The good woman of Setzuan is an Epic Theater

Mir Hassan

 The good woman of Setzuan is an Epic Theater

The good woman of Setzuan is an Epic Theater

The good woman of Setzuan is an Epic Theatre |Epic Theatre: The Good Woman of Setzuan |"The Good Woman of Setzuan and Epic Theatre |The Good Woman of Setzuan as an Epic Theatre

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The good woman of Setzuan is an Epic Theater

Bertolt Brecht, a renowned German playwright, poet, and theatre director, is widely regarded as one of the most influential dramatists of the 20th century. His works are celebrated for their political and social commentary, as well as their innovative theatrical techniques. Among his notable works are “MotherCourage and Her Children,” “The Life of Galileo,” and “The Good Person of Szechwan.”

In his play, “The Good Woman of Szechuan,” Brecht tells the story of Shen Te, a young woman who is rewarded for her kindness with a small fortune. However, her newfound wealth attracts the greed and selfishness of those around her, forcing her to adopt a ruthless alter ego named Shui Ta in order to protect herself and survive. The play's central theme is the conflict between individual morality and the harsh realities of society. It is also a powerful critique of the capitalist system and its impact on human morality.


Brecht's work is a testament to the power of theatre to provoke thought and inspire change. His innovative techniques, such as breaking the fourth wall and using music and song to comment on the action, have influenced generations of playwrights and directors. Brecht's legacy continues to inspire artists to use their craft to challenge the status quo and promote social justice.

Bertolt Brecht was a German playwright and poet. He is known for his contributions to modern theatre with the creation of the theatrical genre known as "Epic theatre". Brecht, a committed socialist, sought to use theatre as a tool to measure and analyze human behavior through the prism of materialism. As a staunch socialist, he wanted to use theatre as a tool to measure and analyze human behavior according to the standards of materialism. He used songs, unrealistic lighting, episodic structure, and directly addressing the audience to engage his audience, and he wrote his plays in a way that forced the audience to question the characters and his actions. He wrote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” He wanted to engage his audiences in a critical evaluation of the character and plot, rather than engaging them in emotional engagement.

The Good Woman of Setzuan” is in fact, a parable about capitalism Bertolt believes that theatre should not be a form of escapism, but rather a way to challenge audiences' perceptions of the world around them. One of the most effective ways to do this is to break the fourth wall when actors are speaking directly to the audience. In ‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’, this technique is used in several places. In the opening scene, Wong's character, acting as a narrator of sorts, speaks directly to the audience and says, ""Oh spectators, / Watch carefully, / Pay close attention to everything you see". At the same time, Brecht reminds the audience that they are watching a play, not real life, and should be aware of how the play is constructed Brecht's philosophy centers around the idea that society can be transformed through intellectual action. This belief is reflected in his works, which are highly dialectical. An example of this is found in Shen Te's version of Song 'Song of the Degenerateness of the Good and the Gods', which explores the dialectical relationship between good and evil.

Brecht's works are noted for their use of dialectics, a method of argumentation in which opposing viewpoints are exchanged. This approach allows the audience to engage with the work on a deeper level, as they are encouraged to question their own beliefs and assumptions. In the case of Shen Teh's song, the public is faced with a critique of the traditional notion of "goodness", often associated with passivity and self-sacrifice. Instead, Brecht asks us to consider the possibility that "'goodness'" is a form of degeneracy, since it can lead to complacency and inaction.

In general, Brecht's works are not only entertaining but also thought-provoking. Through the use of dialectics, it examines complex social issues and encourages us to think critically about the world around us and the role that intellectual action can play in bringing about change. The lateralization of theatre through verbal formulas, posters, and subtitles aims to make what is shown on stage un-sensational. Brecht's theatrical approach is unique in that it seeks to 'lateralize' experience through the use of formulae. Words, posters, and subtitles so that the performance doesn't become sensational. More than winning over the public to the work, he intends to keep it on the periphery, allowing it to question itself and break with bourgeois ideology. This approach is crucial for the emancipation of the proletariat and the building of socialism. Brecht's works are a call to action, challenging us to challenge the status quo and fight for a better world.

