action, forces him to take decisions…the spectator stands outside, studies.”
(Bertolt Brecht. Brecht on Theatre. New York:Hill & Yang, 1964. p37)
Brecht. This direction of theatre was inspired by Brecht’s Marxist political
that, unlike epic theatre, Expressionism and Realism were incapable of exposing
to encourage the audience to ponder, with critical detachment, the moral
dilemmas presented before them.
In order to analyse and evaluate the action occurring on stage, Brecht believed
that the audience must not allow itself to become emotionally involved in the
story. Rather they should, through a series of anti-illusive devices, feel
for the audience to empathise with the characters and their predicament. Thus,
they could study the play’s social or political message and not the actual
audience is reminded that they are watching only a portrayal of reality.
A play whose dramatic structure and didactic purposes epitomises epic theatre is
The Caucasian Chalk Circle (CCC). The prologue of this play transpires in a
being presented a play called ?The Chalk Circle?. This play is narrated by a ?
governor’s son when their city falls under siege. The son, Michael, has been
left behind, without so much as a backward glance, by his fleeing mother.
a number that would only occur in epic theatre.
absurd judge in Grusha and Michael’s former city. The paths of Grusha and
have custody of Michael. His biological mother or the peasant Grusha who has
cared for him the past years? Azdak’s ruling results from the outcome of the ?
succumbed, justice has prevailed. It is arguable that Brecht’s message in this
was to the Germans, that in order to uphold justice they must revolt against
what is to occur at the commencement of each scene, so that the audience is
familiar with enough of the plot in order for them to refrain from becoming
emotionally involved. Thoughts that could only be expressed through soliloquies
Singer accomplishes the transition from Grusha’s story to Azdak’s and this
action assists in weakening the audience’s engagement with Grusha’s plight.
Brecht has calculated the character of Grusha to be one that the audience does
not wish to identify with. Her salvation of Michael is not a maternal and noble
act but more of a disheartened resignation. Throughout her ongoing struggle
her own interests, putting her life in jeopardy, and is thus humane. This
action could be evaluated as a further social directive of Brecht’s, again aimed
at the Germans. It could represent that they can only be humane by striving to
thwart Hitler, though they would be endangering their lives by doing so. The
existence of a social message in this play further indicates that the CCC is
indeed an example of epic theatre.
When performing an epic drama many Brechtian alienation techniques can be
incorporated. To illustrate these possible techniques, scene 6 of the CCC will
be briefly studied and directed. This scene begins with a narration by the
Singer. During this speech the Singer could be finishing erecting the sets up
on stage, demonstrating to the audience that the scenery and props are just that
and not authentic. In Brecht’s time he often used a German theatre called the
Theater am Schiffbauerdamn where the auditorium was structured in an extravagant
way close to fantasy, while its stage was stark and mechanical. This contrast
reminded the audience that, while they were there to be entertained, they were
also to think scientifically. Thus, a theatre resembling this layout could be
each character belongs to and so the costumes of Grusha and the governor’s wife
would greatly differ. Soldiers called ?Ironshirts? appear in this scene and
these characters could speak in mechanical and non-human voices and movements.
By doing this the Ironshirts would be symbolic of their characters, rather than
realistic, and so the audience would again feel alienated.
Another popular Verfremdungseffekt effect is to flood the stage with a harsh,
white light. This induces the audience to remember that again they are only
watching a reenactment of reality. It would therefore be most profitable to
utilize this technique when there is the threat that the audience is becoming
involved. Hence, this device should be implemented at the critical moment of
the Chalk Circle test and before Azdak announces his descision.