A Man’s a Man

  • Ronald Speirs


If Brecht’s early plays are remarkable for their thematic consistency, they are no less so for the formal and dialectical versatility with which the themes are treated. A Man’s a Man (1926) takes up themes which are familiar from Brecht’s earlier plays — questions of the individual’s freedom of choice, his ability to master experience, the importance or otherwise of a sense of personal identity — but explores them in a quite novel way.1 Whereas in Edward II, for example, it was the heroic quality of one man’s struggle against the limitations on his will that interested Brecht, in A Man’s a Man the contingent nature of the individual’s life, its subordination to forces beyond his control, is seen in its ironical, even farcical aspect. With an abrupt shift of perspective, the concern for personal integrity which led King Edward down his masochistic course is revealed as ridiculous and pointless. In the comic world of A Man’s a Man no greater mastery of life can be achieved than the satisfaction of basic physical needs, and this is seen to be best achieved by simply adapting oneself to whatever life’s changing circumstances demand. Whereas all Brecht’s pre-vious plays had more or less active heroes, A Man’s a Man is a first, ingenious attempt at writing a play with a passive, by usual standards “undramatic” hero. The result is a farce which lucidly combines intellectual sophistication with theatrical concreteness, simplicity and liveliness.


Social Role Personal Identity Active Hero Native Temple Sexual Appetite 
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  1. 2.
    For a discussion of Kipling’s role in shaping Brecht’s view of the British in India see James K. Lyon, “Kipling’s ‘Soldiers Three’ and Brecht’s A Man’s a Man,”, in Essays on Brecht, ed. S. Mews and M. Knust (Chapel Hill, N. C., 1974) pp. 99–113.Google Scholar
  2. 16.
    For detailed discussions of the differences between the first published version of the play and subsequent editions see M. Kesting, “Die Groteske vom Verlust der Identität”, in Das deutsche Lustspiel II, ed. Steffen (Göttingen, 1969) p. 180 et seq,.; also J. Onderdelinden, “Brechts Mann ist Mann,: Lustspiel oder Lehrstück?”, Neophilologus, (1970) pp. 149–66, and the introduction and notes to the Methuen translation.Google Scholar

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© Ronald Speirs 1982

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  • Ronald Speirs

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