The Good Person of Szechwan

by Bertolt Brecht

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Student Question

Identify four ways Brecht's epic theatre separates the audience from The Good Person of Szechwan.

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Crucial to Brecht's conception of epic theatre was his idea that the audience had to be alienated from the main action within the play so that they could focus more easily on the social messages and themes of the play. It is much easier to focus on issues such as injustice and poverty when you are not overwhelmed with emotion which cloud your judgement and make it difficult to think clearly. Brecht therefore sought to alienate the audience from the main action of the play through the following strategies.

This play contains a number of monologues where the characters, sometimes in the middle of conversations with other characters, suddenly turn and engage the audience. Note, for example, the way in which Shu Fu talks to the audience about his courting of Shen Teh and how he plans to do it, asking their opinion:

What do you think of me, ladies and gentlemen? Could one do more? Could one be more unselfish? More delicate? More far-sighted?

The content of such moments tell the audience what is going to happen and reveal the character's feelings about these events, that help the audience focus on the messages behind those events. In the first and final monologues, the most important in the play, the audience is directly addressed again, with the final monologue featuring a metafictional apology as an actor apologises for the lack of a neat ending, focusing the fiction on itself. In the same way, the various songs in the play are used by Brecht to add a touch of the unreal to the play and to present his ideas and messages. All of these elements combine to form Brecht's notion of epic theatre as the audience is distanced from the action within the play and encouraged to focus on the message and themes.

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