My last post was all about Arturo Ui, and my review of the play. Looking back I realized I still had a ton of notes on a discussion we had in class about Bertolt Brecht and Aristotle and how they are really quite different, so I figured this would be a good time to put it all up!
If you read my review then you’d have a brief introduction as to who Bertolt Brecht was (if you haven’t read the review, read it!)
Bertolt Brect and Aristotle had two very different views on theater, and after a ton of research and notes I’ve written a (not so small) piece on what I understand these two views to be:
Epic Theatre is a theatre movement in mid-20th century that is greatly linked to German playwright Bertolt Brecht who called it his modern theatre; it’s also known as Brechtian acting.
The goals of Epic Theatre are what make it so different. The main purpose of the play is to only present ideas and not to imitate reality. It encourages the audience to think and then make judgments and act. It clearly shows the audience an argument with its different viewpoints. Due to the fact that the audience is only an observer, he remains at an emotional distance from the action thus always aware that it is watching a play. It’s an enacting of reality and not reality itself. It should be able to change the human being because if the audience can be critical about what’s happening, it’ll be able to know its causes and effects and will be able to change it in their own real lives. Brecht deliberately used unrealistic techniques in set design, light and visuals to always remind the audience that this is not even close to reality and that they are watching a play. Brecht wanted actors to make a balance between “being” their characters and showing the audience that the character is “being played”. The actor must always remember that he is an actor and that he is only portraying the feelings and emotions of his character. Epic actors are only narrators and tools of representation. They narrate the events and do its actions only to make the audience understand the situation. Brecht wanted to create productions that are entertaining and that provokes people to think and learn. An epic play consists of scenes that exist by its own and doesn’t connect to the scene before or after it.
Dramatic (Aristotelian) Theatre on the other hand is not the opposite of epic theatre but has different goals and techniques. Dramatic theater treats its audience as passive and can not be reached except through their emotions. The dramatic stage fully embodies the plot/event. It fully involves the audience by putting them into the action thus endangering emotion in him. For example in The Skin of our Teeth, the audience are asked to get chairs from the auditorium to ‘save the human race’ by burning them to keep themselves warm. It makes the audience very involved in the play and what’s happening to the extent that it doesn’t give them a chance to look at the play from a distance and reflect. Scenes are linked to each other; in The Skin of our Teeth, scenes lead to each other. It presents you with the world as it is so the audience leaves the theatre believing that life is unchangeable and inevitable. Dramatic theatre allows the audience to see a representation of reality encouraging us to accept it without thinking so that’s why it gives you a sense of inevitability and fate. The audience identifies with the characters through terror and pity. Dramatic theatre’s illusion of representing the present event doesn’t encourage the audience’s reflection on what’s happening and on the themes presented.
According to Aristotle, to achieve unity of action and maintain its illusion, the dramatic play must consist of scenes that are linked to each other and that lead to each other leading to a climax of catharsis (evocation of intense fear and pity).
Brecht believed that theatre should not play with the audience’s feelings but should appeal and influence his reason/mind. It should encourage the audience to have a more critical attitude to what’s happening on stage. He wanted to reach ultimate objectivity from the audience’s side instead of identifying with the characters. This way the audience will learn the real truth about their society and world.
Brecht refuses to assume that the audience could only be reached through their emotion but through their minds so he doesn’t want the audience to relate to the characters and become emotionally involved with them (breaking empathy for characters) at all but make them think about their own life and this is where change will come. He did present feelings but he did that from a standpoint critical to the feeling.
Feelings and identifying with the characters affect the audience’s objectivity and reasoning. Brecht believes that the Aristotelian thought on feelings (The audience feels exactly what the character on stage feels) wears out the audience. Feelings alone are not enough for transformation and change; thought and reason are the keys.
Some extra notes and my reflections:
-For Aristotle–> drama=representational–> what ‘Poetics’ aimed to target
-Impact of drama has to be ‘cathartic’–> you go to watch performances in order to “purgate” your emotions
-Greek theater–> wanted to invoke Gods, and these Gods would enter on stage–> demons would enter from other places (related to Indian folk theater)
-Brecht–> politically charged, known for his plays, poetry and fiction
-Brecht-> big believer in art being closely linked to society and his work has given a new direction into art and society
-Brecht countered much much of what Aristotle said, and Brecht believed in the Marxist idea of changing society (base, structure and superstructure) and especially focused on superstructure
-Brecht counters Aristotle’s idea of theater and questions the idea of the “natural”–> Brecht see’s life as never being natural, and believes ideas to be constructed by society (beginning, middle and end given by society, not God)–> drama considered to come from social constructs
-Brecht believed there was no set beginning, middle and end because life is EPISODIC
Exposition–> Brecht said it was Episodic, as life occurred in Episodes—> Aristotle believed in an ‘Act’ structure
-Brecht strengthened Marxist ideas and weakened Aristotle’s ideas
-According to Brecht- what is important is not to imitate life but what are the forces that create life? who created that human pattern? what has made human patterns the way they are? Doesn’t want to imitate feelings and characters but imitation of thinking processes is needed=called empathy–> Aristotle believed the opposite
-Stanislavsky- Russian director who proposed the idea of sympathy and was very important in character building
-There is a need to look at life through empathy rather than sympathy= Brecht
-Brecht didn’t want the audience to feel cathartic effects–> doesn’t want the audience to only focus on emotion
-Brecht wants to create characters and scenes that cause “defamiliarization” and estrangement in the audience–> he wants to separate the audience and the play
-During Brecht’s plays–> the audience at some point acts as a 3rd person
-During Aristotle’s plays–> plays engaged the audience as if audience were characters
-Brecht was the audience to detach and think and then feel, not only feel, therefore Brecht creates thoughtful, analytical and creative engagement with the audience
Want to know more? Visit the links below!