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Brecht's only play based on a historical figure, the seventeenth-century Italian astronomer and physicist, Galileo Galilei (1564) who challenged prevailing notions of astronomy by suggesting that the earth was not the center of the universe but rather revolved around the sun, was written in three versions over a period of nineteen years. He wrote the first version (the early title was The Earth Moves) in Denmark in 1938-39 while fleeing Hitler's Germany. This text was performed in Zurich in 1943. The second, the American version reprinted here, was written in 1945-46 in collaboration with British actor Charles Laughton, who played Galileo in a 1947 production in Beverly Hills, California and again on Broadway in 1948. The third and final version (retitled The Life of Galileo and based on the English text) was! written with Brecht's collaborators at the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin and produced with Ernst Busch in the title role in 1957, shortly following Brecht's death in the previous year.

Each time Brecht revised Galileo, his emphases changed with his maturity as an artist and political thinker, and with the cataclysm of world history that evolved into a world war, the partition of Western Europe, the advent of the nuclear age.

At the outset for Brecht, Galileo was an intellectual figure in history who outsmarted reactionary authority (the Inquisition), and pretending near blindness, completed his great scientific work, the Discorsi, and smuggled the manuscript out of Italy with the assistance of his pupil, Andrea Sarti. Thus, the individual's subversive political action against reactionary authority, Brecht con concluded causes a light to dawn in the darkness of his age. In the 1930's what commended the subject of Galileo to Brecht was be analogy between the seventeenth-century- scientist's underground activities against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and those of the twentieth-century opponents to Hitler's Germany. In all instances Brecht insisted that the play was neither an attack on the church nor the priesthood but rather on reactionary authority age. In Galileo's time, science was a branch of theology. The church as the intellectual authority of the day was, therefore, The ultimate scientific, political, and spiritual court of appeal. Galileo's struggle in the name of intellectual freedom gives thinly disguised attention to present-day reactionary authorities of a totally secular kind.

In the American version, written six years later as Brecht continued his exile in California the nuclear age (the logical progression of Galileo's earlier discoveries) had dawned with all of its attendant horrors as weapons of destruction. As Brecht was writing the first-draft version of his play in 1938-39 the German physicist Nils Bohr was king his discoveries in atomic theory that resulted in the splitting of the uranium atom; 1945, as Brecht was working with Charles Laughton on a second script, the United States exhibited the atomic bomb's destructive possibilities on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The playwright then faced the fact that the nuclear age was a product of the new science founded by Galileo at the beginning of the "scientific age" three hundred years prior. Brecht then set about to condemn Galileo as a traitor because the atomic bomb, in Brecht's view, had made the relationship between society and science into a matter of life and death for the human race.

In this second and darker version of the Galileo story, Brecht's admiration for his clever scientist is altered and Galileo is depicted as a gluttonous, self-serving, and unethical (if not "criminal") intellectual who has betrayed humankind. In the second text, Brecht set about to demand not just freedom to research and teach, but a sense of social and moral responsibility toward humankind from the world's scientists. The point in 1947 was to demand from those who viewed scientific advances "as an end in itself," thus playing into the hands of those in power, a change and advancement of a utilitarian concept of science. What Brecht has to say about his collaboration with Charles Laughton (and his thoughts on what the revised work has to say about modern science in 1945) is contained in a foreword to the German edition entitled "Building up a Part: Laughton's Galileo."

As a writer, Brecht used historical material-what he called historification-drawn from other times and places (ancient China in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Germany's Thirty Years' War in Mother Courage and Her Children, the church-dominated Italy of the seventeenth century in Galileo) in order to get audiences to reflect upon oppressive social and political problems and events of the present time. Brecht argued that the theatre should not treat contemporary subjects in a direct way, but by putting similar events of the past on stage and by distancing us from immediate problems get us to see the parallels in history and to understand what actions should have been taken in the past (and were not), but can be undertaken in the present to correct social and political problems.

