecht clearly disagrees with institutions that hold complete control over the common man. Scene 11 illustrates just how broad and deep the control of the church is at this point in Galileo’s life. Here we see only two characters, both officers of the Catholic Church, each on separate sides of the issue. Oddly enough, the individual who relents is the higher in rank, the Pope. He should have complete control because he is second only to God in the Catholic hierarchy; he is a man of science, but he is also a tool of religion, as the Inquisitor reminds him: Ah, that is what these people say, that it is the multiplication table. Their cry is, ‘The figures compel us,’ but where do these figures come from? Plainly they come from doubt. These men doubt everything. Can society stand on doubt and not on faith? ‘Thou are my master, but I doubt whether it is for the best.’ ‘This is my neighbor’s house and my neighbor’s wife, but why shouldn’t they belong to me?’ After the plague, after the new war, after the unparalleled disaster of the Reformation, your dwindling flock look to their shepherd and now the mathematicians turn their tubes on the sky and announce to the world that you have not the best advice about the heavens eitheróup to now your only uncontested sphere of influence. (Brecht 109)The Pope’s duty is to serve God and tend his flock on earth, and he, like any shepherd, cannot allow God’s people to wander from their faith. He must have obedience and loyalty in the name of God, and therefore must censor anything of detriment to the greater cause; despite his personal beliefs, he must do whatever is necessary to uphold the Church and it’s control over the people. Thus, even the Pope falls under the cloak of the Church. He is a slave to duty and must answer first to his position and second to his personal feelings. As the Inquisitor tells him, the fate of faith is in his hands: Doctors of all chairs from the universities, representatives of special orders of the Church, representatives of the clergy as a whole, who have come believing with childlike faith in the word of God as set forth in the Scriptures, who have come to hear Your Holiness confirm their faith: and Your Holiness is really going to tell them that the Bible can no longer be regarded as the alphabet of truth? (Brecht 108) He is under tremendous pressure to save the faith of the people, thereby preserving the foundations of society. The Pope must choose between duty and conscienceóhe is adamantly against Galileo’s condemnation, but so many lives would be shattered if the common people were told that there was more to the universe than they could find in the Bible. Like the little monk’s parents, they would feel very alone. “‘There is no eye watching over us, after all,’ they would say. ‘We have to start out on our own, at our time of life. Nobody has planned a part for us beyond this wretched one on a worthless star. There is no meaning in our misery'” (Brecht 84). The people rely on the Church to lead them to a better life in heaven; their faith is all that they know. It is the Pope’s duty to preserve the unity that comes from shared faith, and because he is controlled by that which he governs, he cannot refuse to punish Galileo for fear of social collapse. Brecht cleverly uses Scene 11 to plant seeds of thought in the minds of his audience members. Through the controversy of Galileo’s life and the circumstances surrounding his session with the Inquisition, Galileo explores both the dangers of institutional control and the folly of elevating men to a heroic status. One will only be disappointed when both prove fallible. Bibliography Brecht, Bertolt. Galileo. New York: Grove Press, 1966.
Narrative Over Plot in Top Girls and Life of Galileo
German playwright Bertolt Brecht developed his theory of epic theatre as a response to the renaissance of Aristotelian tragic theatre in the latter part of the 1920s (Hecht, 40). Where Aristotle allowed the audience of his theatre the purgation of their emotions through dramatic scenes arousing catharsis, Brecht dared his audience not to weep or fume, but to become bothered by the offending subject: utterly, lastingly, and to the point of action. The focus of Brechtian theatre then became not the play’s story or plot, with its many Romantic devices of poetics and intense feeling, but the much more purposeful and straightforward narrative (“Brecht on Theatre”, 37). The preference of narrative over plot manifests itself in the work of a wide range of plays spanning the decades between epic theatre’s inception and the present day. This is clearly demonstrated in Brecht’s own 1943 play Life of Galileo, as well as British playwright Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls. Though the two pieces were written nearly forty years apart, their emphasis on narrative over plot has remained largely the same.
Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo is exactly what it proclaims itself to be: the life of Galileo. It reads like a biography, with language that often takes on a purely pragmatic and academic tone. The events of the play follow Galileo’s development of his telescope and subsequent discovery of the heliocentric nature of the universe through to his death. Through Galileo’s trials and tribulations, the play produces an image of the troublesome subjectivity of truth, and begs its audience to understand that the relationship between truth and progress is a line that slopes upward. This narrative is present and active first and foremost in the dialogue between characters. Scenes in Galileo often do not move the story forward so much as they are majorly composed of long debates or lessons concerning the nature of truth, usually with regard to the struggle between science and religion or, similarly, progress and tradition. For example, in Scene Four, Galileo has just moved to Florence and is in the company of the Grand Duke – Cosimo de Medici – and his scientists. The Philosopher says, when prompted to look into Galileo’s telescope, “The universe of the divine Aristotle, with the mystical music of its spheres and its crystalline vaults… add up to an edifice of such exquisite proportions that we should think twice before disrupting its harmony.” (39). Here, The Philosopher is resisting what he knows in some capacity to be true in order to preserve what he first knew as true, because he is comforted by the stagnation of the truth – which is valid in that an existence wherein one must always question what is and is not real is a maddening one, but invalid as a refusal of clear scientific evidence. The Philosopher and the Mathematician go on to say that there must be something wrong with Galileo’s telescope, if his findings contradict the great Aristotle’s (40). While this discussion is informative to Galileo’s struggle against the potency of tradition, it does not contribute to the plot: at the end of the scene, the Grand Duke is too tired to comment and leaves, while his scientists have still not looked through the telescope.
Outside of the actual content of the scenes in the play, the stage design also reflects the Brechtian priority of narrative over plot. In productions of Life of Galileo, the title of each scene are projected on the stage to be read by the audience. An example is the title of Scene 3: “10 January 1610: Using the telescope, Galileo discovers celestial phenomena that confirm the Copernican system. Warned by his friend of the possible consequences of his research, Galileo proclaims his belief in human reason” (22). Here, everything that is going to happen in the following scene is communicated to the audience, which relieves them of the pressure of following the plot and makes the plot essentially irrelevant to the scene about to unfold. The audience’s attention must then be directed to the philosophy of the argument between Galileo and Sagredo, in which Sagrado begs that Galileo keep quiet, as he would misplace God and therefore disturb all of humanity if he were to share what was verifiably true (28). This use of the stage as a separate storytelling entity is typical of epic theatre, as is described in “Brecht on Theatre”. Whereas before epic theatre, “The environment… was defined by the hero’s reactions to it,” now the stage was a character of its own, with an attitude and mechanized methods of participation (70, 71). Finally, an emphasis on narrative is demonstrated in the development – or lack thereof – in Galileo’s characters. Whereas the laws of naturalistic theatre say that dramatic characters are multi-faceted products of their heredity and environment (laws which Aristotelian tragic theatre arguably adopts), the characters in Galileo are minimalistic, only defined by their stance on the narrative issue; we as the audience do not have any insight into their past or their motivations. We only know what they believe in. Galileo is a man who believes in scientific proof, human reason, and the promotion of truth despite its inconvenience. That is all the information that is necessary for the story to unfold.
Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls starts immediately after the defining action of the play, in which protagonist Marlene gets a promotion. In this way, the play is aggressively Brechtian from the beginning. The infamous opening scene features women from several different time periods and levels of existence, all well known for having faced adversity in their womanhood and their ambition as women. This scene feels like a separate play within itself, as it in no way contributes to the rest of the story; the characters are not recurring and the discussion is not brought up again. It is only concept. The figures from history converse about the ills of their lives at the hands of pathetic men: Griselda’s husband does not value himself enough to trust that Griselda will be faithful to him and thereby feels as though he must test and torture her, the women in the Emperor’s palace are beaten by the Emperor with sticks so that they will not have daughters, and the Cardinals are so baffled by the notion of a woman being as close to God as a man that Pope Joan is stoned to death when her womanhood is revealed through her pregnancy. The commentary quickly becomes concerned with the toxicity of the patriarchy, as whenever success is to be had, the women have to assume the undesirable traits of male oppressors in order to be taken seriously, risking personal and emotional vacancy. For example, Lady Nijo tells: “… when His Majesty came in Genki seized him and I beat him till he cried out and promised he would never order anyone to hit us again” (38). In order to correct the wrongs that were done to her, Lady Nijo recognizes that she must become violent, since communicating verbally, rationally, will not be effective with The Emperor. The narrative is echoed amongst the six at the dinner table, and the party ends abruptly with Joan praying as others are sick or worried sick.
