Plays and their role: Ibsen, Brecht and Miller

Galileo Galilei or Life of Galileo is a play written by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. I first read this play during my studies in English Literature, and although initially I didn’t like it (maybe studying it had something to do with it) it soon became one of my favorites next to Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Miller’s The Crucible.

One of the things drama does for you is that it helps you make connections between problems in the play and the ones in your own society bringing them to your notice. Hedda Gabler had already introduced me to the repressed side of woman sexuality and how Hedda crumpled under its weight and her own denial of it. It also dealt with the fact that people don’t always accept what they don’t understand. Hedda was an anomaly in the time Ibsen wrote the play and many critics were in horror of such a woman even existing. But the fact is, that although now women are less repressed in western society, I saw how that 18th century Norwegian woman was still a reality in many parts of the world. 

Therefore, perhaps it was not unusual for me to connect Life of Galileo with the world of today. The point that interested me was not the real message of the play, but I found it important. What I saw most clearly was people’s refusal to use their eyes and see things from a wider perspective. Galileo has discovered that the earth is not the centre of the universe; he has proof; but what stumps him is that his proof is of no use unless people choose to acknowledge it. Human reason was what had pushed Galileo towards discovery – the belief that man will reason and move forward with the evidence of his own eyes – and reason let him down. In Scene 4 we see how Galileo invites the scholars of the Venetian court to view his invention and with it his theory on the movement of the planets (Galileo presented the theory that the planets revolved around the sun – not the earth). With the scholars’ refusal to even glance through the telescope and see the evidence with their own eyes, Galileo is defeated before he even started. It is just this obstinate refusal to look, to understand and to give others a chance that I still see around the world. 

To me, it was as if the scholars were denying themselves the very reason that man evolved – his intelligence to reason, judge and conclude. Their actions were a gross injustice and the point stuck with me throughout the play. In our world today, we pride ourselves on our deductions and on allowing each person his view and never judging until all sides are heard. But that was not the reality; it was simply an illusion, because it seems to me that we still refuse to look. I know that we patiently hear (sometimes) both arguments, but most of the time our mind is made up about things and although we make a show of listening, in reality we have closed our eyes and deny the other. Of course, I know only too well that some don’t even make the pretence of listening or understanding.

And then I saw it again – in The Crucible. I was seeing this narrow-minded denial of all other voices everywhere so clearly! And why?! because it is rampant in our world today. We think we know and see what others feel and that we make allowances, but the truth is that we can only see one side of it, and often refuse to even look at it any other way. We don’t open our hearts to any evidence that can move our stance.

In The Crucible we have Abigail Williams, a young girl who manages to convince all the high officials into believing her story (convincing them that the people she hated had been bought by the devil and were witches) and putting to death so many innocent people. The devil was in these people, so the officials said; and for their own gain they refused to acknowledge the truth or listen to a voice of reason lest their mind be swayed. They had made up their minds and all evidence was useless. The evil must be punished and they themselves became the problem because of their refusal to see.

Belief in witches is actually a good example of what such narrow mindedness can do. The people in the play were so convinced of the existence of witches that they refused to look at any evidence which pointed the other way. It had become an obsession with them and anything that showed otherwise was only due to the witches’ arts! So it became a hole out of which there was no escape. If you read the play, you see that Abigail Williams uses the narrow mindedness of others for her own vengeance. In the world today we see others do the same. One person’s inability to see leads others to use them. I speak generally of course including all people because inevitably we are limited to some extent in our own culture and nurturing certain views; it is for us to break this long tradition and become more unified.

Although the above points I have discussed were not the focal point of the plays, they were what moved me and were what made the play greater in my eyes. Everyone has a different approach, a different view to every play which is why you should pick up a play and see how it motivates you.


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