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The plot, though fictionalized, resembles the basic outline of Galileo's life - Galileo used a new invention, the telescope, to empirically validate the Copernican model of the solar system. The universe doesn't actually revolve around the Earth, the Earth is just another planet that revolves around the Sun. Members of the clericy object to this. Some don't accept it since it contradicts their reading of the bible, others accept it but don't want the people to know because it will undermine their understanding of the world.
If the basic structure of the universe isn't they way they've been told, what else might be different? Could people live differently? Is the rule of the Church, Kings, not divinely ruled either? These are just a couple of the conundrums the play gives you to think about and always with both sides making very strong cases.
It sounds a little didactic put this way but it's an entertaining play. Galileo is portrayed as an Earthy character. He likes good food and being able to do as he pleases.
Aside from Galileo the other characters are also very well drawn, his daughter Virginia, his pupil Andrea, Cosimo De Medici, Cardinal Barberini.
All in all it's a interesting read with a lot of food for thought. Brecht gives you both drama and ideas and he does so quite suavely. Highly recommended.
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The "Life of Galileo" made an excellent dramatic presentation for my AP Modern Euro History course to read. I would only advise that students take several roles (but be careful their multiple personas don't appear together in the same scene) because of the large cast of characters and that a teacher select only certain scenes from the play due to its length. The scenes with Cardinal Barberini make especially good read-aloud dramatizations.
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It's always refreshing to see an artist who does the hard work necessary to get the science right. Brecht does not give us a hagiography or a hatchet job on Galileo; he is more interested in the truth. Unfortunately, this would probably be difficult to present for an American audience, because it has not been dumbed down to short sentences and sound bites. Which makes it that much better, in my book.
So it seems with Brecht's "Life of Galileo", a thoroughly fictionalized portrayal of events in the 1600s that sounds, in the English translation, like a TV dramatization from the 1950s. But the translation is fair to the original, which sounds like German of the 1930s. I have trouble imagining how this play could be staged. If it were in early Baroque costumes, the language would sound utterly anachronistic. Perhaps modern dress would work better - a setting in Somerville, moving to Cambridge, and then to Deerfield, all in Massachusetts with appropriate Bay State accents. Brecht's political/philosophical message in this play may also seem dated, but I don't intend to explicate it here.
Yes, I am aware of Brecht's celebrated "Verfremdungseffekt" and I'm willing to concede that the anachronistic nature of this play is intended. But there are some catches. Brecht himself worked on the English version which was staged by the actor Charles Laughton as a 'realistic' drama. The alienation-effect couldn't have been prominent in that production. This is a richly annotated and comparative edition in English, with two complete versions of the play and with ample notes, including comments by Brecht that disclaim the tragic nature of Galileo's recantation and house-imprisonment.
Any play about Galileo is bound to be a play about Free Speech. Brecht's play is also about the responsibility of scientists - or the irresponsibility perhaps. It seems clear that Brecht understood that Galileo's persecutors were right, that new knowledge is inherently dangerous to old accomodations of society, that astronomy and Christian beliefs are incompatible. My 17th C avatar, Giordano Bruno, doesn't strut the boards in this drama, but his execution by the Roman Inquisition is a frequent topic.Read more ›