Galileo by Bertolt Brecht: Introduction

The experimental play Galileo by Bertolt Brecht is about the real historical fact and figure. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) a great physicist and astronomer propounded a theory stating that the earth is not the center of the universe but the sun is. His new scientific findings challenged the then Church authority and their beliefs. So, he had to face the Inquisition and in fear of corporal punishment, he recanted.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)

The play has been set in the Renaissance context of the conflict between reason and faith, religion and science. It depicts the Martyrdom science had to endure when the orthodox Christian dogma perpetrated a limitless injustice against the ray of reason. It presents the conflict between: a faith and scientific skepticism, religion and science, prejudice and free thought deduction and induction.

This play entitled Galileo is an epic-account of Galileo's journey into the Bethlehem of science. It lists a set of scientific truths he happened to invent in his pilgrimage to the promised land of science. Furthermore, it with equal intensity, narrates the conflict between Galileo's scientific truth and the dogmatic truth embrace by the Inquisition. In other words, the conflict between the scientific world-view and Christian - Aristotelian - Ptolemaic world view reigns sovereign at the heart of Brecht's Galileo.

In this conflicting and confrontational relationship between Galileo and the Inquisition, Galileo had to submit to the threatening power of the Inquisition. To prevent the further dissemination of scientific enlightenment, the Inquisition put Galileo in a narrow cage of confinement. By doing so the rigorous Inquisition nipped the scientific enlightenment in the bud. This predicament of Galileo reflects how the dawn of science ended in humiliating fiasco. According to Brecht, had Galileo not recanted, science might have triumphed over the orthodox dogma of Christian Inquisition. But since Galileo recanted, his recantation delayed the birth of scientific enlightenment. Had Galileo not recanted scientific enlightenment might have made its appearance one hundred years earlier. Thus Brecht attributes Galileo's cowardice nature as the sole cause of a century-long delaying of the dawn of scientific enlightenment.

Although Galileo is shown as a figure of science victimized by the institutionalized forces of Christian dogma, he is shown preparing a way for the birth of reason in an indirect Way. In his dimly lit room in confinement Galileo is seen working in his scientific laboratory, however dim sighted he might be. At a nearly final scene, he is seen giving his book about his recently invented truths to Andrea Sarti so that Sarti could secretly take the book to the foreign land for publication. This secret deal between Galileo and Andrea Sarti exemplifies that an individual, no matter how degraded and defeated, can change the erstwhile socio-political structure. In this regard, this play Galileo truly abides by the basic convention and assumptions of epic theatre.

This play is an experimental play not because it was written by an experimental playwright, but because it is subversive in unfolding of the plot in the order of chronology. Dramatic plotting in Galileo does not follow in the footsteps of chronology. The pattern of plotting in Galileo is not chronological. On the contrary, it is archeological, non-chronological and anti-chronological. This non-chronological patterning of the plot has detached Galileo from Aristotelian convention.

Thus the play is modernist both in its theatrical structure and in its thematic intention. Thematically, Galileo demonstrates how a genuine truth embodied by Galileo is brutally distorted in Fascism. Thought distortion goes on, the individual continues to affirm the real nature of the viciously distorted truth. Theatrically also, Galileo gives every impression of being an experimentally innovative and innovatively experimental play.