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This wide-ranging, detailed and engaging study of Brecht's complex relationship with Greek tragedy and tragic tradition argues that this is fundamental for understanding his radicalism. Featuring an extensive discussion of The Antigone of Sophocles (1948) and further related works (the Antigone model book and the Small Organon for the Theatre), this monograph includes the first-ever publication of the complete set of colour photographs taken by Ruth Berlau. This is complemented by comparatist explorations of many of Brecht's own plays as his experiments with tragedy conceptualized as the 'big form'. The significance for Brecht of the Greek tragic tradition is positioned in relation to other formative influences on his work (Asian theatre, Naturalism, comedy, Schiller and Shakespeare). Brecht emerges as a theatre artist of enormous range and creativity, who has succeeded in re-shaping and re-energizing tragedy and has carved paths for its continued artistic and political relevance.
“Wundervoll”—this is the trenchant verdict of Shakespeare's Coriolanus by a first-time reader, the nineteen-year-old Brecht addressing his friend Max Hohenester in a letter from June 1917. Shakespeare would indeed remain a companion for Brecht in the artistically and personally turbulent years ahead. This is evident from the prominent position of Shakespeare in Brecht's personal library, and from projects like the (largely lost) radio adaptation of Macbeth from 1927 or the model function of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure in the genesis and development of Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe (The Round Heads and the Pointed Heads) in the 1930s. But it manifests itself most clearly perhaps in the continuous presence of Shakespeare in Brecht's unfinished major theoretical work Der Messingkauf (Buying Brass) which he had been working on since the late 1930s. Shakespeare's drama, the dramaturg of the Messingkauf is made to remark, stand outs for being “ungemein lebendig” (“incredibly lively”), a result of its proximity to actual theatrical practice. For the dramaturg, Shakespearean theatre is experimental in nature and therefore requires experimental stagings, on the grounds that “sacrileges,” i.e. the disregard for rules and conventions, brought about Shakespeare's plays in the first place. Brecht's delightfully fresh and unruly Shakespeare also features in the more practical parts of the Messingkauf, which contain part of the final scene of King Lear in Brecht's translation as well as what Brecht calls a “parallel scene” of the door-knocking scene in Macbeth (Act II. 2), where Brecht, in his own words, transfers the action “into a prosaic milieu to achieve Verfremdung of the classical scenes.” In addition, there are new scenes of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, created as what Brecht calls “Zwischenszenen” (“intercalary scenes”), to be performed by actors as practice pieces in between scenes of the existing Shakespeare plays during the rehearsal of these tragedies. 6 In view of all of this, it is certainly fair to say that The Bard was one of the few life-long constants and orientation points in Brecht's intellectual topography, like Confucius and Aristotle.
Greek comedy flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, both in and beyond Athens. Aristophanes and Menander are the best-known writers whose work is in part extant, but many other dramatists are known from surviving fragments of their plays. This sophisticated but accessible introduction explores the genre as a whole, integrating literary questions (such as characterisation, dramatic technique or diction) with contextual ones (for example audience response, festival context, interface with ritual or political frames). In addition, it also discusses relevant historical issues (political, socio-economic and legal) as well as the artistic and archaeological evidence. The result provides a unique panorama of this challenging area of Greek literature which will be of help to students at all levels and from a variety of disciplines but will also provide stimulus for further research.