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Brecht on Shakespeare: A Revaluation Doc Rossi That Shakespearean dramaturgy 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. This essay argues that the critical reception of Brecht's interaction with Shakespearean drama, concentrating as it has on the apparent ambivalence Brecht held towards that body of work, suppresses examination of Brecht's development of his ideas 158 Doc Rossi159 through Shakespearean models. As the pre-eminent playwright of the orthodox theater, Shakespeare often appears to be the focus of Brecht's sharpest criticism; but the influence of Shakespeare becomes apparent where Brecht's attacks on what he calls "Aristotelian dramaturgy" converge with his criticism of "the orthodox theater apparatus," even in Brecht's sharpest "attacks." The extent of Shakespeare's influence is hidden by Brecht's pose of casual contempt, which gives a negative cast to many of his Shakespeare commentaries. When carried over into critical discussions of Brecht's use of Shakespeare, this negative slant cannot exploit Brecht's comments on the critical examination of material forces he finds in Shakespeare's drama; neither does it take into account the context of Brecht's Shakespeare criticism as an element in his campaign to transform theater and drama. Moreover, the concentration on negative ambivalence in most commentaries prohibits recognition of Brecht's use of Shakespearean dramaturgy to put the audience and actors in a position from which they are able to take up a critical attitude towards all aspects of the drama, production practices, and directorial perspectives past and present as well as text, form, content, and subject matter. Brecht held that content and form must exist as separate elements in the drama rather than feeding or supporting each other, and whereas in the orthodox theater content was smothered by form, in Shakespearean drama the form sets forth the content as something remarkable. He understood the content of Shakespeare 's drama to be the opinions and lives of the characters, that is, the characters themselves and the events in which they are involved ; the drama's episodic, nonlinear form places the characters and events in opposition to each other and thus enables the audience to observe and study the situation. For Brecht, Shakespearean drama parodies the "culinary" orthodox drama of his time, the drama which fuses content and form into some eternal truth; by separating elements of a theatrical production, "culinary " theater is put on view, thus bringing the "culinary principle " under discussion. By presenting argument rather than suggestion , Shakespearean drama enables the audience to make a decision or "cast a vote" one way or another. The audience is not involved in the action or provided with sensations and suggestions which in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 158-187
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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