Galileo by Bertolt Brecht: Summary

Galileo by Brecht is based on the real life of the seventeenth century astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei. The play is in fourteen scenes which is a break from the conventional pattern of dividing the play into acts and scenes.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)

The play begins in the morning in the poorly furnished room of Galileo. The time is in 1609 in the city of Padua. Before breakfast, Galileo teaches his disciple Andrea Satri about his newly propounded theory of cosmology. This theory states that the sun is in the center not the earth. It is revealed that he has stolen the design of the telescope and sells it, saying that it is his own invention to the senate of the Venetian republic in order to have money.

He needs more money for his research so he moves to Florence to become the court mathematician. But in the court he does not get any support for this theory, but in Rome his theory is praised by the team of astronomers. Unfortunately, his theory is declared as a heresy by the Holy Office.  It is suspected and feared that the theory of Galileo and his scientific mind may raise question up on the established truth, social system and the religion. Galileo is warned to stop his learning and research and he is sent to the Inquisition.

Because of the Inquisition Galileo has to abandon his research for eight years. He later decides to resume his research, but his would be son in law rejects to marry his daughter saying that he has to uphold his reputation and further clarifies that Galileo’s theory may cause social harm to his reputation. Galileo is called Bible Killer by the people for his new theory. When Galileo publishes some of his findings in Italian, the Florentine court is no longer able to protect him from the Inquisition. Not even Pope Urban VIII, a mathematician himself, is able to prevent Galileo's interrogation. In 1633, under the threat of physical torture, Galileo publicly renounces his new findings. All his students, especially Sarti is upset on his renounce. His disciples see the dawn of the age of reason, fading and criticize him saying coward. Satri said, "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero." Galileo's response expresses the opposite: "Unhappy is the land that needs a hero."

Galileo is put into home arrest as an intellectual prisoner of the Inquisition until his death nine years later. In his silent life in the home arrest, he writes the Discorsi, the sum of his scientific theories and discoveries, but the pages of the manuscript are confiscated by the Church as they are written. Galileo is finally able to hide a copy, which he later hands over to his student Andrea to smuggle out of Italy. In the end, Galileo declares: "I have betrayed my profession. Any man who does what I have done must not be tolerated in the ranks of science."