Another technique used in ‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’ is the use of song and music. These songs often comment on the plot of the play, providing a kind of Brechtian moral commentary. For example, in Act Two, Scene Six, the character of Shen Te sings a song called "The Song of the Defenseless Suitor,", which is about the difficulties of finding a good husband. The song is funny and upbeat, but it also conveys a serious message about the difficulties women face in patriarchal societies. Through songs and music, Brecht manages to distance the audience from the plot of the play and encourage them to engage critically with the issues raised.

Another important aspect of epic theatre is its use as a tool for social and political criticism. Brecht believed that theatre should not only entertain but also challenge audiences' assumptions about the world around them. In The Good Woman of Setzuan, we see this critique in several ways. For example, the play takes place in a fictional Chinese town called Setzuan, which is characterized by poverty and corruption. Brecht uses this setting to comment on the social and political problems in China at the time. The play also deals with issues of gender and class, which were important concerns for Brecht. Through the character of Shen Te, Brecht manages to criticize the way women are treated in patriarchal societies, as well as the difficulties faced by those who are poor and marginalized.

 Epic Theatre often focuses on social and political commentary, and "The Good Woman of Setzuan" is no exception. Brecht uses the play to comment on capitalism, the exploitation of the working class, and the struggle for survival in a corrupt society. The play portrays the conflict between the good nature of Shen Teh and the harsh realities of a society that rewards selfishness and greed.. In The Good Woman of Setzuan, we see this critique in several ways. For example, the play is set in a fictional Chinese city called Setzuan, which is characterized by poverty and corruption. Brecht uses this setting to comment on the social and political problems of China at the time. The play also deals with issues of gender and class, which were important concerns for Brecht. Through the character of Shen Te, Brecht is able to critique the way that women are treated in patriarchal societies, as well as the difficulties faced by those who are poor and marginalized.

  Epic Theatre also tends to use a non-naturalistic style, and "The Good Woman of Setzuan" fits this mold. The play uses symbolic characters, such as the gods and the water seller, who represent different aspects of society. The play also uses songs and music to create a non-realistic atmosphere.

 Epic Theatre often reflects the historical context in which it was written, and "The Good Woman of Setzuan" was written in the aftermath of World War II, during a time of social and political upheaval. Brecht's play reflects this context by questioning the values of society and exploring the contradictions and tensions that exist in a capitalist system.

Brecht's play, The Good Woman of Setzuan, is a prime example of his epic or intellectual theatre. It proposes that a play should not simply evoke emotional identification with the characters or actions on stage, but rather provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the events unfolding before the audience. Brecht believed that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left viewers complacent, rather than motivated to effect change in the world outside the theatre. To achieve this goal, Brecht employed a variety of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality, rather than reality itself. By doing so, he hoped to encourage audiences to recognize social injustice and exploitation, and to be moved to take action in the world beyond the theatre. Overall, The Good Woman of Setzuan serves as a powerful example of Brecht's unique approach to theatre, one that challenges viewers to think critically about the world around them and to take an active role in shaping its future.

Thus it can be concluded that The Good Woman of Setzuan is a play that embodies the principles of epic theatre. Brecht's use of distancing techniques, such as breaking the fourth wall and the use of songs and music, helps to encourage the audience to think critically about the issues that are being raised. The play also serves as a tool for social and political critique, commenting on the problems of poverty, corruption, and gender inequality in Chinese society.

Q. character of ‘Wang, the water seller in  Brecht’s play ‘The Good Women  of Szechuan 

Wang the water-seller is both a character and a channel of action in the play. He serves as a vital link between the three gods who visit Szechwan, the capital city in China, and Shen Teh, the protagonist of the play. It is through him we come to know of the impending visit of the three gods to the town. Wang is a poor water seller He informs their province is in the grip of utter poverty and life has become very miserable for all. His job is very tedious. His earning is uncertain. When there is a shortage of water, he has to go far to collect it. When there is plenty of water, there is no demand for it and he earns nothing. The situation in his province is so gloomy that only gods can help them wriggle out of their present wretched state.

