Brecht used the theatre to advance his Marxist political agenda; in order to do this, he developed the idea that the audience should not identify with the play, but should be detached from the drama. This view of the theatre was necessary to validate the Marxist position that human nature changes over time as a result of historical conditions. Brecht’s most famous play is “The Three Penny Opera”, based on John Gay’s “Beggar’s Opera.” Brecht’s plays oppose materialism and emphasize the responsibility of intellectuals to defend their beliefs in the face of opposition. His early work was more rebellious, while his later work emphasized a more positive view of a better world. While his unorthodox technique diminished his popularity in Eastern Europe and his left-wing politics made him unpopular in the West, his plays have had great influence in Asia and South America.
Born and raised in Bavaria, Brecht studied medicine in Munich from 1917-1921, and then served in an army hospital. Forced to flee Hitler’s Germany in 1933 because of his Communist beliefs, he lived in Scandinavia from 1933 until going to the United States in 1941. In 1947 he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and then spent a year in Zurich before returning to Germany. He spent the remainder of his life in Berlin where most of his energies were directed towards the work of his own company, the Berlin Ensemble.