Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542
Baal (bahl), a poet, named for a Semitic-Phoenician god. He embodies the vitality and amorality of the fertility principle the god represented. The god’s association with storms and with the life-giving properties of water is reflected in the violence and fleetingness of Baal’s passions. In the moral sphere, Baal...
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Baal (bahl), a poet, named for a Semitic-Phoenician god. He embodies the vitality and amorality of the fertility principle the god represented. The god’s association with storms and with the life-giving properties of water is reflected in the violence and fleetingness of Baal’s passions. In the moral sphere, Baal is exploitive, murderous, and prone to drunkenness. He is tied to no human or ethical obligation. In the natural sphere, he insists on enjoying the pleasures and richness of the world.
Ekart (EH-kahrt), a composer, a bear of a man who entices Baal to follow him into the forest and become his lover. Although it is his animalistic nature that attracts Baal, he is vulnerable to social ties, as evidenced by his sympathy for and desire to care for Sophie and his commitment to composing a Mass. His resistance to Baal’s domination inevitably provokes the rage in which Baal murders him.
Johannes Schmidt (yoh-HAHN-nehs shmiht), Baal’s friend, a young man bound by convention and propriety. He cannot consummate his desire for Johanna because he is afraid of her innocence and the social consequences. After her death, he fades into a drunken wraith of his former self.
Johanna Reiher (yoh-HAHN-nah RI-hehr), Johannes’ fiancée, a seventeen-year-old virgin. She is at once repulsed by and drawn to Baal. Overcome by shame and fear after Baal seduces her and then tells her that she means no more to him than any other woman’s body, she runs from his room and drowns herself in the river Laach.
Sophie Barger, another virgin, who is dragged by Baal into his room. Although she protests his advances, she is unable to resist his allure. While pregnant, she follows Baal and Ekart into the woods. When Ekart offers to care for her if she will deny her love for Baal, she refuses and is abandoned in the forest. She is almost totally defined by her sensuality, which lures her into Baal’s arms, provokes her into pregnancy, and prohibits her from repudiating her love for Baal.
Mech, a timber tycoon and publisher who is interested in financing the publication of Baal’s poems until Baal begins to seduce his wife, Emily. Mech’s exploitation of nature—especially his destruction of trees, which are a symbol of life in the play—and his gluttonous consumption of food indicate that his interest in Baal’s poetry is an attempt to devour his energy.
Emily Mech, his wife, who attracts Baal’s attention with her beautiful white arms, which she shows off to advantage when she plays the harmonium. Although Baal treats her with contempt once he is tired of her, she remains enthralled by her desire for him.
Dr. Piller, a critic who brings Baal together with Mech. Although appreciative of Baal’s poetry, he is repulsed by his behavior.
Mjurk (myurk), who owns the Night Cloud, a small café. He hires Baal to sing, but when he refuses to supply the poet with any more brandy, Baal breaks his contract by escaping through the toilet. Mjurk’s inability to maintain any control over Baal parallels Mech’s earlier failure to co-opt the poet.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 257
Bentley, Eric. “Baal.” In The Brecht Commentaries 1943-1980. New York: Grove Press, 1981. Describes Baal as a pleasure-seeker, part monster and part martyr in a world of nothingness. Suggests that the mythic elements in the play will become increasingly important to critical understanding of the play.
Hayman, Ronald. Brecht: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Hayman intertwines a study of Brecht’s life with a critical view of his work. Traces the inception of Baal, Brecht’s collaboration with Caspar Neher, and the subsequent revisions of the play.
Hill, Claude. “Praise Ye the Cold, the Darkness, and Corruption!” In Bertolt Brecht. Boston: Twayne, 1975. In this chapter, discussing Baal and five other early works, Hill reveals the influences leading to Brecht’s writing the play and points out that there were multiple drafts, resulting in three distinctly different versions.
Speirs, Ronald. “Baal.” In Critical Essays on Bertolt Brecht, edited by Siegfried Mews. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. Speirs connects Baal with the cult of vitality and modern paganism as represented by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Dionysus and the playwright Frank Wedekind’s Lulu. He explores how Baal experiences life’s transience as both a threat of death and a source of pleasure.
Weideli, Walter. “To Live Here.” In The Art of Bertolt Brecht, translated by Daniel Russell. New York: New York University Press, 1963. In Baal Weideli sees Brecht’s dialectical intuition, which links decay to existence and attempts to convert destruction into productive energy. The play, rather than presenting an ideal, follows an example to its absurd conclusion.