The “Threepenny Opera”: Brecht’s Verfremdung through Representation and Expression
In the first scene of Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera”, it is clear to the audience that something is disturbingly off about the world in which the action takes place. The audience clearly sees it as a world based on super-capitalist structure. Peachum, the leader of the beggars in London, argues with a man named Filch about acquiring a position as a beggar in London. Filch was beaten for begging without a license, as all begging in the city must be handled through Peachum. This absurdity, of a choice between submission to the economic and social structure or death, seems foreign and ridiculously harsh to the audience. The audience thus finds it interesting perhaps in an analytical way, but finds it difficult to connect with Filch’s dilemma on an emotional level due to the extreme nature of this occurrence. This super-capitalistic society, where even begging is controlled by private interests, becomes an overarching theme in Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera”. Yet even more important is Brecht’s method of portraying these themes, and the manner in which he uses representation and expression to force his audience to think critically about the world of Mackie Messer. Brecht is unique in using a Verfremdung technique, a distancing of the audience to the characters and events on the stage. Brecht noticeably does this in two ways. First, Verfremdung is created in the text, characters, and other representations that appear in the work. With Macheath Messer as the bourgeois, murderous anti-hero, the antagonistic role of the character’s emotions, the character-audience relationship, and other representations of this society, Brecht allows the audience to see this society as distinctly non-relatable. This distancing keeps the audience objective, rather than raptured in the emotional appeal of the work. Second, Verfremdung is infused into these representations through the expression or artistic methods Brecht uses, or the way in which he frames these representations to the whole. By separating the art forms from one another throughout the whole work, he jars the audience with interruption and inconsistency to keep them in a critical, unattached distance. This jarring also doubly serves as a reiteration of Brecht’s meaning behind these representations themselves; the expression of these representations helps provide additional meaning to the representations. This combination of representations and artistic methods together keeps the critical Verfremdung alive in the “Threepenny Opera”, and ultimately leads to the important criticism of capitalism and bourgeois society that Brecht seeks to instigate. Brecht’s Verfremdung relies on a distinct intention, a conscious motivation which offers alternatives to social and historical realities. Although this alternative is never explicitly stated in the “Threepenny Opera”, Brecht’s intent (as is his ultimate goal in Verfremdung) points in the direction of finding an alternative to the current realities of his characters presented. In this sense, Verfremdung extracts the spectators from the trance of “living” the play and imposes a distance for analysis, criticism, and decision. It is again in the representation and expression through Verfremdung that has a double effect on the audience’s interpretation. First, the representations help uncover the contradictory nature of events and the historical cause of social mechanisms, thus making them appear rationally changeable. Second, the expression replaces the emotional and instinctive “mob” responses of Aristotelian catharsis with awareness, judgment and objective recognition leading to individual analysis. Thus, the “collective individual‟ becomes a “collection of individuals‟; this distinction dictates why Brecht adopts the representational and artistic methods that he does. The same representations and expression both a) reinforce Brecht’s meaning...
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