As an historical scientific figure, Galileo's life embraces a twofold responsibility: to the work to be achieved and then to humankind which the work serves. In his lecherous and gluttonous character, Brecht has at hand, a genius whose most powerful instinct is curiosity and whose greatest sensual pleasure is the pleasure of discovery whether of a well-cooked goose or of Jupiter's moons. To be able to indulge his appetities, Galileo is prepared to commit the basest acts: He cheats the Venetians by selling them the telescope he has not invented but merely reproduced from a traveller's description. He writes servile letters to the Medici prince whose tyrannies he despises. And, with the physical cowardice of the sensuous man, he recants his theories when merely shown the instruments of torture. In the earlier version of the play, Galileo's recantation was made to appear excusable as a deliberate and calculating act: By recanting he saved his life and gained the time to complete his treatise which was then smuggled out to the free world. Nevertheless, Brecht came increasingly to view the Galileo's of the world as serving pure research devoid of ethical responsibility to humanity. In the Berlin text, he labels Galileo as a "social criminal, a complete rogue."

Galileo becomes a "criminal," in Brecht's harsher view of scientific progress, because by his cowardice he has established the tradition of the scientist's subservience to the state - the tradition that, according to Brecht, reached its culmination in the production of the atomic bomb for military purposes, which science put at the disposal of nonscientific people to serve their power politics.


Brecht described his ideal theatre as using three key devices: historification, epic, and alienation. Brecht's theory of epic staging, a found in his writing, included progressive scenes to show the ascending or declining fortunes of the central figure, and no act divisions. In the epic style, each scene begin with titles, or legends, written on placards and other images suspended above the stage or projected on screens, For example, sign-located above the stage and written crude letters on a frame-depicts the changing time and places in Galileo's life. In pursuit of his research and new patrons, moves from Venice to Florence to Rome and back to Florence. Subsequent titles describe years, seasons, and Galileo's machinations discoveries, and political fortunes. The titles are thematically consistent, describing Galileo in relation to three things: research, materialism, and authority.

Eight long years with tongue in cheek
Of what he knew he did not speak
Then temptation grew too great
And Galileo challenged fate.

In the American version, sketches of Jupiter's moons. Leonardo da Vinci's technical drawings, and a Venetian warship were projected on screens to assist in the telling of story. The epic devices allow Brecht to express his political, sociological, and economic arguments such as the connections between science and industry, individuals and governments and the ultimate victimization common humanity by both. Galileo vacillates between life's contradictions (an important point in Brecht's immersion in theory): the necessities of research and family pure research and materialism, and religion, profit and loss, hunger gratification, and so on. In the downward spiral of Galileo's life (his isolation, poverty poor health, and near blindness), Brecht offers a general judgment at the end of 13 that Galileo failed his ethical responsibilities to humankind. Galileo explains to his former pupil:

As a scientist I had an almost unique opportunityÉ I surrendered my knowledge to the powers that be, to use it. No. Not use it, but abuse it, as it suits their ends. I have betrayed my profession. Any man who does what I have done must not be tolerated in the ranks of science.

Caught up in Galileo's plight and "heroic" passing of his forbidden writings to his pupil for future generations, few audiences have realized that this was the bitterest and most meaningful lesson of the play. Brecht's condemnation of his exemplar as hero and criminal is also an indictment of modern scientific-industrial power systems those individuals in positions of influence.

What is clear in the epic style is that Brecht is concerned neither with biography nor with the history of the seventeenth century, but with the historical and human problems twentieth century. The recantation (12) is the crisis scene of the play (all of previous scenes have been arranged to build to this moment). The arrangement of episodes permits us to interpret Galileo's behavior in recanting under pressure from the Inquisition. He has proved over and over that he has only judged the powers of the world in so far as they were advantageous or detrimental to his researches. He has sacrificed his daughter's marriage (Scene 8), security for himself by rejecting the iron founder's offer of sanctuary (scene 10) and his eyesight and reputation as a man of integrity(Scenes 12 and 13). In all things, Brecht's character is consistent. The makeup of In all things though, Brecht's character is consistent. The inner makeup of Brecht's Galileo is determined by a hedonistic indulgence of life's pleasures and an excessive joy in experimentation and discovery. Nothing else matters, including the social importance of his discoveries. For this, Brecht increasingly condemns his scientist in the play's two later versions .

