The Macksey Journal


How did The Threepenny Opera, a sparsely-set musical theatre work with unsympathetic characters and borderline nonsensical songs draw popular acclaim, critical distaste, Nazi disdain, and musical covers by some of the top singers of the 20th and 21st century? A new type of modernist theatre emerged between the First and Second World Wars, pioneered by Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), who believed that the significance of a stage work lay not in its emotional appeal to the audience, but its frank depiction of social issues and moral imperative to reform a problematic society. The style was massively disruptive, partially for its divergence from the traditional German Romantic style and partially for its appeal to the masses, but was characterized by its insincere character portrayal by its actors, nonsensical plots, and spartan set design. Brecht acknowledged that these perhaps suited it only to its particular location and era. However, with the resurgence of a political climate similar to that which he experienced, audiences today can identify with the sense of unrest seen in Brecht’s work. This paper analyzes the characteristics, role, and successes of 20th century German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s unique style of theatre, the Brechtian epic, through the lens of one of his most significant works, Die Dreigroschenoper, or The Threepenny Opera (1928). By exploring both his style and the reception of this work we can better understand the lasting impact of Brecht and its significance in our society today.