Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
Galileo is a play about the ethics of modern science and raises the question of a Hippocratic oath for scientists. Galileo’s recantation is presented as his failure as a scientist and a human being; he is portrayed as a glutton and a coward who betrays science and humanity. His failure, Galileo declares in the last scene, has been that he has accumulated knowledge for its own sake, without regard for the primary goal of science—to make human life better. Had he resisted the Inquisition, he might have introduced a code of ethics for scientists. Instead he has pursued learning without consideration of human needs and has left a legacy of knowledge that may be used by those in power against mankind. In his final conversation with his devoted student Andrea Sarti, Galileo warns that eventually scientific research could lead away from the proper goals of mankind. The gulf between the progress of science and the needs of mankind, he says, might grow so wide that the new achievements of science could lead to the destruction of mankind. Galileo considers the new age of science to be a “whore, spattered with blood.” Brecht’s Galileo is conceived as an antihero. There is much ambiguity in his character, but by his own admission, he ends as the villain of the play, regardless of the fact that his research was ultimately rescued.