Wang has heard some rejoicing news from a widely-traveled cattle dealer that some of the highest gods of Heaven are already on a journey to the earth to study the conditions and they may visit Szechwan soon. People say that the gods in Heaven are deeply disturbed by a lot of complaints that have been going up from the Earth. He has been eagerly waiting there for their arrival at the entrance of the city for the last three days, especially towards evening, so that he may be the first to greet them. He looks for signs of divinity in the passersby. At last, he sees a group of three persons with healthy looks, showing no trace of any employment but their shoes being covered with dust. So he presumes that they must have traveled far. He concludes that it is them-gods! He becomes overwhelmed with joy and reverence. He fails at their feet addressing them as ‘Illustrious Ones’ and places himself at their exalted command . He also offers them each a cup of water to quench their thirst.


The three gods are pleased at the reverent attitude of Wang that they have been eagerly expected by the people of Szechwan to tide over the difficulties. The piety and good nature of Wang, the water-seller give them some hope that they will have a smooth sail over Szechwan. As they are tired after their long travel, they want to find some shelter for the night. They ask if Wang can find someone to provide them lodging for the night. Wang who is simple and unsuspecting assures them that it will be a cake- walk for him for the people of the city will rush forward (by jostling with each other) with joy to offer them shelter and earn their blessing. The gods are happy to learn of this.

Wang thinks that if he chooses one for the privilege of offering shelter for the gods, he will have to incur the displeasure of others who have been deprived of this. But in reality, Wang finds a totally disappointing situation. He knocks at quite a few houses and presents his request on behalf of the gods. But the persons he has contacted show scanty respect both for him and his plea to offer shelter for the three of the chief gods of Heaven who have come visiting Szechwan. One particular gentleman even mocks him and his gods calling them 'prize swindlers'. Wang becomes terribly angry with this callous attitude of the people and their irreverence to the Holy Ones. But he gulps his disappointments and informs the waiting gods that his contacts are eager to lodge the gods but one or other adverse circumstance stands in the way of entertaining the gods in. Here we find Wang's difficulty in serving the gods without offending either them or betraying the shameful and sinful people of Szechwan.

The gods are able to size up the hopeless situation in Szechwan. They at first think that Wang qualifies himself to be a good person in Szechwan. But when Wang goes away leaving his measuring cup in search of shelter for them, one of the gods notices that Wang's measure has a false bottom. He points this out to the other two gods. They are unhappy to note that Wang himself is a cheat and they have to write him off. But the other two gods tell him that they should not consider the entire city of Szechwan corrupted by looking at one example. Still, there might be some good people there in the city. They have been hearing the same complaint for two thousand years that the world cannot go on as it is. It is a common saying that no one can stay on earth and remain good.

When Wang returns from his hopeless search for finding someone to shelter the gods for the night, he understands that the gods have noticed the false bottom of his measuring cup. One of the gods asks him if people in Szechwan find life so difficult to manage, and Wang tells him that good people find it so. The god then asks Wang (ironically) if he too finds life difficult. Wang is quick to understand the implication of this question. He tells the god that he understands what the god means by his question. He tells himThe gods ask Wang who is running from pillar to post to find them shelter if the job is so very difficult for him. In spite of his unpleasant experiences with some of the citizens of Szechwan, Wang does not admit defeat. He does not blame the inhospitable and impious people who shut the door after him without paying heed to his just request. He tells the gods that there is nothing wrong with the people of Szechwan. He was not able to fix them in because he is not a good guide. The gods understand his good intention and wait patiently by giving him one more chance to try.

Wang manages to meet his friend Shen Teh, the prostitute, a good woman at that, and requests her to offer shelter to the three of the chief gods of Heaven who have come to Szechwan. She tells Wang that has to attend to her customer who will be calling on her. She cannot miss him for she depends on him to pay her rent. If she does not pay her rent by tomorrow, she will be thrown out of her house. But Wang pleads with her saying that she should not mind for money at such an important moment. Shen Teh tells Wang that a hungry stomach does not respect persons however great or holy they may be. But on second thought, she offers to oblige Wang. Wang cautions Shen Teh that she should not let the gods know of her profession.


Wang goes and informs the gods that he has succeeded in securing lodging for them. Their hostess is a girl by the name of Shen Teh who lives on her own. She is the best person in Szechwan. The gods are happy to hear of this. They want to go to their shelter. But Wang asks them to wait for some time till the room is got ready. When Wang and the gods are waiting at the door of Shen Teh, a gentleman appears at her door and whistles thrice. This is noticed by one of the gods.

