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Analysis Of “Life Of Galileo” By Berthold Brecht

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Brecht’s play, Life of Galileo, shows a journey of hardships and struggles faced by Galileo as he tries to build to make the society understand and come to believe the truth about the Earth. The play shows an interesting view into the typical common man’s mentality in the society, who finds himself incapable of being open enough to believe or understand new theories or ideas, or even if they do, they are easily shaken away from their belief because they do not have the courage to stand up for it.

In this scene, we are shown two previous characters, the formal Cardinal Barberini and the Cardinal Inquisitor. As the scene progresses we are shown a greater look into how threatened the Church feels by the theories and scientific revelations of Galileo. Even though Cardinal Barberini tries to be supportive, it becomes increasingly clear in the scene that the Inquisitor has paid the visit only to remind the new, open minded Pope about his duties to the Church.

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In Scene 7, we can remember in one the dialogues of Cardinal Barberini, he said,

‘Can one go up on hot coals and his feet not be burned?’, as a quote from the Scriptures as Galileo had previously used one saying,

“But a broken spirit drieth the bones. Doth wisdom not cry?”

This is a predetermining dialogue which showed us that even though the Pope was quite sympathetic to the theories and work of Galileo, he was still a man of the Church at the end of the day, and his quote from the scripture about hot coals, and being burnt showed a subtle hint into how he felt about crossing too many lines with religion. This shows a huge similarity to the punishment previous scientists had received for speaking about the Earth being a star, and not being the center of the Universe.

At the end of scene 11, we are left completely unsure of what exactly has happened. A small hint to what is coming in the next scene is given when the Cardinal Inquisitor crosses paths with Galileo and gives him a deep bow. As audience we are left to wonder and stay curious about what next will happen to Galileo, and exactly what the Church will do him as a consequence of trying to give his book.

At the starting of Scene 12, we are more aware that the Inquisitor is out to trap Galileo and stop him from pursuing his line of research and giving it to the people. We are made aware that the Inquisitor has deep resentment for him as he gives argument to the Pope about how he feels that the logic between the science and the religion cannot stay in harmony. This gives us a look into the typical thinking of all of the Church’s people who followed religion blindly. Here, we see as the audience how much the Church fears the establishment of Galileo’s theories because it not only threatens the power of the church, which is very important for them to keep manipulating their own people in the name of God. This can be seen more clearly as the Inquisitor uses a quote from Aristotle,

“Once the Shuttle weaves by itself and the plectrum plays the zither with its own accord, then masters would need no apprentice and lords no servants”

This quote establishes the Church’s own selfish needs from the people, which is to keep them thinking that they need to the Church to carry on their daily tasks or get ahead in life. In turn, we see how the Church needs the people more than the people need it.

It is in this scene that Galileo’s fate is not only decided but sealed, as the Pope’s word is final. At the starting of the scene, the Pope is appreciative of the work done by Galileo and does not wish to have the multiplication board broken, but in the end of the scene, the audience can establish how the inquisitor has manipulated the Pope into taking the matter into a different perspective. In this Perspective, the Pope is left to believe that if he chooses to side with Galileo and his theories as blindly as before, he would be held as the most important person responsible for the Church’s failing. It shows the audience how the Pope cannot make a decision he knows which is correct based on his own understanding as an astronomer because of his own selfish motives to remain a respectable Pope who is not hated by the people as the Inquisitor manipulates him to believe.

It is also shown in this Scene that regardless of whether the Inquisitor makes a compelling argument towards the punishment of Galileo, it is made even more obvious that the Church would have had to refrain from supporting Galileo because it would indirectly have meant accepting that the Church was wrong about the Earth. Accepting this, would have given way to the religion being disproved. This can be seen in the Scene as the Inquisitor mentions how Galileo’s start charts are being demanded by North Italian ports for their ships. This gives the audience a sense into exactly what a difficult the Church was also put in.

Along with this, it can be seen how this scene is quite cognitively dissonant by the new Pope and his outlook on the whole situation, it make seem that the Pope is quite unusual with his beliefs and finds himself in a very confusing situation. The audience can now see how the Church is manipulating one of its own by using the power of the society as the Inquisitor goes on to mention how rumours have spread about the Pope and his plans to join the protestant Christians in Sweden and how the paintings he has used are becoming open to criticism as well. This begins to set up a new motive for the Pope when it comes to making his decisions, and he bases them on how he would like to be treated as the new Pope, trying to give Galileo the very least punishment than he could be offered.

The Inquisitor, a smart man, knowing that the new replacement would give special rights to Galileo because of his unorthodox thinking and love for astronomy, begins to sow in the seeds for the all the traps that he has already set for Galileo since the last few years, as we see in Scene 7, and how at the end he takes note of the conversations between Cardinal Barberini and Cardinal Bellarmin, along with having a discussion with Virginia, about her father. In a lot of places, he can be seen going against all the things that Galileo stands for, as he says,

“Ever since they began voyaging across the seas- and I’ve got nothing against that- they have placed their faith in a brass ball they call a compass, not in God.”

This shows exactly how much he opposes the advancement of all things and regards it to be useless, while Galileo would have believed it would be a step towards advancement and modernity. Therefore he is an opposing personality to him, and gives the audience a different argument than presented before by Galileo in all other scenes.

Brecht’s careful construction of the scene and the stream of events and arguments give the audience a very convincing argument towards why the Church chooses the fate they do for Galileo. It shows them the view of the Church for the first time, by two important figures of the church.

A very important part of the scene is the constant shifting of steps which indicate the unbearable, yet very unavoidable sound of the people outside the room, who keeps the audience reminded that no decision can be made without keeping the consideration of keeping them completely happy. They symbolize the society and the thinking of the society.

This scene plays a role in making the decision of what would happen to Galileo’s work. While the play itself focuses on the theme of the society being very stubborn and oblivious to the work done by Galileo because it was so new and went against everything they believed in, the greater theme and argument present throughout the play is that concerning the one between science and religion and this scene plays a pivotal part in reaching the final conclusion that science could not coexist with religion at the time. It also plays a very big part in making Galileo a traitor to his pupils, because of the clever antics of the Inquisitor who knows too well that no matter how passionate the man may be, he is after all, a man of flesh.

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