Despite telling the tale of a famous philosopher and scientist in the seventeenth century, Bertolt Brecht’s play Galileo was actually written in the 1940s. The unusual content choice immediately intrigued me when I was initially assigned this play for my Introduction to Literature class last semester, but it made complete sense once I finished reading it. In fact, the connection between its mid-twentieth century conception and seventeen century subject matter quickly became one of my favorite aspects of this play.
Bertolt was undoubtedly influenced by World War II and the rise of the atomic bombs while writing Galileo, and evidence of this impact is alluded to throughout the play. There is a constant underlying discussion of the conflict between science and religion in Galileo’s time, which then reflects the moral dilemma facing people involved with the twentieth century atomic bombs. I think this discussion is fascinating, especially when viewed through the lens of WWII. People feared the atomic bombs, just as people in Galileo’s time shunned his innovative scientific theories. They didn’t want to believe that the Solar System was not geocentric (everything revolving around Earth) because that would contradict the teachings of the church. Galileo, on the other hand, insisted that the Solar System was heliocentric, meaning that the sun was its center. I think this focus on fear of change may also reflect Brecht’s own views of the atomic bomb, suggesting that perhaps he opposed it for similar reasons.
Galileo is also an early example of epic theatre– a term I had never even heard of before discussing this play in class. In short, Brecht has tried to go against the traditional conventions of theatre by various methods: the use of an anti-hero, descriptions at the beginning and ending of scenes, a focus on past events that are already set in stone, etc. I think that Galileo himself is a great example of epic theatre because he is certainly not what we would expect of a traditional hero. He is greedy and unlikable, and in a moment that could have sealed his position as a martyr for his cause he acts in a way that is viewed as cowardly. As a reader I was frustrated by Galileo at times, but on the whole it was actually refreshing to read about a character that didn’t fit the usual hero role.
Overall, I think that Galileo is a great play and one that is perfect for class discussions and encouraging deeper thought regarding the conflict between science and religion. It holds a lot of potential as a catalyst for countless debates and deliberations, making this play a very thought-provoking read. However, despite all of praise I’ve given it I must admit that it didn’t “wow” me or really “click” with me in any significant way. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a worthwhile and valuable read!
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, if they were particularly interested in Galileo’s time period, his scientific theories, theatre, or maybe even WWII.
Have you read or seen this play before? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!