When Shen Teh does not call Wang to bring in the gods, he becomes apprehensive. He becomes confused and thinks that Shen Teh has let him down and gone away with the gentleman to earn her rent. He leaves his carrying-pole there and runs away calling Shen Teh. Shen Teh, in the meanwhile, comes out of her house and calls out Wang. Just then she meets the three gods and invites them in. They tell her that Wang has run away thinking that she will not come as promised. They hand over Wang's carrying pole and ask her to keep it safe for Wang needs it.

Wang suffers from guilty conscience as he thinks that he has miserably let down the gods in finding shelter in the house of someone in the city just for a night. So he is hiding from the gods by remaining under the bridge by the side of a stream. He followed the direction the gods took that day so that they would not see him. Becoming tired of squatting, he lies asleep on the ground. Wang wants to avoid the gods but ironically enough; the gods appear in his dream. He covers his face fearing that they might strike him for his neglect and irreverence. Even before they say anything to him, he says that he has failed to find someone offering suitable shelter for them in the city. He wants them to spare him and go on their way without bothering him anymore.

But Wang has surprise news in store for him. The first god assures him that he has not failed them as he thinks. In fact, they stayed in the house of the woman whom he has chosen to approach. They were well looked after Wang had told them. and allowed to have a good sleep under her watchfulness and seen off the next morning by lighting their way. The woman was found to be as good as Wang had told him.


They are grateful to Wang for having shown them to the house of Shen Teh, the good woman of Szechwan. They assign him the job of visiting Shen Teh in the city and letting them know of her good deeds subsequent to their visit to her and her opening a shop by procuring money for that. The very fact that the gods choose to visit Wang both in person and in his dream proves the significance of his character in the play. Wang, though poor and hard up, has great devotion to the gods and tries his best to serve them. He avoids the gods not because of his lack of faith in them but because of his inability to serve them to the best of his capacity!

Wang tells the gods when they appear again in his dream that Shen Teh continues to be good and charitable. She has a word of comfort for the afflicted and is as charitable as she can within her meager resources. "It is rare that a man is allowed to leave her shop without something to smoke, just for lack of money." Wang is afraid this may not last long though people have begun to hail her "The Angel of the Slums" because of her goodness. The gods hope that Shen Teh will be strengthened in her pursuit of goodness. Wang also informs the gods that Shen Teh is in love and she showed him her friend and things are going well for her. But only the carpenter Lin To speaks ill of her because she has not paid him for the shelving work done for her shop. The gods become concerned about this but Wang tells them that it is her cousin Shui Ta, the businessman is to blame for this and not Shen Teh. The gods become worried about this cousin. But Wang assures them that the cousin is supposed to be a reputable businessman whom even the police respect. The gods disappear with worries about Shui Ta's interference in the affairs of Shen Teh.

Wang, the water-seller, though poor, is god-fearing and tries his best to follow the dictates of the three gods. He is honest both to himself to the gods. He reports about the good deeds of Shen Teh to them. He is happy to have met his good friend Shen Teh after he ran away leaving behind his pole fearing that he was unable to accommodate the gods in the house of Shen Teh as he had promised. He is grateful to her for keeping his pole safe. He is equally happy that she is in love and was kind enough to introduce her lover (the unemployed airmail pilot, Yang Sun) besides buying a cup of water for her friend from him in spite of the rain. She would not like to collect mouthfuls of rainwater dripping from the willow tree. She would like to have only Wang's water collected from far off and carried with great labour. This deed reveals Shen Teh's concern for Wang and her recognition of his true labour which should not go to waste.

When Wang meets the gods again he informs of Shen Teh's broken marriage. He is terribly sorry for her broken marriage with her lover because of her concern for the well-being of her neighbours. He feels she is too good to survive in their wicked world of theirs. He feels that the most fortunate people are those who are the least good. On seeing the sufferings of good Shen Teh who obeys the commandment of the gods, Wang has become half-skeptic. He intercedes on Shen Teh's behalf with the gods and asks them to intervene and save her from her broken marriage and her broken promises. But the gods say that they cannot intervene because they are merely observers of the human life on Earth. Further, one of them who intervened to settle a quarrel the previous day received a black eye.

