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GE212 Bertolt Brecht: Theatre as Revolution

Module Code: GE212
Module Name: Bertolt Brecht: Theatre as Revolution
Module Coordinator: Prof Helmut Schmitz
Term 1, time: tbc
Module Credits: 15

Module Description

One of the problems of modern literature in general and theatre in particular is how to represent large scale social conflicts such as class struggle, the relationship between capital and labour, or war. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Germany experienced a number of dramatic socio-economic changes and challenges: the rapid development of market capitalism and population growth of urban metropoles, the devastations of WWI, the change from a monarchy to a republic troubled by political conflicts, the world economic crisis of 1929 and the resulting mass unemployment, the rise of National Socialism.

All of these developments presented a challenge to bourgeois theatre with its traditional focus on the individual, especially theatre's ability to represent the individual within these conflicts. Brecht's response to these challenges was the development of his 'epic theatre' through a series of innovations in staging, acting, performance and language, intended to create both (class) awareness for these conflicts and increase the audience's ability to situate itself within them, understand them, and intervene in them.

To further the audience's understanding of these conflicts and their ability to situate themselves within them, Brecht produced a series of critical models and ideas designed to enable the audience to question the social systems, institutions and media of their time.

Brecht's plays like Die Massnahme, Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe and Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, all studied on this module, are designed to critique central assumptions we make about both society and its institutions such as tradition, teaching, cultural value(s), morality, social hierarchies and war.

This module will explore the development of Bertolt Brecht's theatre and thought in the Weimar Republic and in exile.

By the end of the module students should be able to

  • contextualise Brecht's Weimar and early exile plays with the socio-historical issues of the period
  • develop a critical understanding of Brecht's central concepts
  • critically evaluate Brecht's critique of power structures, social institutions and social values
  • develop an understanding of the development of Brecht's concept of theatre
  • develop critical skills by analysing Brecht's plays in depth

Module Delivery:

One 2hrs in person mixed lecture and seminar per week

Assessment Method:

One 3250-3500 word coursework essay (100%)

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