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Galileo
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 1999
When is it wrong to tell the truth? As in many of Bertolt Brecht's plays, the author uses historical analogies to address the social and political problems of his own time. I the case of Galileo, Brecht saw a simularity between the physicist's submitting to the Church authorities' demand for recanation with the situation in WWII Germany in which the scientists were turning over their knowledge to aid the Nazi effort. Galileo is considered a masterpiece and one of the most relevant plays of the 20th century, and I agree. I beleive Galileo was a remarkable play and deserves to be enjoyed by people all over the world
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 5, 2008
Recently, the American Psychological Association discovered, to its general embarrassment, that a good number its members had collaborated with Pentagon- and CIA-sponsored torturers--or practitioners of "enhanced interrogation." The psychologists had provided expert advice about levels of endurance, psychological techniques for cracking resistance, and so on.

To its credit, the APA formally condemned such collaboration. But the whole sordid incident reminds us (as if we need reminding) that when men and women of science allow their knowledge to be misused, either out of cowardice or misguided patriotism, science can become a horrible tool for exploitation and destruction. This, in a nutshell, is the central theme of Brecht's second version of "Galileo."

The play is one of Brecht's best. Written with a nondidactic hand, the play is anything but dreary socialist realism. At times funny and at other times incredibly sad, the sober message that it is the scientist's responsibility to make sure that his or her discoveries are used properly runs throughout. In abjuring his physics under threats from the Inquisition, Brecht's Galileo displays moral cowardice: first, because he allows established power to usurp his discoveries, and second because he lets down the people who could most profit from his specific discoveries as well as the spirit of unfettered inquiry that generated them. As Galileo says at one point in the play, "The practice of science would seem to call for valor."

Several reviewers have remarked that the introduction by Eric Bentley is long-winded and have accordingly reduced their rating for the book. This strikes me as odd for two reasons. First, presumably one purchases "Galileo" to read Brecht, not attached commentary. If the commentary is good, that's just a bonus. But the center of attention surely is the play itself. Second, for all his long-windedness, Bentley's thesis is cogent and, I think, important: that historical drama properly seeks to shed light on its own time by appealing to past events. It's not important that Brecht reinvents Galileo for his play. After all, he isn't writing history. What's significant is the way in which Galileo becomes a symbol that can shed light on our own understanding of science and moral responsibility. Truth ought never to be reduced simply to fact.
_________
* Galileo's final self-judgment, Scene 13 (p. 124).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2014
This is an excellent play which can be read quickly in a few hours. The play is preceded by an introduction by Eric Bentley which I will also review. Following the play is an appendix where Brecht elaborates on five aspects of telling the truth which are relevant to the play and make an interesting commentary following the play.

Bertolt Brecht uses the life of Galileo to comment upon his own times and conditions but it is the strength of the play that it would and could reflect upon the entire human condition and situations where a new truth challenges a well established ideology.

The story is well established in history that Galileo discovered various aspects around the movement of the planets and the moon which challenged Christian orthodoxy, he is allowed some flexibility by the church in recognition of his status, but eventually he is forced to recount his writings as fictitious and not reflective of the larger truth taught by Christianity. It is to Brecht’s great credit that the Cardinals, Pope, Bishop, and inquisitors are for the most part portrayed as highly educated, sophisticated men who greatly appreciated how a challenge to Christian orthodoxy could be the first step in undermining the entire conceptual faith model that Christianity had built over a period of 1000 years. To allow that the earth revolves around the sun opens up the possibility that there was not a virgin birth or a resurrection, concepts on which Christianity hangs. Galileo was up against wise men, not fools, and they were strong defenders of the Christian conceptual model and the infrastructure of the church which is built upon that conceptual foundation.

There are some interpretations of the play, which are certainly as valid as my interpretation, that the play is about how scientists may be used by the political powers to do harm rather than to do good to mankind. The problem I have with this interpretation is that often scientists have no idea all of the potential uses of the science they produce. Once knowledge is developed and released, it is actually out of the control of the scientist and he or she cannot stop the use of that knowledge for bad ends. It is actually rare for a scientist to make a discovery and immediately realize how it might be put to criminal or evil ends, thus requiring the scientist to hide the truth. The concept as to whether it is possible to hide truth is explored in the final scenes of the play when Galileo reveals that while appearing to bow to the authority of the Church, he has been writing a book that challenges the prevailing concepts of the cosmos.

