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Bertolt Brecht and George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer Albert Wertheim What is most astonishing to any Anglo-German comparativist about Bertolt Brecht is not simply the impressive breadth of his reading in English literature but what English works seem to have caught his attention. When, for example, one considers Shakespeare’s most powerful and probing dramas, Coriolanus is certainly not among the first that springs to mind. Likewise, Edward II has not, until recent years, been ranked with Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine as a major Marlovian tragedy. There is, in fact, reason to believe that Brecht’s 1924 version of Edward II has had not a little to do with the rather sudden new interest on the part of both producers and literary critics toward Chris­ topher Marlowe’s once nearly forgotten chronicle play. The relationship between Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper and John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera presents a curiosity of another kind. To English audiences and to students of English literature, Gay’s eighteenth-century ballad opera is no recondite work; for, des­ pite the initial misgivings of as shrewd a producer as Colley Cibber, who turned down Gay’s piece in favor of a first play by a new author named Henry Fielding, Gay and his producer John Rich soon found that they had an unprecedented hit on their hands. And indeed, The Beggar’s Opera continues to hold its own on the English stage. Nonetheless, it comes as something of a shock that a member of the Scriblerian Club like Gay, whose ballad opera, like many works of his fellow club members, satirizes very specifically corruption in eighteenth-century Lon­ don under the Walpole government, could have had a profound effect upon a twentieth-century writer like Brecht. Perhaps the most astounding case of Brecht’s reliance upon English drama is one to which almost no attention has been paid: Brecht’s 179 180 Comparative Drama 1955 adaptation of George Farquhar’s 1706 comedy The Re­ cruiting Officer under the title Pauken und Trompeten. Far­ quhar’s comedy, though an excellent one and though occasion­ ally revived by repertory and college companies, remains a play esteemed primarily by that rara avis, the eighteenth-century drama specialist. Nor can The Recruiting Officer, like perhaps Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserved, boast any sort of under­ ground reputation among the cognoscenti of dramaturgy. More­ over, unlike Brecht’s other selections from English literature, it lacks the epic theatre potential that is patently present in Edward II and Coriolanus. In short, The Recruiting Officer is, at first glance, hardly the sort of play one would expect to have appeal for a modern German epic playwright. Placing Far­ quhar’s comedy alongside Brecht’s Pauken und Trompeten, how­ ever, we soon realize what attracted Brecht to the 250 year-old play; and we can see, too, Brecht’s version as a sensitive critical statement on Farquhar’s play, finding in it, and enlarging upon, a social commentary that is there in latent, muted form. The Brecht bibliographers label Pauken und Trompeten an “adaptation.”! This is something of a misnomer, for Brecht has changed the time of the play from the Wars of the Spanish Suc­ cession and the Battle of Blenheim to the American Revolution and Bunker Hill, he has expanded widely one of the play’s plots, and he has added several new significant characters. Pauken und Trompeten is more than a modem face-lifting for The Recruit­ ing Officer; as the rubric “adaptation” suggests, it is almost as much a new play from old materials as Die Dreigroschenoper is. George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer is a clever and witty comedy which evokes its humor and gentle satire largely from the analogous action of its two plots. In the one, the re­ sourceful Captain Plume and his equally able sergeant, Kite, arrive in Shrewsbury to enlist young men for Her Majesty’s army. In the other plot, two nubile young ladies, Silvia and Melinda, employ their own resourcefulness to lead Captain Plume and his gentleman friend Worthy to the marriage altar. The play is neatly structured around the comparison between the devices of the military high pressure...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 179-190
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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