'The spectator and not the actor is the central focus of Brecht’s stagecraft'

Seminar Paper, 2005

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0



I. Introduction: Brecht’s epic theatre

II. ‘The spectator and not the actor is the central focus of Brecht’s stagecraft’
1. Verfremdungseffekt in Brecht’s theatre
2. Gestus and Haltung
3. Special case: Lehrstück

III. Conclusion


I. Introduction: Brecht’s epic theatre

The most important principle of Brecht’s epic theatre is its aim of representing conditions rather than developing actions. This theatre is designed to show attitudes in the sense of relationships between people, their connections to the environment and their roles in politics and society. Thus the human being is the focus, the object of inquiry of Brecht’s plays, but not as an individual but as a social being which is shaped and changed through interactions with society through life. Furthermore each scene has its own value and is in itself determined through beginning and end. Therefore it is possible to connect only the most important scenes, one after another, whereas in a completed action, such as the case in dramatic theatre defined by Aristotle, one scene results out of another. In Brecht’s plays the focus lies on the process of the story, on the how and why, rather than on the product and the ending, on the what. Combining these two main principles of Brechtian theatre, the human being and the process, the overall aim is to study the human being in the process of society, raising the question if changes can be made in order to alter present conditions.

In order to achieve changes in society the spectators have to be made aware of situations that need to be changed. Brecht attains this purpose by evoking the spectator’s astonishment with the support of the basic concepts of epic theatre, Verfremdung and Gestus and Haltung. Accordingly there has to be closer look taken at the way in which these two elements have an impact on the spectator’s attitude towards society and how they are used on stage in order to make the audience act itself.

II. ‘The spectator and not the actor is the central focus of Brecht’s stagecraft’

1. Verfremdungseffekt in Brecht’s theatre

Brecht regarded the art of theatre to be entertaining and at the same time informative. The audience should not merely sit in the theatre having fun while watching but open their eyes to the peculiar situations shown on stage; the spectator should identify with changing situations in real life.

“The audience, in his [,Brecht’s,] view, should not be made to feel emotions, it should be made to think. But identification with the characters of the play makes thinking almost impossible: the audience whose souls have crept into that of the hero will see the action entirely from his point of view, and as they are breathlessly following a course of events which, in suspension of disbelief, they accept as really happening before their very eyes, they have neither the time nor the detachment to sit back and reflect in a truly critical spirit on the social and moral implications of the play.” (Esslin 114/115)

In order to achieve this purpose Brecht uses the Verfremdungseffekt, which is considered the key concept of his epic theatre. According to his own interpretation, Brecht described the term as being a combination of stage design, music, lighting as well as Historisierung and Gestus. (compare: Brooker 62) The crucial point of the Verfremdungseffekt is the defamiliarization of situations the spectator thinks he is familiar with but is actually forced to take a closer look.

“Die Wirkung verfremdeter Darstellung soll damit die Einsicht sein, daß gemeinhin als notwendig und aus einem ehernen geschichtlichen Gesetz resultierend angesehene gesellschaftliche Gegebenheiten keineswegs so bleiben müssen.“ (Ludwig 38)

The spectator takes familiar conditions for granted since there is nothing bizarre or confusing about them and consequently does not question those situations. For that reason familiar conditions are being verfremdet, the situations seem odd and as a result the audience is motivated to think and finally to act. Brecht criticizes the naturalness of reality, respectively conventions people account as truth. This naturalness is for instance questioned in “The Threepenny Opera” when portraying the relationship between Polly and Mr. Peachum. In this short scene (compare pages 28/29), family is shown as a “property- relationship”, as a business, rather than a “love- relationship”. The spectator is made aware of the contradiction of what is being shown, a family, and what is being said, namely that Polly is treated like an object and not like a human being. Hence, the spectator realizes the unusualness of the scene, which demands reflection on the situation on stage.

According to Brecht’s definition of Verfremdung, each element is supposed to function autonomously, but coincidentally contribute to the story of the play. The same applies to the scenes which are complete in themselves and loosely connected so that the construction of the play is episodic. Instead of creating suspense by carrying the story to a climax, the juxtaposition of the scenes produces an abrupt character, which is necessary in order to avoid the spectator being attached to the characters in the play. Thus the spectator is able to step back from what he sees so that he can reflect upon demonstrated conditions, “(…) bring [them] into some relationship with the other things that he has seen” (Willett 27) and transfer them to his own situation. In chapter five “The story of the judge” of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” the flow of time is interrupted in such a manner that Brecht provides a story which goes back in time; it thus stands against the rest of the play but nevertheless maintains an important character since the chapter is a story by itself. Here the emphasis is put on the single chapters rather than on the continuity of the story. In Brecht’s plays not only are the scenes episodically presented but are similar in content. Consequently it is easier for the spectator to grasp the intention of the play when the most significant statement is repeated over and over again.

A further method used to make the audience think about the conditions in the play is the Historisierung. Since Brecht’s desire is to destroy any illusion of reality, again in order to avoid identification of the spectator with any character, “epic theatre sets out to make what is shown on the stage unsensational. Hence an old story will often be of more use to it than a new one.” (Benjamin 16)


Excerpt out of 15 pages


'The spectator and not the actor is the central focus of Brecht’s stagecraft'
University College Dublin  (Faculty of Arts; School of English and Drama)
Brecht and Political Theatre
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ISBN (Book)
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Brecht’s, Brecht, Political, Theatre
Quote paper
Reni Ernst (Author), 2005, 'The spectator and not the actor is the central focus of Brecht’s stagecraft', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/80940


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