When a system of truth, such as Christianity, becomes fully institutionalized, then there is considerable force and energy expended to support that truth system. The Roman Catholic Church is an outstanding example of this in that the truth they support has been fine tuned so that all parts run smoothly and thus a challenge to any part of the well oiled conceptual machinery is a threat to the entire conceptual machine. Notice that the Princes of the Church are very sophisticated and Galileo treats them as such. Galileo knows he must comply with their demands, he does so, is allowed to live in peace, while secretly he continues his work and especially his writing which he knows will live on past him. The disgust that Galileo expresses toward himself seems to be less about the fact that science may be used or misused and rather is related to wounded pride and ego that he has been put in the position of having to hide his work and perform outward humility toward a system that he doubts is valid. What good would have come of it had Galileo refused to cooperate and been tortured and possibly burned at the stake? This would have made his oppressors appear more inhumane but it does nothing to move truth forward. Science is a social construct to a degree but empiricism and observability are on its side which tilts the scales toward eventual dissemination of knowledge and building a social infrastructure around that truth system.

One reviewer indicated that Galileo demonstrates moral cowardice in that he allowed the power structure to crush him into recanting his work and that he also denied those who could benefit from his work. Maybe this is what Brecht meant, but I certainly think the issue is more complex. Galileo, like many brilliant persons, recognized fully the cognitive gifts he had been given and thus his torture and executive would be to no good purpose. His deal with the forces of oppression bought him time in which to fully explore.

The introduction by Eric Bentley is very interesting and the fact that Brecht wrote two endings of the play is fascinating and certainly supports the multiple lessons or meanings that can be obtained from his play. I wish both versions of the play were published here since Brecht’s struggle with this play and the messages he wished to convey would be fascinating reading. It is the final version, which was published and seen by the public in dramatic performances that is published here.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2007
The pressures that the established order can bring to bear on those who want to move outside the status quo are enormous. In the end those in charge can grind down the best of men with the most worthy knowledge to disseminate. That is the story that the master communist playwright Bertolt Brecht brings here about the pressures to recant brought on Galileo by the Catholic Church in the 1500's. And for what crime? For merely bringing out facts about the nature of the world and its place in the universe that are taken as commonplaces, even by children, today.

Brecht himself certainly knew about such pressures. Although in public, at least, Brecht was a fairly orthodox Stalinist he had his private moments of doubt. Certainly some of the themes in his plays stretch the limits of the orthodox `socialist realist' cultural program. Thus the strongest part of the play is the struggle between an individual who is onto something new about the world and an institution that saw that such a discovery would wreak havoc on its claims to centrality. Every once in a while a section of humankind turns inward on itself like that and here the Church was no exception. Damn, the fight against such obscurantism is the price that we pay for some sense of human progress. Except, as in the case of the Catholic Church, it should not have taken 300 years to admit the error. Know this. We have to defend the Galileos of the world against the rise of obscurantism. And in this play Brecht has done his part to honor that commitment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2012
This plays shows us what heroes are made of, using one of the greatest thinkers all time as an example of a person who could have made a much greater impact, had he not been "shown the instruments" of torture and then chose to save his own skin rather than humanity's.

This book is as relevant today as it was more than a half century ago. It behooves any serious thinker to read it and learn from it.
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22 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Bertolt Brecht, Galileo (Grove Press, 1952)

Publishers who put out "literature" (perhaps I should capitalize the L) have felt it necessary for the past half-century or so to include long-winded dissections of the texts as a part of their editions. No mind is paid, seemingly, to whether these long-winded dissections contain major plot spoilers (they almost always do). Add Eric Bentley's interminable preface to the Grove Press edition of Brecht's Galileo to the list. Perhaps Grove assumes anyone reading the thing will either have already read the play or will be so turned off by Belntley's wooden prose style that they won't read far enough to get to the spoilers. My advice: go the second route. And book publishers, if you're putting essays in your editions, PLEASE put them AFTER the actual text, so the novice reader of a given work will be able to approach it without the coloring of another reader's analysis.

