The Good Person of Szechwan

by Bertolt Brecht

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Student Question

Why does Shen Te ask the audience for help in the conclusion of The Good Person of Szechwan, and how does this support Brecht's theory of "distancing effects"?

Quick answer:

At the conclusion of The Good Person of Szechwan, the character Shen Te turns to the audience for help because the gods have departed and asks the audience’s forgiveness for the presentation. By ending the play in this way, author Bertolt Brecht supports his theory of “distancing effects” by reminding the audience of the artificiality of the specific play and of theater in general.

Expert Answers

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The conclusion of The Good Person of Szechwan brings together the character Shen Te and the actor playing the character in an Epilogue directed to the audience. The gods have taken leave of Shen Te because they can be of no further assistance. Shen Te reminds the audience that what they have seen is a performance and hopes they will be indulgent and forgiving. Rather than neatly tie up all the loose ends, Bertolt Brecht wants to alert the audience that the substance of a play is like that of real life, but at the same time he wants to remind them of the artificiality of the presentation.

The idea of Verfremdungseffekt in German, usually translated as "distancing effect" in English, is central to Brecht’s philosophy of theater. He deliberately wanted to enforce the sense of alienation between the play and the audience, who should not be lulled into feeling that they were there to be passively entertained. This awareness was partly created by drawing the audience into the performance via the staging, which eliminated the “fourth wall” of proscenium theater. The epilogue of the play is consistent with the frequent monologues within it, which Shen Te directs at the audience to share her confidences and thereby reinforcing that the playwright does not aim for realism.

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