Watching spectatorship and judgment: Trial scenes in Brecht's epic theatre

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Abstract / Description of output

In a landmark judgement in 1923, 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). Such scenes expose deficits in justice that can only be overcome through sociopolitical change. By encouraging the theater audience to critique the spectatorial competencies exhibited–and the judgments reached–by the characters on stage, Brecht’s trial scenes play a crucial role in his attempts to cultivate critical, socially responsible spectatorship through epic theater. His experiments with onstage spectatorship reached a climax in Die Maßnahme (1930), which invites critical scrutiny of the shortsighted ethical spectatorship of the Young Comrade and the farsighted strategic vision of the Communist Party Control Chorus, an audience present on stage throughout the piece. Die Maßnahme provoked lively disagreements at its 1930 premiere and has continued to do so ever since.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-88
JournalColloquia Germanica
VolumeJuly 2023
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023

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