Bentley spends forty-odd pages discussing the historical inaccuracies of Brecht's Galileo and the two extant versions of the text (though Bentley says both are presented in the Grive edition, this is not the case; from his comments, I gather this is the second version of the play, completed after WW2 [the first was completed in 1937]). Bentley goes on forever about the socialist qualities of Galileo, and whether the scientist makes a worthy Marxist hero, both in the reader's eyes and in Brecht's. Whether anyone outside those writing a paper for a Marxist lit class would care doesn't seem to have crossed his mind. Brecht is one of the few authors who is capable of taking a political statement and couching it in such writing as to make the statement itself visible only to those looking for it; Galileo's Marxism, or lack of same, doesn't hit the reader in the face with a dead herring (or a dropped pebble, as 'twere) throughout the text. Commendable, especially for as fervent a Marxist as was Brecht. Here is a man who never let the message overtake the medium, and scads of modern authors could do with repeated readings of this text to get a handle on what it is they're doing wrong.

Bentley aside, the play itself is certainly worth the reader's time. Galileo is presented from the time of his first findings with which Mother Church took offense until twenty years after his recantation. While the play mainly focuses on Galileo and how his own views toward his work affect him and those around him, we're not allowed to go away without understanding how those views also affected the Italian society around him; as with all things, the subversion to be found in Galileo's discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun instead of vice-versa seeps into the public mind, much to the Church's dismay. But at its heart, the play is about the man himself and those around him. Galileo himself, historically accurate or not, is a convincing character, and his family, friends, and supporters are also very well-drawn (with the arguable exception of his daughter, who never seems to really flesh out and become a believable human being; her actions and reactions are predictable and wooden). Whatever the message underlying, and whether the reader agrees with it or not, Galileo is first and foremost a decent piece of drama. Leave Bentley's preface until after you've drawn your own conclusions. ** 1/2 (**** for the play, zero for Bentley's comments)
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2013
This elaborate play, one of the best of its production according to many, creates a reflection on how important, science is for mankind to open the horizons for understanding how things work and enable him seek more ambitious goals without relying on religious authorities to decide what the truth is. It also contains a strong critique of the methods of religion, particularly when the Inquisition was in effect trying to decide the story that's best for its leaders to maintain control of their subjects with blind obedience, against the strength and evident demonstration of the facts.

Through Galileo, one of the founders of modern science concepts and the central figure of the play, the trial of the Inquisition against him and the intents to bribe him to remain silent, Brecht reflects on the need to observe and demonstrate what is seen and not remain accepting truths that were never proven.
Excellent and actual play, despite being written half a century ago.
"The sum total of the angles in a triangle can't be changed to suit the requirements of the curia." Galileo said in one of his dialogues
------------------------------------------------
(in spanish)
Esta elaborada obra teatral, una de las mejores de su producción según muchos, crea la reflexión sobre lo importante que la ciencia es para la humanidad por abrir horizontes que permiten entender el funcionamiento de las cosas y facilitarle la búsqueda de objetivos sin depender que las autoridades religiosas decidan cual es la verdad. Contiene también una fuerte crítica a las prácticas de la religión, en particular cuando estaba vigente la Inquisición por tratar de decidir a la fuerza y contra la demostración evidente, la historia que más les conviene a sus jerarcas para mantener el control de sus súbditos con una obediencia ciega. Por medio de Galileo, uno de los fundadores de los conceptos de la ciencia moderna y la figura central de la obra, el juicio de la Inquisición que le hicieron y los sobornos que le trataron de practicar, Brecht reflexiona sobre la necesidad de observar y demostrar por encima de verdades contadas que nunca fueron comprobadas.
Excelente obra, muy actual a pesar de ser escrita hace medio siglo.
"The sum total of the angles in a triangle can't be changed to suit the requirements of the curia." dice Galileo en uno de sue diálogos con su discípulo"
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on March 6, 2014
It was very interesting reading and a wonderful look at how Galileo viewed his look on science vs. church and I enjoyed the how he was abled to complete the work under house arrest.
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on March 5, 2013
This book is really riveting; there is a lot of subtle symbolism and the plots and social commentary really tells a lot about the time period this was written.
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on July 26, 2010
This was an interesting historical play that educated as well as dramatized. Though, for this reader, it fizzled toward the end.
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