During his next interaction with the gods, he describes of the horrible dream he had about Shen Teh being sucked in mire under the heavy weight of the precepts that she was carrying on her shoulders. Wang is sincerely worried about the distress of Shen Teh on account of her sincerity to obey the noble precepts incorporated in the commandments of the gods. He wants the gods to realize that she is collapsing under the heavy burden of virtues that she is expected to follow in cruel societies and adverse times. He wants the gods to reduce the burden of virtues that one is expected to follow slightly because of the adverse situations one is in. Through this request to the gods, Wang wants to open their eyes to the difficulty of following their noble tenets in a society surrounded by poverty, hunger and wickedness. While there is cut-throat competition to gain a morsel of food, it is difficult for one to remain good. But the gods' console Wang telling that Shen Teh's sufferings will only ennoble her and she will come out clean.

Wang suffers a broken arm when Shu Fu drives him out of his shop for trying to sell water to his customers by striking him with the curling tongs. All people who have seen the incident refuse to give witness in favour of Wang. But Shen Teh offers to help him if it means perjury. But later on, Shui Ta asks Wang not to trouble Shen Teh who has cupful of worries already. But later on, when Shen Teh meets him, she apologizes to Wang for not helping him to treat his affected hand. Wang says that she need not worry about it for he has now learned to manage with his left hand. He asks Shen Teh to help the stranded child of Lin To who has closed his workshop and on the streets taken to drinking. He requests Shen Teh to help the destitute child of Lin To pick up food from the garbage. Wang, though poor, is more concerned about the suffering of his fellowmen like Shen Teh.

 Wang meets Shui Ta and enquires about the whereabouts of Shen Teh. But as Shui Ta tries to dodge the question and asks him not to press for details Wang meets Shui Ta and enquires about the whereabouts of Shen Teh. But about Shen Teh if he is really concerned about her welfare and if he is really the true friend of hers. Wang becomes angry and warns Shui Ta not to take the friends of Shen Teh lightly. People have begun searching for her and they have their own doubts about Shui Ta's hand in her disappearance. He also tells Shui Ta that Shen Teh has told him that she was pregnant before she disappeared. He goes back but comes with Yang Sun and the policeman leading to the arrest of Shui Ta for the alleged murder of Shen Teh.

Wang appraises the gods during his last meeting with the gods about the horrible developments connected with Shen Teh and the arrest of her cousin Shui Ta on the charge of murdering Shen Teh. The gods become worried. At first, they feel utterly lost. They think that their search for a good person on earth will end in futility. But they soon rally around and decide to search for Shen Teh. In fact, their search of Shen Teh leads them to the court to appear as magistrates in the trial of Shui Ta in the absence of the regular  agistrate Fu Yi Chung.

Wang deposes Shui Ta and accuses him of hindering Shen Teh from doing good things for others. Shui Ta tells Wang that he has to do it because they all stifled Shen Teh and ruined her business. Her good deeds are the road to her ruin. Wang asks Shui Ta if evil deeds are then the road to good life. He then angrily asks Shui Ta what he has done with good Shen Teh. She is a shining example of goodness when it is difficult to find one like her among people. When the barber broke his hand, she wanted to give evidence for him but now he is giving evidence for her. He raises his hand to swear that Shen Teh is good but he cannot do so for it has become stiff. The gods sitting as magistrates ask him what has become of his hand. He points to Shui Ta and says that he is to blame. Shen Teh was about to give money to consult the doctor but Shui Ta foiled it him

Finally, when he returns with others to the court, he is happy to see Shen Teh alive. On seeing the gods disappearing on pink clouds, Wang tells the townsmen that they are the three of the mightiest gods who have come to Szechwan in search of a good person and asks all people to pay respect to them who have come down to Szechwan. It is Wang who opens the play by receiving the gods and sheltering them in Shen Teh's house and he is there at the end of the play and sees the gods off reverentially in the company of townspeople. He is thus part and parcel of the play. The very fact that the gods choose the humblest of the humblest as their guide and messenger in Szechwan proves the piety and nobility of Wang.

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