Biography of Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht was a German playwright, director, and poet in the Weimar Republic period (1918-1933), where he achieved notoriety through his work in the theater, producing plays that often had a Marxist perspective. He worked primarily in a genre of theater called "epic theater," known for its eschewing of psychological realism in favor of more didactic narrative, in which scenes are interrupted by analysis, argument, or documentation.

Brecht was born in Augsburg, Bavaria in 1898 to a Protestant mother and a Catholic father. His mother was devout and taught Brecht about the Bible, a lasting influence on his work. When Brecht was in high school, World War I broke out. While Brecht was initially in favor of the war, he soon criticized it, which led to his near expulsion from school. In college, he studied theater with Arthur Kutscher, who introduced Brecht to the writer Frank Wedekind, author of the "Lulu" cycle and Spring Awakening.

Brecht wrote his first full-length play, Baal, in 1918, followed by Drums in the Night in February 1919. Following university, Brecht received attention from critics and audiences alike, writing both plays and the screenplay to the short film Mysteries of a Barbershop.

In 1924, Brecht moved to Berlin, where he carried on a number of romantic affairs, and fathered several children, all while writing new plays. It was there that he began writing Man Equals Man, inspired by seeing work by Charlie Chaplin, a performer he greatly admired.

Brecht very much wanted to create a new dramatic form, using a more didactic rhetoric and songs which would interrupt the action, writing music himself as well as collaborating with composers like Kurt Weill. With Weill, Brecht wrote The Little Mahagonny and The Threepenny Opera, two of his best-known projects. Later, they would write Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, an opera which was protested by Nazis at the time of its premiere.

Brecht left Germany during the Nazi period in order to avoid persecution, settling eventually in Denmark. During this time he wrote a great deal of work that protested the National Socialist and Fascist movements, such as Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Good Person of Szechwan, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and Fear and Misery of the Third Reich.

Later, during the Cold War, Brecht's career suffered as he was blacklisted in America and questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Though he was never a member of the Communist party, he was an avid student of Marxism.


Study Guides on Works by Bertolt Brecht

Written in 1944 while Brecht was living in America, The Caucasian Chalk Circle was initially intended for Broadway. It never quite made it there, but was instead premiered by students at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota in 1948. Brecht's...

Life of Galileo, aka Galileo, is a play by Bertolt Brecht, written in 1938 and first performed at the Zurich Schauspielhaus in 1943. At the time of its premiere, Brecht, who typically directed his own plays, handed over directorial duties to...

Bertolt Brecht wrote Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (translated literally as “The Good Person of Setzuan”) with Margarete Steffin and Ruth Berlau between the years of 1938 and 1943. Steffin was a German actress, writer, and translator, and Brecht's...

Bertolt Brecht wrote Jungle of Cities (Im Dickicht der Staedte) when he was only twenty-three years old. The play emerged as a brilliant and poetic tribute to his most despairing and nihilistic phase from 1921-1923. Set in Chicago, it portrays the...