Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo” – Encountering Conflict

Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo” – Encountering Conflict

This not a new text in VCE but had been previously used as part of the Literature course, almost 15 years ago. Already, I can hear the sound of pattering feet heading off to the book list searching for a study guide that will help give you some seminal reading of the play script. Equally, you may be searching on the Internet for the “The Life of Galileo” by Bertolt Brecht in the number of different guises – the search terms matter as you will find literally hundreds of thousands of sites unless you are quite direct in your search. So what are you looking for and why?

Conflict? What forms of conflict? How do they manifest themselves? Through whom? Through what? Any why? Is any resolution to that conflict a compromise or a consensus? Is the conflict prolonged, and if “Yes”, then how, why and to what purpose?

Advice? Some pre-thinking does help, but so does some “unalienated reading” – I use that term for a reason, as Brecht’s own reading of his works comes with the previso that the current and prevailing historical context defines how you will respond to the play.

So …

  1. Don’t run to the study guide first … do that last!
  2. Read the play script first and make your own set of notes and annotations as you read.
  3. Seek out questions to ask both of yourself and of others, and do record your thoughts.
  4. Highlight passages of interest, identify phrases that catch your attention. What made you laugh and why? What made you re-read and why? What were the longest speeches and who made them about what? What was their significance to you?
  5. Annotate the margins of your own text, remembering that you are in the 21st Century and that you have a voice and and mind that can see and respond to the narrative as you see it, not necessarily as a “study guide” would see it!
  6. Summarise what you think the play is about in 50 words and no more! Yes 50 words!
  7. Search the Internet once you are finished.

You might like to know that Google has:

  • Some 727,000 references to “The Life of Galileo” (December 2012)
  • “The Life of Galileo” “VCE” – 420
  • “The Life of Galileo” “VCE English” – 52
  • “The Life of Galileo” “VCE” “Encountering Conflict” – 6
  • “The Life of Galileo” “Brecht” – 337,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Brecht” – 684,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Brecht” “study guide” – 295,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Script” “Brecht” – 253,000
  • “Life of Galileo” “Scene Summary” “Brecht” – 25
  • “Life of Galileo” “Brecht” “Synopsis” – 352,000
  • “Brecht’s Galileo” – 13,700
  • “Brecht” “Galileo” “Analytical essay” – 642
  • Etc., etc., etc.

So what does some preliminary research tell you as a VCE student?

Trying to cope with limited experience, “encountering conflict” in the vast array of information that is available about “Galileo Galilei”, his trials and tribulations, his importance to science, the myths about the man, about “his” cosmology … about your understanding of the cost of truth. Then of course there is “Brecht’s “Galileo” …

Is “truth” a commodity to be bought and sold? Is it “immutable” (unchangeable) or is it flexible and bent according to the authority that “owns” “the truth”? Is a “truth” (any “truth”) worth dying for? Is any “truth” worth lying for? Can we separate Brecht’s Galileo the “scientist” from Brecht’s Galileo “the human being”? Or is there another “Galileo” from which we can learn? Is any truth “owned”? Do you have “faith” in “the truth”? The “truth of science”? The truth of “religion”? The “truth of truth”? How strong is that “faith”?

And now the  play; a fiction set to educate, entertain and force the reader or watcher to draw their own conclusions about just how a time of technological change can uproot existing belief systems and individual ethics and bring all that we know into doubt. Where “truth” may be demonstrated to be different from belief and faith in things past, determined simply as a means to survive, to find a fixed point, a stasis in a world which offers only flux and chaos, in which the benefit of hindsight continually re-writes what had been considered immutable as though it was one more step on a much longer road which has no clear ending.

The audience (surely?) must not leave the play as an indifferent or apathetic observer? She or he may need to take sides, to consider (or even to commit) to a moral and ethical position that they may not have previously chosen. But which side? But whose side? With what consequences for their “personal” truth?