Tuesday, November 22, 2011

German Lit Month: The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht

Publisher: Grove Press
Translator: Desmond Vesey and Eric Bentley
Date: 1994 (1928)
Format: paperback
Acquired: bought at Spindale Library sale
Read: for German Lit Month
Pages: 95
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Brutal, scandalous, perverted, yet humorous, hummable, and with a happy ending - Bertolt Brecht's revolutionary masterpiece The Threepenny Opera is a landmark of modern drama that has become embedded in the Western cultural imagination. Through the love story of Polly Peachum and "Mack the Knife" Macheath, the play satirizes the bourgeois of the Weimar Republic, revealing a society at the height of decadence and on the verge of chaos. Complemented with music by Kurt Weill, it was one of the earliest and most successful attempts to introduce jazz into the theater, and the song "Mack the Knife" became one of the most popular and widely recorded songs of the twentieth century.

My review: I didn't realize when I started reading this that the play would be funny, but I found myself laughing frequently. Satire the drama is supposed to be, and satire Brecht does well. Admittedly, I didn't catch that he was satirizing specifically bourgeois society until almost the end (and I found Brecht's notes much more confusing than helpful), but that didn't subtract from my enjoyability of the book. I had expected it to be a much harder read, quick only for its short length, but found it overall very accessible and entertaining. It also helped remind me of the basic plot of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which I read a few years ago and also enjoyed. I only wish I knew what the music was like. Does anyone know of a good performance of The Threepenny Opera that can be found online?


  1. There is also a Threepenny Novel, the longer version of this. I liked both. I got a CD, in German but I couldn't find anything online, only bits and pieces on YouTube. You cn just enter the songs like Mack the Knife or Pirate Jenny.
    I like the songs quite a bit.

  2. Thanks for telling me about the novel! I hadn't heard of it before, but I think I would enjoy reading it.