Brecht on Shakespeare: A Revaluation


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

That Shakespearean dramamrgy exerted an influence on Brecht is a commonplace of Brecht studies, the only disagreement being in terms of how much and in what way. Beyond the usual aspects or elements that the study of "influences" can suggest, in the case of Shakespeare and Brecht examination of this aspect has uniquely appropriate applications: it demonstrates how Brecht put historicization into practice by clarifying the sources of some Verfremdungseffekte (V-effekte); new aspects of Shakespearean dramaturgy are revealed from the perspective that Brecht creates through his use of Shakespearean techniques; it also becomes possible to liberate Brecht's theories and practice from his own ideologically charged explications, allowing an understanding of Brechtian dramaturgy free from the restrictions placed upon it by orthodoxy, the deadening, finalizing answer Brecht continually fought against. Freeing Brecht's work from its ideological underpinnings and the rhetoric used to express it allows the historicization of his work; for example, his use of 'dialectic' as both a term and a practice can be re-examined in a new light, away from orthodoxy and the preconceived notions orthodoxy automatically applies. Shakespeare's drama demonstrated to Brecht how historicization could be put into practice, how interest in character and situation and their relation to subject matter could be developed for purposes beyond the theater-and perhaps most importantly how imagination could be engaged rather than stifled. The influence of Shakespearean dramaturgy on Brecht thus brings to the fore the critical attitude Brecht fought to instill in his audience and actors-a creative attitude of observation which would compel interest, curiosity, and deliberate use of one's imagination.

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