The Obvious in Brecht

April 10, 2022 by Essay Writer

“When something seems the most obvious thing in the world, it means that any attempt to understand the world has been given up.” How does Brecht attempt to ensure that the obvious is absent from this play?Brecht’s intentions when writing Mother Courage were to communicate his beliefs and make people aware of two major issues facing society: war and capitalism. According to Brecht, people deserve the wars they get if they subscribe to a political system which is unfair and favours a specific sector of society, namely capitalism, in which it is up to the individual to secure his own means of survival. In other words, if the system is unjust in any way, war and conflict is inevitable. For this to be understood, it would be essential that the audience sees the play for what it is, as opposed to becoming engaged in its story. This means that they would have to be alienated from the play, and made perpetually aware of it as a play and nothing more. To do this, Brecht jolted audiences out of their expectations and deliberately avoided theatrical techniques that would make appearances realistic. In this way, people were forced to confront the issues at hand and decipher the meanings behind what they were being shown.The “obvious” being referred to by Brecht is what is clearly seen, what one cannot miss. It does not require reflection and arouses no thought. By alienating the audience in this play, they see that nothing is happening at an obvious level, and can gain true understanding of the characters’ reasons for behaving as they do, and of the background against which they exist.Brecht incorporated alienation techniques in the methods of staging used in performances of Mother Courage, firstly by keeping a very bright white light trained evenly upon the set throughout. This eliminated any opportunities for creating an atmosphere; any magical or romantic views of the stage were kept strictly at bay, and no attempt was made to convey the sense of a specific place. A banner was also used to introduce every scene, as opposed to a narrator, as was most common in dramatic performances of the day. This innovative technique appeared unusual to the audience and differed from the traditional storytelling manner. Also, as words were not being spoken to them, it was difficult to get caught up in the story, as it were ­ to be led into an emotion by, for example, an excited tone of voice. In addition, scene changes were made in full view of the audience, reminding them of its existence as a play, again alienating them from the impression of a “true life” tale. This sense was what was intentionally put forth in other plays of the time, and one method used was to communicate the impression that a fourth wall had been cut off from the scene and that the audience was viewing incidents in the characters’ lives, almost as if they were spying on them. In Brecht’s play, however, this effect was dispensed with; spectators were not intended to become involved, thus the fact that it was merely a play was constantly enforced. With regards to acting, actors were not meant to “become” their characters or persuade anyone of a transformation, they were required simply to show the character’s behaviour. They did not intend to evoke empathy, but to startle the audience into objective thought. Theatrical illusion was used to the most minimal extent ­ stage machinery improved some representations of reality, but not enough to draw the audience out of the knowledge that they were still in a theatre. All of these methods were utilised to alienate viewers, so that they adopted and retained an attitude of inquiry and criticism in addressing the incidents and issues raised by the play, which is what epic theatre concentrated on. Songs are frequently used in this play, and interpret the story in an objective tone. Mother Courage’s first appearance on stage is initiated by a song, ensuring the audience is not empathetic, and drawing attention to it as a play from the beginning. Throughout the play, this is what the songs did, as well as make poignant observations and address real issues which Brecht wanted the audience’s focus to be on. The sudden appearance of song at seemingly unlikely points in the play ­ when it is least expected ­ is alienating and can confuse an audience. Often a silly or light-hearted song would come up directly after a dramatic event, creating a lack of moral perspective and irony. Another alienating characteristic is the fact that the melodic and lyrical delivery of songs contrasts with their serious, occasionally distressing content. In the third scene, for example, the chaplain’s song tells of the horrors of Christ’s story, and yet the form resembles that of a nursery rhyme.This occasional use of song makes the play difficult to define in terms of form of theatre; Brecht is mixing these forms in the same way as he does his writing style, which is both poetic and demotic. This alternating between almost romantic poetry and everyday, colloquial speech is recurrent, and the fluctuations are sudden. It is alienating that the two opposing styles are not separated in any distinct way, constantly ensuring the audience’s expectations are denied.To defer from the audience’s expectations is the purpose of the play’s structure ­ the space of time as passes unseen between the scenes is often great. After a dramatic event has surpassed, one would expect the reactions of the characters to be portrayed, or at least regarded, and the anticipated emotions to be seen, but instead one is shown occurrences of several years later. Thus, dramatic climaxes are forfeited. Also, in the same way as one cannot always see a connection between the songs and their surrounding dialogue, each scene is barely connected to the next, to the extent that the audience gets the impression that if a scene were removed, it would make little difference. There is no definite sequence of events, denying the characteristics of traditional story telling. Brecht brings in the theatre of realism by devising the play not as a convenient series of dramatic events, with a noted beginning and distinct end, for this is not what reality is. He also uses what he calls gestures, the denial of the audience’s potentiality to empathise. This is an effect created by epic theatre, designed to compel the audience into remaining distanced from the story.The methods used in this epic theatre produced an alienating effect, and deliberately separated itself from the conventional attributes of Aristotelian theatre, which appealed to the audience’s emotions and evoked empathy, causing them to share the characters’ feelings. Epic theatre, by definition, resolved to engage people’s thinking and reasoning; Brecht objected to the soporific attitude of audiences and did not want them to be lulled into passive viewing, instead he compelled them to confront what they saw and analyse it. A significant method of alienation that ensures the audience does not get wrapped up in the suspenseful “what happens next” element of the story is Brecht’s forestating ­ each scene is introduced with a summary of the following occurrences, establishing an inevitability which denies the audience of the passivity of viewing for the purpose of an unfolding plot. This encourages the adoption of a critical attitude, only through which understanding can be achieved. The conflicts of individual characters in Mother Courage are unimportant; the play’s purpose as epic theatre is to attract the audience’s attention toward more important societal issues.The characters in the play can appear self-contradictory, which would be particularly alienating to an audience familiar solely with Aristotelian theatre. Though the characters change in this sense, no character development can be seen, and it is difficult for people to relate to them. In truth, not only would an audience be unable to empathise, but they would not know how to regard the characters. One is not given a defined set of emotions to experience, and because of the contradictions within characters, one cannot form an opinion on, or an attitude towards, them. The greatest example of this is Mother Courage herself, who is selfish and egocentric in that she subscribes to capitalist principles and is blind to their consequences. Yet, an admirable trait may be that she keeps on going through hardships and confronts danger, surviving in a man’s world and ignoring her own pain for the sake of her children. However, though she disagrees with war in principle, she lacks strength of belief and exploits the war by profiting from it. The fact that she works hard ­ constantly, it would appear, from what we are shown of her life ­ but for little gain, would lead us to sympathise with her, though her deeds in the beginning of scene 3, her selling of ammunition to the opposing army, makes us question her morals. Another example of a contradictory character is the chaplain, who would be expected to condemn war and disapprove of it completely, though he said, “War satisfies all requirements, peaceable ones included, they’re catered for, and it would simply fizzle out if they weren’t.” The chaplain can be said to have been based on contradiction ­ at first he was cold and formal, then later, on the battlefield, he helps the injured and shows a part of himself that is itself a victim.What Brecht wanted to inspire in his audience was a willingness to change people’s attitudes, their fixed money-centred mindsets which overshadowed, and caused confusion in, their basic moral values. According to Marx, whose principles Brecht believed in: unless man has food and shelter, he does not have freedom. This tenet is what Brecht asserts in Mother Courage, and whose understanding can only be gained when audiences realise that the obvious is an irrelevance, that this play should be seen not as a tale but as a presenting of issues. By using the aspects of character, song, structure, style, inevitability, and staging, Brecht ensures that the audience remains alienated, and that their expectations are not met.

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