AbstractsPolitical Science

Brecht And The Culture Industry: Political Comedy On Broadway And The West End, 1960-1965

by Anne Beggs

Institution: Cornell University
Year: 2009
Keywords: Political Comedy
Record ID: 1854415
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/13557


This dissertation investigates the development of popular political drama on Broadway and the West End in the first half of the 1960s. It puts English and American theatre histories in dialogue, suggesting an approach to Anglo-American theatre history as both an institutional and a cultural frame. By investigating the incorporation of Brechtian drama and theatre theory into New York and London theatres, I argue that although Brecht's works themselves failed on the mainstream stage, an embrace of Brechtian theory by select theatre practitioners informed a new type of radical political comedy that succeeded on the West End and Broadway in the early 1960s. Chapter 1 is an intellectual history of the perception and reception of the avantgarde in the late 1950s through the 1960s, paying special attention to the work of Susan Sontag. It establishes a critical and cultural milieu in which we can interpret the unfolding development of Brechtian theatre theory. The different critical methodologies that came out of this changing moment reflect the relationship between the avant-garde, postmodernism, and comedy that informs the subsequent cultural history of 1960s Anglo-American theatre. Chapter 2 examines the Brechtian dialectical theatre and its relation both to the historical avant-garde and to a postmodern critique of culture. I postulate that Brecht's project for a political theatre operates through a comic dialectic and that a sense of comedy is essential in realizing the radical potentialities of Brecht's theatre. Chapter 3 traces the English-language dissemination of Brecht's dramas and theories, which in the early 60s unfolded in the context of on-going attempts to (re)define the 'avant-garde' in relation to English and American realism. In Chapters 4 and 5, I present Beyond the Fringe, Oh What a Lovely War, and Marat/Sade as case studies of successfully radical productions on Broadway and the West End which placed history into a critical dialectic and challenged the audience to question where history has become myth or a narrative of transcendent truth, through varying adoptions of comic, Brechtian, and Artaudian performance.