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Brecht’s Life of Galileo as an Examination of Key Life Events of a Great Physicist

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The Eyes of Knowledge

Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo portrays key incidents within the life of the great Italian physicist, Galileo Galilei. Throughout reading this play, it’s easy to discover the play’s central concern between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church. The scientist’s “unorthodox” discoveries about the solar system cast a terrible light upon him from the Inquisition and led to his theories being silenced by the Church. It gives the impression that Galileo’s hypothesis, that place the sun at the centre of the Universe, did not correspond with how to Church felt the sun, the moon, and the stars were positioned in the sky. They realised that the new findings would demolish their concept of the Universe and threatened the teachings which they advocated and followed. Ultimately, the Roman Catholic Church was successful in silencing Galileo, as the preservation of their power was their top priority.

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Galileo spent his entire life trying to solve the mysteries of the world, and by writing his findings down in a series of books and journals, he hoped that future generations would continue his research to keep the thirst for knowledge alive. That is why he continued to teach Andrea about the universe and his latest discovery for Andrea represented who Galileo was writing science for. He believed that science was for everyone and not just nobles or the clergy. Scene fourteen gives a hint of what Galileo was trying to accomplish before his sudden death by Andrea passing on the knowledge he collected within his life to the next generation.

At this moment, Andrea has collected his things, along with Galileo’s book ‘The Discorsi’, and is attempting to get across the Italian border. The set would be simple to represent an open space like the Italian countryside. A treadmill would be placed along down stage, running from left to right, so when Andrea is “crossing the border”, it will look as if he is travelling thousands of miles. Entering stage right, Andrea would proceed forward until a Guard approaches him to see if he can pass or not. After the Guard gives him permission to go across border lines, the Guard and boy would then walk towards downstage left, while the treadmill is moving, making it look like Andrea is the one moving the entire time.

A few moments later, a girl will enter causing Andrea to stop. Andrea would pass along his wisdom to the little girl before continuing to cross the border. At this moment, the treadmill will not come back on so that when Andrea starts to walk off stage, he would fully leave.

Lighting would have to be the second most important part when one wants to create a scene. The reason light is so important, it that it lets the audience know what time of the day, or night, that it is taking place. The light I would use for this scene would be one of a sunset. Having Andrea across the board at sunset can symbolise the end of one life and the beginning of a new. The sun would be a dull white light, but as the scene progresses, it would continue to get duller until Andrea is almost entirely off the stage at which time the scene will go completely dark. The placement of the lights helps in separating modern theatre from the ‘epic’ theatre. In modern theatre, the lights are hidden to keep the connection between the actors and audience intact. With ‘epic’ theatre, the lights are positioned in front of the public as a constant reminder that they are watching a play.

Music and song are used within epic theatre to help in expressing the play’s themes more independent from the main spoken text throughout the play. Music was also used to help defuse emotions, rather than intensifying them as we see in the modern-day theatre. The music that would be utilised within this scene would begin soft and gentle, which is playing off the calm demeanour that Andrea is portraying, while the Guard is searching through his cart.

Since this is the final scene of the play, it would make sense that there would be a limited number of props used by the characters. For the Guard, he would have a helmet, sword resting in its holder, and a shield on his arm. It would make sense for the Guard to be armed at his post since he is the only person to whom grants people passage into and out of the country. There are two children within the scene so it would make sense to have them playing together at the border since the scene description informs us of that. When the little boy confronts Andrea, he will hold a toy in his hands to demonstrate the playful gestures. Later, when the little girl faces Andrea before he leaves, she would most likely not have a toy in her hands so she can point towards Galileo’s book that in resting within the trunk.

Andrea would be the only character were a multitude of props within this scene would be needed. Upon entering the scene, he is pulling a cart full of personal belongings including a trunk full of books. When Galileo’s book is pulled out, it is wrapped in a cloth to keep it from being destroyed. However, having it covered in a ratty cloth makes the book seem worthless and helps to deceive the Guard so Andrea may cross the border without delay.

