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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

THE  DRAMA  OF  EXPRESSIONISM                  399

stagecraft. This epic or narrative drama differs from the traditional
'Illusionstheater9 in the sense that there are pauses in ths action,
while the actor explains who he is and what he is doing; or an
announcer addresses the audience through a loud speaker; that is,
the action is accompanied by its interpretation to an audience who
are thus freed from the illusion that it is the purpose of the tradi-
tional theatre to induce in minds too sleepy to pierce to the hard
core of the reality that life everywhere and always is. Added to
this is Brecht's doctrine of alienation: one incident is counteracted
by another. Thus in Mutter Courage a Lutheran hymn is sung while
a girl tries on a whore's hat; and thus religious solemnity is alien-
ated by the actuality of life. Masks may be worn to counteract the
illusion of the dialogue, and there are interludes of songs and music
which symbolize the inner sense of the action. Brecht has inter-
preted his technique in essays labelled Versuche., issued as num-
bered Hefte, Much of his sensational success he owed to his in-
ventiveness as a play-producer; his company Berliner Ensemble are
recognized as first-rate even by critics who are not swept off their
feet. His great help was his wife Helene Weigel, who as a rule
plays the leading character. The first of the post-exile plays is Der
gute Mensch von Se^uan (1942). Three gods set out in quest of one
good human being; unless they find one the world is to be des-
troyed; at last they find a Chinese prostitute, Shen Te, who is
good and kind; they set her up in a little tobacco shop, where she
is cheated by her customers until she develops a second self in the
person of a hard-hearted wicked cousin whom she impersonates;
he makes short work of the spongers, but he is brought to trial
for murdering Shen Te, who has disappeared; the gods return to
judge this alter ego> but give it up as hopeless and return to Heaven,
leaving the world to its wickedness. Brecht's best known work is
Mutter Courage undibre Kinder (1941), set to music by Paul Dessau.
The period is the Thirty Years War. The twelve *Ttilder\ which
owe something to Grimmelshausen's Simpli^issimus, show an old
woman, a camp follower, trudging with her mobile canteen in the
wake of the armies to snatch a bare living, the result being that iii
the end she loses her sons one by one and her daughter; but still
she carries on courageously and still sings her ribald songs, for
she has to live- on the profits of the filth and foulness of war.
Mother Courage has good things to say: battles are won by good
generals, not by brave soldiers; a defeat does not mean destruction