of worlds

The 1945-46 version of Galileo only slightly masks the theme of the relationship of scientific research to the most profound moral and social questions illuminated by the explosions on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. second text, Brecht has taken a bleak vision of "scientific progress," echoed in J. Robert Oppenheimer's famous cry-words from the Indian epic, the Bhagavad Gita, as he watched the first test explosion of an atomic weapon: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." By 1947, Brecht has a wholly negative view of Galileo whom he now regards as an "intellectual prostitute." The recantation scene becomes thereby not an example of practical behavior but a clear case of the scientist allowing the powers that be to use him for their own non-humanistic ends. What was frustrating for Brecht was that, despite his distancing devices, audiences refused to condemn the physicist before the Inquisition and secret efforts to preserve his writings elicited sympathy and highly emotional responses. Brecht concluded that "Technically, Life of Galileo is a great step backwards. ... ." because he had been unable in his writing to distance the audience emotionally from Galileo's plight.7 Brecht's concept of alienation (or distancing) is at work on two principal levels in the play: Galileo himself finds his world of 1600 to be unfamiliar, outdated, and in need of explanation. This fact accounts for the historical character's novelty, strangeness, and difference. Audiences also sympathized with the character's strong lust for living, and, despite Brecht's many efforts to censor Galileo, they continued to applaud the scientist's struggles against reactionary authority.

Despite the epic devices, Galileo remained an old-fashioned play (almost classical) centered on the central figure's choices under pressure during which he has campaigned to change the world and has capitulated unheroically when faced with physical pain. Disillusioned by Galileo's recantation (1, Galileo Galilei, Teacher of Mathematics and Physics, do hereby publicly renounce my teaching that the earth moves."), his student, Andrea Sarti, rejects his teacher with the famous line, "Unhappy is the land that breeds no heroes." Galileo replies, "Unhappy is the land that needs a hero." Galileo has not fulfilled the heroic role his pupils envisioned for him, for, in the horror of the moment, he has fallen victim to human frailty

GALILEO: They showed me the instruments,
ANDREA: It was not a plan?
GALILEO: It was not.

Eric Bentley has called the play a tragicomedy of "heroic combat followed by unheroic capitulation." In the writing tradition of great tragicomic plays, he continued, there is in Galileo no noble contrition, no belated rebellion, but rather only undisguised selfloathing. In explanation to Sarti at the play's end, Galileo says, "I have come to believe that I was never in real danger; for some years I was as strong as the authorities and I surrendered my knowledge to the powers that be" (Scene 13).

In the new version, Galileo is given a long tirade of self-condemnation. Sarti is also placed in the wrong because he argues that "science has only one commandment: contribution." Galileo's retort is: "Then welcome to the gutter, dear colleague in science and brother in betrayal I sold out, you are a buyer" (Scene 13). In his theoretical writings, set down between 1948 and 1956, Brecht referred to his theatre and plays as "dialectical," further stressing the collision of conflicting idea and social forces in his plays. The ultimate source of Brecht's dialectic in Galileo is the central figure of his corpulent and vociferous scientist whose greatness and enormous failure intrigued Brecht as a subject for epic theatre. The figure of the historical genius provided dialectical argument a about the ultimate cost of scientific progress for humanity and the ethical responsibility to humankind" of those individuals responsible for discoveries and inventions that have resulted not only in Chernobyl-like disasters but also in-space exploration and detection of black holes in the universe.

The premiere of the English language version prepared jointly by Brecht and actor Charles Laughton, who played the lead and co-directed the play with Brecht (though the director of record was Joseph Losey), opened in Los Angeles at the Coronet Theatre on July 30, 1947. The production proceeded to Broadway following its successful California run, and opened at the Maxine Elliott Theatre on December 7, 1947 (the date on the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor six years earlier). By the time the played opened in New York, Brecht, following his appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C., had returned turned to Europe. He had been subpoenaed to testify on the issue of Communist infiltration into the motion picture industry a played a role not unlike Galileo's before the Inquisition. Brecht prevaricated, entertained and escaped to Europe, never to return to the United States.

Galileo is an important document as the last (if unfinished) aesthetic testament of Bertolt Brecht as a playwright and director. Unable to complete work on the Berliner Ensemble version of the text, he turned rehearsals over to Eric Engel and the play was produced in its third version on January 1957, five months following Brecht's death.

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