Judging Onstage Spectatorship: Trial Scenes in Brecht's Epic Theatre

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Abstract / Description of output

In a landmark judgement in 1924, the English Lord Chief Justice Hewart declared that it was ‘of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done’. In Brecht’s trial scenes, justice is usually seen not to be done, whether because of rigged trials and witness intimidation ('Arturo Ui'), a legal system biased in favour of the property-owning classes ('Die Ausnahme und die Regel'), or judges’ vested interests ('Der gute Mensch von Sezuan'). In 'Der kaukasische Kreidekreis', Brecht uses Azdak’s disregard for legal process to show the contortions needed to compensate for the structural inequalities of a class-based legal system. These scenes expose deficits in justice that can only be overcome through sociopolitical change, and they encourage the theatre audience to observe and critically evaluate the activity and judgements of onstage spectators. 'Die Maßnahme' is a more complex case: it does not require a theatre audience, and its Communist propaganda might seem to inhibit criticism of the internal Party judicial processes depicted on stage. This paper shows how Brecht’s text and Eisler’s music nevertheless invite performers to critique the spectatorial activity of the Party Control Chorus and debate its judgement.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2019
EventStaging Justice: Trials and the Law on the German Stage (18th-21st Century) - King's College London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Nov 201927 Nov 2019


SymposiumStaging Justice
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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