Costuming for a character within epic theatre is simple and to the point instead of having racks and racks of pieces for just one character. Since Andrea was Galileo’s assistant, it would make sense that he would dress nicely but still show that he is not a noble, despite his vast knowledge. Andrea would wear a white shirt, brown pants, and a brown vest. Simple but can be worn for any occasion.

The Guard would be dressed in a uniform that would representation as to what side he is fighting for. The combination would stick to bright colours. He would be dressed in red puffy pants, blue stockings, and a blue shirt. This mix of colours would act as an excellent contrast with the silver helmet, sword, and shield. Children at this time would be dressed simple but still able to show class like everyone else within this play. The costume for the little boy would be like Andrea since they would most likely be the same quality status. His costume would be a pair of blue, puffy pants, a white long-sleeve shirt, and a blue vest. There would be little dirt stains on the knees of the pants and a few the sleeve of the shirt to show that he has been playing on the ground for some time. The little girl would be dressed to the same status as both the little boy and Andrea. Her costume would be a floor-length, pink dress with white trim. Her hair would be pulled back into braids so that the audience can see her face.

Character interactions and relationships assist in setting up a play’s plot line and can help determine the outcome of some events. Even a scene with four characters in it will have different connections between one character and another. Andrea would be the one character who has the most connections to each of these characters within the scene.

Firstly, Andrea’s connection to the Guard is one of respect but also discernment. When the Guard stops him at the border, he treats the Guard with utmost respect; However, by using his advanced knowledge to trick the Guard into believing Galileo’s book to be a worthless piece of work from Aristotle. Secondly, Andrea’s connection to the Boy is one of fairy tales. When Andrea tries to cross the border, he informs him “not to wait long. There’s a witch lives here. She flies through the air at night” (pg. 79). He can also represent the children of the past who would believe anything they were told without doing the research themselves. And finally, Andrea’s connection to the girl is one of potential. For she is always asking the adults in the scene for the truth behind situations. The first, is when she asks “can people fly through the air?” (pg. 80); However, she has been shoved aside. The second is when Andrea has finally crossed the border, and she states “box is gone now. It was the devil.” (pg. 80); Nevertheless, this time she is not shoved aside.

Andrea explains to her how the box moved from one side of the border to the other. He also answers her previous question as to “can people fly through the air?” (pg. 80) which he intends to start the little gears in her head moving in hopes science will find the answer someday.

Epic theatre was created to be a reaction against popular and modern forms of theatre, particularly the naturalistic approach. One of the goals of epic theatre is for the audience always to be aware that they are watching a play and not to get sucked into the story realm. Brecht episodes, his word for scenes, would be simple and to the point. He would attempt to show everyday events and social situations that ordinary people wouldn’t even think over, by shoving it in their face to make them look. This play is demonstrating how important knowledge is to a growing society and how we shouldn’t let someone, let alone a Church, tell us what we can and cannot believe in. In doing the scene in this manner, it would fulfil Brecht’s criteria for an ‘epic’ theatre.

Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo portrays key incidents within the life of the great Italian physicist, Galileo Galilei. Throughout reading this play, it’s easy to discover the play’s central concern between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church. The scientist’s “unorthodox” discoveries about the solar system cast a terrible light upon him from the Inquisition and led to his theories being silenced by the Church. It gives the impression that Galileo’s supposal, that place the sun at the centre of the Universe, did not correspond with how to Church felt the sun was positioned.

They realised that the new findings would demolish this notion of the Universe and threatened the teachings which they advocated and followed. Ultimately, they Roman Catholic Church was successful in silencing Galileo, as the preservation of their power was their top priority.

Galileo spent his entire life trying to solve the mysteries of the world, writing it down in a book, and taught the next generation to keep the desire of science alive within the next generation. Brecht has expressed this through his play and reminds that the saying “knowledge is power” is more true then the stars themselves.

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