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Two Concepts of Society in Drama: Bertolt Brecht's The Good Woman ofSetzuan and Edward Bond's Lear HUBERT ZAPF Bertolt Brecht and Edward Bond, though of different generations, are two major representatives of a theater noted for its close relationship to modem society. Both playwrights are self-professed socialists and regard drama as a medium for expressing and communicating their political views. Brecht's Epic theatre is arational fonn of theatre, aiming not at the emotional identification of a passive audience but at their critical awareness of what is happening on the stage and at their ability to transfer the fictitious reality of the play to the social reality of their everyday lives. Bond, too, conceives of his works as manifestations ofa"rational theatre," confronting the spectators with analytical insights into modem society, and making them aware in which way they themselves are oppressed by and at the same time part of the alienating mechanisms of this society. I For both playwrights, then, the theatre is closely linked with a pragmatic intention: it becomes a means critically to investigate and, it is hoped, to change the dehumanizing structures of modem society. There are also similarities between the two authors in the thematic and formal conception of their plays. For one thing, the plays of both Brecht and Bond are situated in a public or semi-public sphere, thus relating the private lives of individuals to the general life of society. Their concern is not primarily, as is the case with so much of modem drama, with problems of personal identity, of communication, of intimate human relationships but with socially and politically Significant actions. Accordingly, there is a certain degree of impersonality to the characters, who frequently serve to illustrate various social roles and public interests, conveying, often in their sheer numbers, the impression of a mass society. Moreover, Brecht's and Bond's plays are similar in their loose, episodic structure, in the montage-like succession of short, often contrasting scenes, in the free use and juxtaposition of symbolic and naturalist elements - all ofwhich reflect a conscious deviation on the part ofboth authors from the Aristotelian model of causality, coherence, and organic wholeness. Two Concepts of Society: Brecht and Bond 353 There is also a tendency in both playwrights to take up classical, historical, or mythological subjects and use them as ironic dramatic models for their anti-classical and demythologizing interpretation ofthe modem world (see, for example, Brecht's St. Joan of the Stockyards, The Life of Galileo, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, or Bond's Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Sea, Bingo, The Woman, etc.). Equally, both authors show a preference for the political parable, with affinities to social allegory and to the didactic reduction and moral evaluation of their dramatic subject matter. And in some ofhis plays, Bond even explicitly employs techniques of Brecht's Epic theatre, such as in the figure of the Narrator in The Passion, or in the Japanese poet Basho in Narrow Road to the Deep North, who similarly acts as an epic narrator and opens the play by directly addressing the audience. Martin Esslin calls this work "a beautiful parable, very Brechtian in its exotic selling (as an alienation effect, to show familiar problems in an unexpected light) and in its moral didacticism...2 AU of these parallels in dramatic intention and technique leave no doubt that Edward Bond,like many ofhis colleagues in Britain today, has in an important way been influenced by Brecht's modem theatre, which from the late 1950s, has significantly contributed to the renewal of the English stage. In recent years, Bond has defined his dramatic position in the tradition of Brecht's Epic theatre: "The forms of the new drama will be epic," he said in 1982, and emphasized that what he meant by that was not merely a "style" but a "philosophical undertaking.'" Epic drama to Bond, as to Brecht, is a philosophical form of drama, an artistic instrument for analyzing, from the viewpoint of a radical humanism, the objective state of a society, and it becomes a medium of historical truth by "deconstructing" the dominating myths and ideologies of that society. Although the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 352-364
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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