Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht was born on 10 February 1898 in Augsburg Germany. As a young boy, he was not popular in school, irritating his teachers and elders with his outspoken views that were clearly beyond his years. His tertiary education began when he enrolled into Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich as a medical student to prevent being sent to war. Brecht rarely attended class, preferring to drink, write poetry and create songs of beauty and moral rather than learn the intricacies of the human body. Despite his attempts to avoid war, he was recruited in 1918 and worked as a medical orderly.
It was also around this time that Brecht began his life-long work in the theatre. His productions were different to what was being done as the time as he saw them as a political and educational vehicle, as well as an entertainer.
In 1933, Bertolt Brecht was forced into exile, after disagreeing with some of Adolf Hitler's views, eventually landing in America. The books he had written were burnt and his citizenship was revoked. His last condemnation was being banned from all German theatres.
Brecht loathed realistic-type drama claiming that viewing it left the audience in a trance-like stupor. His aim was to motivate audiences to think, not necessarily be entertained by spectacular illusion that he found in most theatre during his time. The technique he created to overcome this was known as ‘verfremdungseffekt' or the ‘alienation effect', meaning to detach the audiences' emotions from the drama onstage.
Some of his most well known plays include The Three-Penny Opera (1928), The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1944-1945), Mother Courage and her Children (1938-1939) and The Good Woman of Szechwan (1938-1940), the last three of which were written during his time in exile.
In 1956, Brecht contracted a lung infection and suffered coronary thrombosis (a heart attack). His life was a kaleidoscope of troubles and joys and his work in theatre has paved a way for generations to come.
Oscar Brockett with Franklin J. Hildy.
History of the Theatre, 8th Edition. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, 1999.