Many of the characters in this play are only introduced for the purpose of fulfilling the narrative – even outside of the dinner party scene. In Act 2, Scene 1, Marlene and the audience are introduced to Mrs. Kidd, the wife of the man whose job Marlene has just been promoted to. She attempts on behalf of her husband to manipulate Marlene into simply handing him his old job back after seeing that he cannot handle being replaced by a woman: she says, “… he’s got a family to support. He’s got three children. It’s only fair” (69). After demonstrating her husband’s pathetically entitled nature, she is dominated in conversation by Marlene and, much like the ladies at the dinner party, is never heard from again. Concerning the structure of the dialogue, there are innumerable moments where characters are speaking over one another, creating a cacophony that confuses and disengages the audience from what it being said. Often times, the overlapping of dialogue occurs when the content of the dialogue has to do with the plot as opposed to the narrative. In Act 2, Scene 2, Joyce and Marlene argue about their pregnancies. Joyce says: “… if It’d sat down all day with my feet up I’d’ve kept it / and that’s the only chance I ever had because after that -”, while in between ‘it’ and ‘and’, Marlene cuts her off, starting, “I’ve had two abortions, are you interested?” (92). However, when the same two characters are speaking moments later about Joyce’s despicable ex-husband, they do not overlap one another at all; each line is clear and complete.
Although the form of Brechtian theatre has remained largely the same in the forty years between when Life of Galileo and Top Girls were written, its characteristics (specifically the emphasis of narrative over plot) have evolved in a few ways, as clearly demonstrated by the two plays when held in juxtaposition. For example, the narrative of the play has become more specific over time. While Galileo dealt with the importance of accepting truth in an evolving world, an abstract and broad struggle, Top Girls is focused on the damaging emotional effects of the patriarchy, a specific social issue. As far as plot goes, Brecht’s Galileo ironically seems to be more plot-heavy than Top Girls, perhaps because Churchill learned from Brecht that she could get away with telling a story with no plot. Life of Galileo, while not based in action by any means, does follow a journey: Galileo must find a way to get the truth out there. One scene goes logically into another following the timeline of Galileo’s life. However, in Top Girls, arguably the only plot point that is not explained in exposition is Angie’s schemes to spend time with her ‘Auntie’ Marlene. For the first act, each scene in this play is a completely different set of characters and does not have anything to do with the next; in this way, Top Girls is more ascribable to the thoughts of epic writer Doblin, who said that “with an epic work, as opposed to a dramatic, one can as it were take a pair of scissors and cut it into individual pieces, which remain fully capable of life” (“Brecht on Theatre”, 70). Finally, the narrative purpose is discussed much more blatantly in Life of Galileo than in Top Girls. In Galileo, characters often have conversations about exactly what the narrative is concerned with, as in the aforementioned conversation between Galileo and the Philosopher in Scene 4. The play is littered with the word ‘truth’. Contrastingly, when Churchill writes Top Girls, she does not write the word “patriarchy” once, instead choosing to have a more subtle discussion, in which the women in the play do not address and may not even be aware of the central issue. This is somewhat regressive from Brecht’s point of view, as he praises the “bold fundamental thesis” of the plays of Georg Kaiser (qtd. in Hecht, 64), whose work he lauds as the immediate precursor to epic theatre. He said in a radio interview that, “… before Kaiser, plays depended essentially on suggestion, whereas Kaiser appeals to the reasoning power of the public” (Hecht, 65).
However, while the aspect of narrative in epic theatre has evolved somewhat in the decades between Brecht and Churchill, the effect remains the same: the consumer of the play becomes bothered by the underlying issue and is moved to action. In today’s society, the most important function of art is its ability to motivate change, and the narrative issues of Brecht’s Life of Galileo and Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls both hold significant relevance in the context of our current political climate. Where traditional dramatic theory offers (what is viewed as necessary) escapism, epic theatre knows that it must prevent escapism by any means necessary in order to continue stimulating progress. The priority of a story’s narrative over its plot is thereby the complete epitome of epic theatre: it has a purpose, a stance, an unrelenting agenda.