First Advisor

Steven N. Fuller

Date of Publication

Summer 7-26-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in German


World Languages and Literatures




Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). Leben des Galilei, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) -- Criticism and interpretation



Physical Description

1 online resource (iv, 90 pages)


The history of Bertolt Brecht's play Leben des Galilei extends through the writing of its three versions during 1938 to 1955 -- a period of two decades that also encompassed the entirety of the Second World War. The period also covers the atom bomb from its development to America's use of the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the beginning of the Cold War, which included the sustained threat that nuclear weapons might be used any day. This thesis traces, and offers interpretations of, changes in Brecht's Leben des Galilei from its inception in 1938-1939 -- when the protagonist, a scientist, is portrayed in a positive light -- through the play's American version in 1947, where it bitterly accuses science and scientists of having betrayed society and humanity, and finally to its last version in 1955, where the protagonist struggles to prevent the normalization--the familiarization--of the threat of nuclear warfare.

Next to the writing of the Leben des Galilei, the thesis also focuses on the main critical readings of the play. A large fraction of the critical readings, but not all of them, interpret the play either as a judgment of science or as an invitation to pass judgment on science.

The thesis compares Leben des Galilei with three different groups of other texts.

The first comparison is with two other plays that also address the problem of science in the age of nuclear weapons, and the second comparison is with other work of Brecht himself. The first comparison leads to the observation that the muted note of optimism in the final version of Leben des Galilei is exceptional, and the second comparison to the apparently unrelated observation that it was uncharacteristic of Brecht to make explicit a certain literary allusion in Leben des Galilei. The two observations converge to a possible common explanation from a comparison with a still third group of texts, a cycle of Native American myths which appear in the oral traditions of various Native American tribes spread throughout the New World.

Finally, the thesis addresses the question of why a modern-day literary text, addressing the essentially modern problem of nuclear warfare, and addressing that problem using the essentially modern techniques of Brechtian theatre, might have structures parallel to the structures of primitive mythology.


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