Die rundköpfe und die spitzköpfe oder reich und reich gesellt sich gern Ein Greuelmärchen: an analysis of Bertolt Brecht’s creative reception of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

This study is an analysis of the creative reception of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure by Bertolt Brecht, whose parable Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe represents the fruit of this literary relationship. Before the investigation of the reception process itself could be undertaken, an interpretation of the model, Measure for Measure, was required. This evolved on the basis of critical commentaries furnished by Shakespearean scholars. The thesis is divided into three major parts, each of which corresponds to a chronological stage of the reception process. The discussion of Measure for Measure and of Brecht’s initial creative response to the Shakespearean original, the fragmentary “Vienna” version, reconstructed by reference to extant plans and archive material, comprises the first part. Part Two commences with an examination of the first of seventeen complete versions deriving in varying degree from Measure for Measure (BBA 253) and concludes with an analysis of the play as contained in the Versuche series, finished shortly before Hitler’s rise to power but not published until 1959. In the final part of the thesis, BBA 257, the first manuscript produced in Danish exile, and the Endfassung, published in the twenty volume Gesammelte Werke by Suhrkamp, are submitted to critical exegesis. Individual analyses, both of the Shakespearean model and of Brechtian manuscripts and published texts, involve all aspects of the drama, not only plot, language and dramatis personae, but also form, theme and structure. The attempt was made to complement this approach by the inclusion of other pertinent or interesting material, such as workplans, notes and the contributions proffered by individuals like Ludwig Berger and Hans Hermann Borchardt. The adopted methodology favoured an investigation of the development by Brecht of key Shakespearean motifs. The three stages of the reception process are distinguishable not only chronologically, but also by virtue of the particular orientation inherent in them. The first phase is overwhelmingly polemical in nature: Brecht, disillusioned by the Elizabethan drama because of its anachronistic political tendencies, attacks the moral world Shakespeare portrays in Measure for Measure. He achieves this mainly by supplying certain actions with a materialist motivation and by allowing figures to mock moral considerations. The Vienna-version is a parody, therefore, and also contains satirical elements. But the polemical aspect outweighs the satirical, and it appears likely that Brecht ceased to work on a Shakespeare parody because this imbalance could not be justified in a time of increasing social unrest. In the second stage of development Brecht renounces his parodic intentions and creates a wholly new play concerned with contemporary German political developments. The protagonist, the racist Angelas, is clearly the dramatic embodiment of Adolf Hitler, and the changes in his character during this stage do not derive from Measure for Measure, but from Brecht’s political analysis. Throughout this period of work Brecht endeavours to grasp the phenomenon of Fascism in its racist form. In the early manuscripts the Fascist Angelas is portrayed as a tool wielded by the ruling class to introduce monetary reforms. Later he is depicted as an agent of finance capital ideologically suited to wage their struggle against the Communist threat. In the final stage of development Brecht continues to make politically motivated adjustments to his text, but the playwright’s central concern is now with the theatrical reception of his work. He rearranges, deletes from, and adds to, his play with the intention of rendering its message more easily accessible to the spectator of Brechtian theatre. One of his main methods is the inclusion of alienation effects such as songs and a prologue. This analysis of creative reception demonstrates, finally, the inappropriateness of criticism of Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe and its apparently inadequate reflection of German political reality by reference to Brecht’s presumed inability to free himself of Shakespearean influence. A consideration of Brecht’s radically new, unique treatment of several Shakespearean motifs reveals that he was a poetic genius by no means inferior to his Elizabethan forbear. Those, conversely, who find fault with Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe on purely political grounds ignore the fact that Brecht’s primary intention was not to reflect the contemporary German political scene, but to create a Marxist parable. The Vienna-version, edited in accordance with the textual format of the 1967 Gesammelte Werke by Suhrkamp, has been appended to the thesis.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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