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Bertolt Brecht's The Exception and the Rule. It Doesn't Say What It Says It Says RUSSELL E. BROWN Bertolt Brecht's short didactic play The Exceptionalld the Rule (Die Ausnahme und die Regel, 1930-31)' was neither published nor performed in Weimar Germany (first performances, Palestine 1938, Paris 1950, Dusseldorf (959). But it was the first didactic play Brecht published after the war, and he recommended it for performance. Now it has become "by far the best-known and most performed Lehrstuck (didactic play) of Brecht today," according to Jan Knopf.2 This study approaches the play not as an illustration of Epic Drama or as a document in Marxist thought of the thirties, but in the way a naive spectator or reader might, testing the final statement or lesson of the play against the actions of the three main characters as demonstrated by the previous action. As in other didactic plays, like The Measures Taken (Die Massnahme, 1930) or major Epic Plays, like The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Der kaukasische Kreidekreis, 1945), a parabolic action is followed by a trial and jUdgment, whereupon the audience is invited to make an independent assessment of the merits of the case. This assessment need not, of course, agree with that of the official Judges: just as we are not meant to agree with the three gods who disappear in a cloud of confusion, impotency, and well-meaning advice at the end of The Good Woman o!Setzuan (Der gute Mensch VOIl Sezuan, 1940). In our text a Merchant killed his baggage carrier on an expedition across a desert, and his widow is suing her husband's employer for damages. Curiously, it is the actions of the victim rather than his murderer which come under scrutiny by the panel of Judges. They decide that the fateful act of the Coolie in offering the Merchant his water flask when both seemed likely to die of thirst was an "exception" to normal behavior, whose singularity justified the action of the Merchant ofkilling him. Since the "rule" is to hate your enemy and try to do him harm ("Such is the rule: an eye for an eye" [po 141)), the Merchant's murder of his baggage carrier may be condoned as self-defense. Thus the 318 RUSSELL E. BROWN Judges, who belong to the same class as the Merchant, declare him to be innocent, neither punishing him for the murder nor granting any compensation to the Coolie's widow and orphan for the loss of their breadwinner. After the verdict, the actors appeal directly to the audience or to each other (as the Lehrstiick requires no audience) to change a society in which humane behavior is an exception so unusual that it is likely to have catastrophic consequences. The Judges' analysis ofthe action is accepted by the players who step out of the fictional situation to speak the epilogue: "where you have recognized an abusel Provide a remedy!" (p. 143). The actors simply use the bourgeois Judges' evaluations of the main characters as a basis to call for radical change by those outside the play's universe, who are assumed to live in a society similar to that portrayed. The thesis of the Judges is essentially that individuals should act appropriately (by the Rule) to the system they live in and not in some exceptional way (the Exception) which, regardless of its ethical worth, exposes them to misunderstanding and violent reaction. The Judges consider the rapacious capitalist system as a natural and proper framework for evaluating human behavior, even projecting its values into characters ostensibly free ofthem, like the Coolie. As Bawey writes, "The court doesn't merely recognize the class struggle, but even declares the fear which results from it to be a reasonable condition of human relations.,,3 Only the Guide, he continues, recognizes the "inhumanity of such a way of thinking" (p. 86), without being able to initiate change. Brecht himself through his actor spokesmen urges that such societies be radically transformed, so that the exceptional, brotherly act may become the norm (the Rule). Most commentators on the play, ranging from right to left (Martin Esslin, Reinhold Grimm, Henning Rischbieter, the Lehrstiick...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 317-329
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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