Galileo Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Galileo also known as The Life of Galileo) is the most heavily reworked of Brecht’s plays, occupying his interim attention during the last nineteen years of his life. He began writing it in German in 1938 while in Denmark, with the great physicist Niels Bohr checking the accuracy of Brecht’s astronomical and physical descriptions. This version was the one produced in Zurich in 1943. After he had moved to Southern California, Brecht befriended the actor Charles Laughton, and from 1944 to 1947 they collaborated on a new version in a unique mixture of mostly German and some English. This new text changes Galileo’s character from that of a guileful hero who recants to safeguard his scientific discoveries to a coward who betrays the truth and later castigates himself for having compromised his scientific calling. The explosion of the first nuclear bombs over Japanese cities strongly affected Brecht’s characterization of his protagonist. The Laughton version, starring Laughton in the central role, was produced in Los Angeles and then in New York in 1947, though with small success. In 1953, Brecht and some members of the Berliner Ensemble created a third version in German, using what they considered to be the best portions of previous texts. This construction was the one staged in 1955; it is generally regarded as the standard text.

Galileo is written in chronicle form, with fifteen scenes taking the scientist from 1609, when he is forty-five, to 1637, when he is seventy-four. In the first scene, he is a lecturer at the University of Padua, living with his daughter Virginia and housekeeper, Mrs. Sarti, whose intelligent son, Andrea, becomes his favorite...

(The entire section is 693 words.)

Galileo Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

It is 1609, and the forty-six-year-old Galileo Galilei, a renowned if impoverished professor of mathematics at the University of Padua in Italy, is forced to live frugally and in humble surroundings despite his taste for luxury and good food. Through it all, he maintains an obvious love of learning. When his housekeeper’s son, Andrea Sarti, brings in a model of the geocentric universe based on the ancient Ptolemaic system, Galileo patiently demonstrates how in actuality the earth orbits around the sun, as had been hypothesized by the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

A young aristocrat named Ludovico Marsili arrives, seeking a tutorship under Galileo. Marsili explains that he had seen primitive telescopes in Amsterdam, where they were being sold in the streets. Galileo sends Andrea out to purchase lenses for his own experiments with the device. He promises Priuli, the curator, that he will soon have something practical to offer the authorities in Venice.

Galileo gives a demonstration of his own improved telescope to the Venetian senators and arsenal artisans; afterward, he has his fourteen-year-old daughter, Virginia, present it to the city as a gift, to be copied and openly sold. Priuli tells Galileo that the gift will improve Galileo’s financial situation. However, the curator visits Galileo and his friend Sagredo to complain that Galileo had deceived the city fathers. A ship from Holland had arrived in Venice and was about to unload a shipment of telescopes to be hawked cheaply on every street corner. After the curator’s indignant exit, Galileo explains to Sagredo what his improved telescope has revealed to him: evidence that there is movement in the previously believed fixed and rigid crystalline spheres of the universe. To Virginia and Sagredo, Galileo announces his intention to move to Florence and seek the patronage and protection of the wealthy and powerful Medici family.

In Florence, Galileo is quickly disappointed by the cautious and politic courtiers of Cosimo de Medici, who is but a boy of nine years. However, Galileo earns a temporary victory when Christopher Clavius, the chief astronomer at the Papal College in Rome, confirms Galileo’s findings. Soon after, Galileo encounters Cardinal Barberini at a masked party and dinner at the home of Cardinal Bellarmin. Barberini (who will later become Pope Urban VIII), takes a practical view of Galileo’s...

(The entire section is 984 words.)