Fearing persecution and blacklisted from publication and production, Brecht – who in his poetry referred to Adolf Hitler as der Anstreicher ("the housepainter") – left Germany in February 1933, shortly after the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg on the instigation of former Chancellor Franz von Papen. After moving around – Prague, Zürich, Paris – Brecht ended up in Denmark for six years. While there, c. 1934, he worked on the antecedent to The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, a satire on Hitler called Ui, written in the style of a Renaissance historian. The result was a story story about "Giacomo Ui", a machine politician in Padua, a work which Brecht never completed. It was later published with his collected short stories.
Brecht left Denmark in 1939, moving first to Stockholm, and then, the next year, to Helsinki, Finland. He wrote the current play there in only three weeks in 1941, during the time he was waiting for a visa to enter the United States. The play was not produced on the stage until 1958, and not until 1961 in English. In spite of this, Brecht did not originally envision a version of the play in Germany, intending it all along for the American stage.
The play is consciously a highly satirical allegory of Hitler's rise to power in Germany and the advent of the National Socialist state. All the characters and groups in the play had direct counterparts in real life, with Ui representing Hitler, his henchman Ernesto Roma representing Ernst Röhm, the head of the Nazi brownshirts; Dogsborough representing General von Hindenburg, a hero of World War I and the President of the Weimar Republic (his name is a pun on the German Hund and Burg); Emanuele Giri representing Hermann Göring, a World War I flying ace who was Hitler's second in command; Giuseppe Givola representing the master propagandist Joseph Goebbels; the Cauliflower Trust representing the Prussian Junkers; the fate of the town of Cicero standing for the Anschluss, which brought Austria into the Third Reich; and so on. In addition, every scene in the play is based, albeit sometimes very loosely, on a real event, for example the warehouse fire which represents the Reichstag fire, and the Dock Aid Scandal which represents the Osthilfeskandal (Eastern Aid) scandal. The play is similar in some respects to the film The Great Dictator (1940), which also featured an absurd parody of Hitler ("Adenoid Hynkel") by Charlie Chaplin, Brecht's favorite film actor.
Dramatically Arthuro Ui is in keeping with Brecht's "epic" style of theatre. It opens with a prologue in the form of a direct address to the audience by an otherwise unidentified "Actor", who outlines all the major characters and explains the basis of the upcoming plot. This allows the audience to better focus on the message rather being concerned about what might happen next in the plot.
Brecht describes in the play's stage directions the use of signs or projections, which are seen first on the stage curtain, and later appear after certain scenes, presenting the audience with relevant information about Hitler's rise to power, in order to clarify the parallels between the play and actual events.
The play has frequent references to Shakespeare. To highlight Ui's evil and villainous rise to power, he is explicitly compared to Shakespeare's Richard III. Like Macbeth, Ui experiences a visitation from the ghost of one of his victims. Finally, Hitler's practiced prowess at public speaking is referenced when Ui receives lessons from an actor in walking, sitting and orating, which includes his reciting Mark Antony's famous speech from Julius Caesar.