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Hamlet and The Life of Galileo Doc Rossi The early 1930s were years of commitment and turmoil for Brecht. With the Lehrstücke he was experimenting with revolutionary forms in which to present his new subject matter. He lost his legal battle for artistic control of the Threepenny Opera film, which premiered shortly after his own stage production of Man Equals Man in 1931. Following successful productions of Mahagonny and The Mother in the same year, the film Kuhle Wampe was banned until changes were made, the government-approved version finally opening in Berlin on 30 May 1932. During this period a radio broadcast of Saint Joan of the Stockyards was aired. Late in 1932 and into 1933 Brecht was attending lectures given by Karl Korsch; these led to the workshops on dialectical materialism held in Brecht's home. But on 28 February 1933, the day after the Reichstag fire, Brecht, Helene Weigel, and their son Stefan left for Prague, beginning their long period of exile; their daughter Barbara soon joined them. In addition to other work, Brecht spent the rest of the 1930s writing—and producing when possible—plays which dealt specifically with the new problems in Europe: The Roundheads and the Pointed Heads (1932), The Seven Deadly Sins ofthe Bourgeoisie (1933), Fear and Misery of the Third Reich (1937-38), and Señora Carrar's Rifles (1937-38). The farcical critique of judgment presented in Man Equals Man and other early works takes on a specific target in these plays; they are no less critical than the earlier pieces, but the element of self-criticism is suppressed —a tendency Brecht struggled to overcome. This period is framed by Brecht's radio adaptation oíHamlet, aired in 1931, and the first version of The Life of Galileo, initially entitled The Earth Moves, written late in 1938. In this paper I want to discuss the correspondences between Shakespeare's Hamlet and Brecht's Life of Galileo not for the sake of the correspondences themselves but to argue that Brecht's radio adaptation of Hamlet was only his first adaptation of Shakespeare's play; Galileo was his second. There are many coincidental paral496 Doc Rossi497 lels between these two works, and too much should not be made of them. Yet Hamlet lurked in the background during the periods when Brecht was writing or revising Galileo, and it haunted his poems, letters, journal entries, essays, and even Galileo itself. What I hope to show is that there are connections that go beyond the similarities in circumstance, dramaturgy, and subject matter, and that reveal Hamlet, as Brecht understood the play, to be at the base of his thought. There are some striking connections between these two plays: both exist in three "authoritative" texts, each version quite different from the others, the final version being perhaps too long for production. Brecht's English editors Willett and Manheim echo the many editors and directors of Hamlet when they suggest that as "a reading text" Galileo has a balance which presents problems for directors, who must compress the play "without losing essential elements of so carefully thought-out a mixture."' Each play, representing the beginning of a new and important period for both the playwright and the times in which he lived, seems to occupy a unique place in the canon of its author; both dramatize the conflict between established medieval authorities and traditions and a new way of seeing which challenges them, with their protagonists caught in the middle: in Hamlet, the Ghost and Fortinbras are juxtaposed with the new perspective to which Hamlet has been exposed at Wittenberg, while in Galileo the Church stands against the new scientific method and the instruments of which it makes use. Finally, and most important, the role of doubt in the process of interpretation is dramatized in both plays—that is, the difference between "seems" and "is," or how what appears to be "the facts," is analyzed and interpreted—and provides the drive behind both works. In Brecht's sonnet "On Shakespeare's Play Hamlet" (c.1938), written around the time he was working on the first version of Galileo, Hamlet's meeting with Fortinbras's army on...


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pp. 496-517
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