What a powerful play. I’ve always heard the adage that plays are meant to be performed, not read. That’s fine, but I still can’t shake the belief that the most substantive plays must be written by substantive playwrights who must have just as masterful a command over the written word as the visual performance. Bertolt Brecht possesses that command. I’ve always loved The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, and recently added The Miracle Worker to my list of favorite plays, but even these undisputed masters left so much in the hands of the production that the dialog seems rushed compared to ordinary prose. Not this play. The dialog itself is cleverly presented in dialectic form, with tragically heroic Galileo entrapping characters into Platonic question-answer sessions throughout the book. Thus Brecht uses the very principle he seeks to elevate, namely, that scientific thought is intuitive and morally right.
I’ve read in plenty of science books about how the medieval church didn’t care so much whether the sun went round the earth so much as the idea of the common man using mortal instruments and mortal reason to divine immortal truths. They were worried the telescope could put them out of the job. This story illustrates just that concept. The enemy was not superstition or tradition but authority. The scientific revolution, like so many enlightenment movements, had as much to do with throwing off oppression as seeking truth. Both share the same driving motivation: of looking at the same world and seeing it brighter.