Bertolt Brecht (1898- 1956) was born in Ausburg, Bavaria in a middle-class family. He suffered from heart disease throughout his life. He received firm classical education and instruction on the Bible from his mother who was prominent figure in many of his plays. He attended the University of Munich and moved to Germany after his graduation. He started working with the Deustches Theatre in 1924 and started writing and directing plays for the theatre. He wrote three short plays Baal, Drums in the Night and In the Jungle won him immediate success and he was bestowed with a prestigious award.
Brecht was a Marxist and anti-Fascist and wrote his ideas about these ideologies in newspapers. Due to his Marxist and anti- Fascist leanings, he had to flee Germany and lived in exile for the next fifteen years in Scandinavia and United States. His dramatic style was largely influenced by comic actors Karl Valentine and Charlie Chaplin and German playwright Karl Buchner. Brecht developed the idea of “Epic Theatre” that strongly resonated in his plays. The Epic Theatre emerged as a strong reaction to consequences of the Second World War and Brecht’s engagement with the political climate of his time.The basic aim of Brecht’s Epic Theatre was to educate the audience to view the action of the play critically from point of view of distancing or detached or alienated rather than getting emotionally involved in the play. The distancing or alienating effect was known as Verfremdungseffekt.He rejected the Aristotlean notion of drama with its rising action, exposition and climax. Instead, he wanted his plays to be known as dialectical comments on society.
Brecht devised an acting technique for his epic theatre that he called as gestusthat involved physical gestures or attitudes. He wanted the actor to observe the character, demonstrate the actions of the character but the actor should not identify with the role. To emphasize the technique of epic theatre on stage, Brecht aimed at unfamiliar stage settings, interruption of action and dialogue, music, use of banners to indicate change of scenes and the stage divided by half curtains.
During the War Years Brecht wrote many plays that were successful such as Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Good Woman of Schezwan, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Three Penny Operaand many others. In the year 1949, Brecht established his theatre group called The Berliner Ensemble and spent the next years of his life writing and directing plays for the Ensemble. Brecht died at the age of 58 of a heart-attack.