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Keep in mind before you read this that I wrote this as an in class task so there are mistakes and some of the
sentences need some work.
Studies in Drama and Theatre – Brecht
Brechtian theatre or Epic theatre in its time was a great change to the theatrical. Berthold Brecht brought a
new dynamic to theatre during his life from 1893 to 1964. His plays were meant to make people think and
become proactive rather than accepting things the way they are. In his late teens he began to look at the
writings of Karl Marx, soon becoming a Marxist; believing in equality rather than the rich becoming richer
and the poor becoming poorer.
Brecht himself was actually born into middle class, his father was the senior manager and director of a paper
mill in his home town Austburg, Germany. In his plays Brecht sometimes attacks the values he was brought
up with during his childhood. In his plays he wishes to make people take notice of what is happening and
want to change it rather than accepting it is inevitable. He pulled away from ‘Dramatic’ theatre to create a
striking new theatre which instead of simply telling you a story made you sit back and examine the events
and characters within the play critically. To do this he used many techniques to alienate his audience without
completely shutting them out emotionally. Some of these techniques are: historification, dialectic and
didactic dialogue, song, narrative, staging, lighting, plus many more.
Historification was the act of inserting the scene in another place and time while still using ideas and
problems of the time. Brecht used this as he would have understood that if it is set in an alternate time it will
not feel to the audience as if they themselves are being attacked, but rather that it did happen and has
changed, the message being things can change. Historification is a technique clearly used in Caucasian Chalk
Circle having set in an older time period while clearly assessing the Capitalist lifestyle about what is going
on without making them feel as if they are being condemned in the play.
Informing the audience on a subject is one of the key aspects of Brecht’s theatre, the proper term for it is
didactic. It is the process of explaining to the audience a particular issue in the hope that they will think about
it and understand what is going on. This is seen in Mother Courage and Her Children’ during scene 6 as
Mother Courage talks about what the war is doing to people; destroying them and mutilating. This scene
though leads straight on to dialectic, which is displaying two points of view. In Scene 7, Mother courage
sings about the war being a good business opportunity. “I won’t have you folk ruinin’ my war for me” This
is showing the other point of view. In scene 6 she is saying that the war that the war is a terrible thing
destroying people’s lives then she switches to talking about it being a good thing. These alternating points of
view can be seen at the beginning of scene 6 with the Solider, Chaplin and Clerk. The Solider is talking
about war as being his life and what he is called to do whereas the Chaplin is saying that the war is
inevitable, simply a part of life, yet again the Clerk has a different opinion; The Clerk is wishing the war was
over as he wants to go back home. These different views are sometimes shown through song to make it more
Song is a largely used aspect within Brecht’s plays. Song was used as a way to push the audience away from
the characters and story to make them know that they are in fact watching the play not a real life event. In
both ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ and ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ song is used . In the Caucasian
Chalk Circle’ a singer is telling the old Japanese fable of ‘The Chalk Circle’ which is also at the scene time a
biblical reference to King David. Where as in ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ the characters themselves
use song. Almost the entire 7th scene is Mother Courage singing. Song can be used as a way of narrating the
play as well.
In ‘the Caucasian Chalk Circle’ song is used as narration with the singer telling the story. This though is not
the only way narration is used in Epic theatre. Brecht’s plays are about the issues rather than developing a
story so more often than not he would use some way of telling the audience what is going on and where they
are before the scene commences. This can come from the use of place cards, a whit board or even simply
someone standing up and vocally narrating the scene. This is yet another technique used by Brecht to hold
the audience back from the characters and making them see the issues. This, especially in his life time, was a
controversial new concept and performance technique.
The staging of his play was always very important as in his plays many different locations are used. In ‘The
Caucasian Chalk Circle’ 7 different locations are used in the one scene, which would be impossible to do
with the more realistic staging used in his time. Instead of a complete set there are objects which symbolised
the place and characters in the scene. This was yet again a striking new concept which we now take for
granted as it is used in so many plays today; though in the time it was revolutionary. Brecht would even have
the lighting on full display so the audience would notice that it was a play rather than real events to draw you
into the staging, giving a view that it is being narrated. This was to draw the audience away from the
The characters themselves change frequently on the stage, there are some characters which are only in the
plays briefly to simply say a few lines often to show another view on the situation or to add more to the
events which are transpiring on the stage. These character changes happened on the stage regularly rather
than having them leave and come back as someone else. This was to make the audience realise that everyone
is changing and it is also used as a way to remove the audience emotionally from the characters and view the
play intellectually. The characters are each district in their mannerisms to slow that they are different from
one another.
Class distinctions in the plays are clear due to this as different voices are used. The ‘upper class’ talk in an
eloquent manner such as the soldiers in ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ and the governors in ‘The
Caucasian Chalk Circle’. This is to show were the stand in relation to the ‘lower class’, who use more
colloquial language with a rougher accent and dialogue. This is to clearly distinguish the various characters
from one another as well as giving them a goal.
Each Technique used in Brechtian theatre has a distinct purpose all leading to a common goal; to make the
audience sit back and look at the plays intellectually rather than emotionally. Brecht wanted society to see
that they can change what is going on in their community and make it better for everyone not just the rich.
Brecht’s play were to make people understand the situations for what they were and view the different sides
of the story so as to make an intellectual judgement on them. His ambition was to change the Capitalist view
on society by using an entertaining way of looking at it.