BRECHT IN PRACTICE
Comedy, Historicization and the Critical Attitude

The Crucible isn’t considered a terribly funny play, and both professional and amateur productions (the latter evidenced by the many videos posted to YouTube) tend to treat the play with great reverence. This is presumably because of the seriousness of the subject matter: a fabrication leads to the deaths of many innocent individuals.

However, there is a difference between respecting the suffering of the victims and criticizing the circumstances under which such injustices can arise. Comedy can be used, in The Crucible, as a means of turning the apparently earnest into the risible. That is, it performs a kind of historicization in that the audience can view the events of the past through the perspective of the present. As a result, an important objective that Brechtian theatre aims to achieve may be brought about: instilling a critical attitude in the spectator. If an audience laughs at something that is treated seriously on stage, the production is already driving a wedge between the stage and the auditorium, and inviting spectators to view the material differently from the figures themselves. A spectator no longer directly identifies with the figure in the comic moment and is free to criticize what happens and/or what is said.

By accumulating comic moments, the production can attempt to encourage the audience to be sceptical for longer stretches of the performance. In our production, we tried to oscillate between comedy and seriousness in order to show how ludicrous some of the behaviour was, but not to forget its real effects on the victims.

Click on any of the links below for examples of how comedy can be used to engineer a relationship between audience and stage that may help engender a critical attitude. The links offer a representative selection, and more ran through the production as set out in the visual documentation.

Parris’s assessment of Betty

Hale’s examination of Betty

Undermining the status of the Court

Parris the gestic chameleon

Danforth’s Fanaticism

Comic critique of Proctor’s Heroism

However, sometimes Miller provides his own comic moments, and the production was happy to run with these.

Here Proctor tells Mary to go to bed. Mary, emboldened with her newly granted status as ‘an officer of the Court’, determines to choose what to do with her time. But elects to go to bed in any case.

 


BRECHT IN PRACTICE - Copyright 2017 © Prof. David Barnett | All Rights Reserved

David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York

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