the good woman of setzuan is an epic theatre
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Brecht actually invented this genre of plays and named them “epic theatre.” As a commited socialist, he wanted to use the theatre as tool to measure and analyze human behavior by the standards of materialism. He used songs, non-realistic lighting, episodic structure and direct audience address, to draw in his audiences, and he wrote his plays in such a way that the audience was forced to question the characters and their actions. He wanted people to understand that they could in fact change the world.
He wrote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” He wanted to engage his audience in a critical evaluation of character and action rather than draw them into an emotional involvement.
"Although the play “The Good Woman of Setzuan” is in fact, a parable about capitlaism, it's depiction includes three gods who come to earth in search of a good person, whose existence will justify their own. They are put up for the night by the prostitute Shen Te, and they reward her with a sum of money that enables her to purchase a small tobacco shop. Shen Te is immediately set upon by a collection of various victims and victimizers, all claiming a piece of her reward.
She discovers that it is impossible to be both good and prosperous and creates an alter ego to help her keep her shop. The helper is her male cousin, Shui Ta, who ruthlessly manipulates the system in order to maintain Shen Te’s ownership of the shop. Eventually, Shen Te realizes that she cannot survive without Shui Ta, and he takes over her life.
The play ends in a courtroom, where Shui Ta is accused of “disappearing” Shen Te, who finally reveals herself before the judges, who are the three gods. The gods bless Shen Te and encourage her to continue to be good. The play ends with their benediction as they return to heaven, having justified themselves, while leaving Shen Te to solve her dilemma on her own."
This play is one of Brecht's personal examples of what he deemed the "epic thestre." In it, he critiques the capitalistic form of government and hold up his own Marxist beliefs. The play challenges spectatorship, and the identification the audience understands to be the "universal human condition." The epic theater strove to break the fascinating, trance-like effect of the dramatic spectacle, transform the spectator into its critical observer, and rouse him to thought and action. That is what this play was intended to do..........
Originally, Brecht planned to call the play The Product Love (Die Ware Liebe), meaning "love as a commodity". This title was a play on words, since the German term for "true love" (Die wahre Liebe) is pronounced equally.
The play follows a young prostitute, Shen Te, as she struggles to lead a life that is "good" (according to the terms of the morality that is taught by the gods and to which her fellow citizens of 'Szechwan' (Sichuan) pay lip service), without allowing herself to be abused and trod upon by those who would accept and, more often than not, abuse her goodness. Her neighbors and friends prove so brutal in their filling of their bellies that Shen Te is forced to invent an alter ego to protect herself: a male cousin named Shui Ta, who becomes a cold and stern protector of Shen Te's interests. The theme of qualitative "goodness" (which seemed so simple and obvious in the title of the play) is rendered unstable by application to both genders, as Shen Te realizes she must operate under the guise of both in order to live a good life.
Brecht's interest in historical materialism is evident in the play's definition of contemporary morality and altruism in social and economic terms. Shen Te's altruism conflicts with Shui Ta's capitalist ethos of exploitation. The play implies that economic systems determine a society's morality.