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The Threepenny Opera: Methuen Student Edition (Methuen Student Editions) [Paperback]

Bertolt Brecht , John Willett , Ralph Manheim
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Jan 2005 041377452X 978-0413774521 New Ed
This Student Edition of Brecht's satire on the capitalist society of the Weimar Republic features an extensive introduction and commentary that includes a plot summary, discussion of the context, themes, characters, style and language as well as questions for further study and notes on words and phrases in the text. It is the perfect edition for students of theatre and literature.Based on John Gay's eighteenth century Beggar's Opera, The Threepenny Opera, first staged in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin, is a vicious satire on the bourgeois capitalist society of the Weimar Republic, but set in a mock-Victorian Soho. It focuses on the feud between Macheaf - an amoral criminal - and his father in law, a racketeer who controls and exploits London's beggars and is intent on having Macheaf hanged. Despite the resistance by Macheaf's friend the Chief of Police, Macheaf is eventually condemned to hang, until in a comic reversal the queen pardons him and grants him a title and land. With Kurt Weill's unforgettable music - one of the earliest and most successful attempts to introduce jazz to the theatre - it became a popular hit throughout the western world. The text is presented in the trusted translation by Ralph Manheim and John Willett.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen Drama; New Ed edition (20 Jan 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 041377452X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0413774521
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"One of the greatest poets and dramatists of our century" The Observer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

A major dramatist of the twentieth century, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was the founder of one of the most influential theatre companies, the Berliner Ensemble, and the creator of some of the landmark plays of the twentieth century: The Threepenny Opera, Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children and The Caucasian Chalk Circle. His plays and dramatic theory are central to the study of modern theatre.

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"Beggars are begging, thieves thieving, whores whoring." Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Of all the translations on the market, this one is the best -- most are watered-down, tepid versions. Manheim & Willet's was used in the late 1970's revival of the piece by the New York Shakespeare Festival, which starred the late Raul Julia and Ellen Greene (of "Little Shop of Horrors" fame, in the role originally intended for Lotte Lenya).
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is probably Bertolt Brecht's best known work and all because of one song that appears at the beginning of the piece made uber famous by Bobby Darrin, many of the rat pack including Frank Sinatra and more recently Michael Buble. Quite a useful 'in' to the otherwise unfamiliar world of Brecht and his Epic style theatre. The song itself an open discussion about how affective it is in terms of technique. Plenty of characters to explore with potential for characture and gestus. Video footage also available to support the study. A nice musical set in London's Soho which students quickly warm to. If you need to teach Brecht, this is a great place to start.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every threepence! 19 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brecht's enduring masterpiece is here with handy notes and introduction. It's a long time since I read the text but my memories of the Berliner Theater Company performing this play in London many years ago still endures, as fresh as ever.

Brecht lovers or those just starting to read this great German dramatist) start here!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 20 Aug 2014
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best translation to capture Brecht's intentions 18 Mar 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Of all the translations on the market, this one is the best -- most are watered-down, tepid versions. Manheim & Willet's was used in the late 1970's revival of the piece by the New York Shakespeare Festival, which starred the late Raul Julia and Ellen Greene (of "Little Shop of Horrors" fame, in the role originally intended for Lotte Lenya).
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By C. Scanlon - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
and our local crime as well.

The Threepenny Opera is so well known and sought after (without many taking the time seriously to study it) that it can be pricey here on the open amazonian market. Don't go for the collector's editions; go for the one you can throw into a pocket and pull out and read. Get the book you will read.

Grove once more, like Beckett, comes to the rescue. Grove (and its Black Cat Evergreen extension) over forty years ago was noted for alone publishing what others would not. Over forty years later Grove's mass market editions still make available to us what otherwise might be out of reach. Bertolt Brecht, the banned playwright, remains here easily acquired, and read.

Certainly this is a bare bones edition. Other critical editions and essays are avaialble, but this is something very portable and readable. For instance for critical essays you might find Bertolt Brecht and Critical Theory: Marxism, Modernity and the Threepenny Lawsuit of interest. The Threepenny Opera (Penguin Classics) may contain more supplementary materials (I do not know). But I find what is supplied here adequate for now, and for reading.

We find here the lyrics to the songs at the proper place in the play, but not Kurt Weil's music. We do have a deeply moving (in the end) and eloquently written Foreword by Lotte Lenya who created her career here, and whose definitive presentation may yet be seen in The Threepenny Opera - Criterion Collection.

We also have included here the excellent stage notes to the actors by the author, Bertolt Brecht, who after general political and philosophical comments about the dramatic arts, gives precise suggestions for staging his play, including never to cut the horse in the end.

In fact, he gives some very good direction for our only surviving widespread and popular form of live dramatic entertainment - the local karaoke: "The actor must not only sing but show a man who is singing. He does not attempt so much to project the emotional content of the song (can one offer others food which one has already eaten?) as to display gestures which are, so to speak, the customs and usages of the body. To this end, he would do well, when studying his part, to use not the words of the text, but common current forms of speech which express similar meanings in the everyday idiom. So as far as the melody is concerned, he need not follow it blindly; there is a way of speaking-against-the-music which can be very effective just because of an obstinate matter-of-factness, independent of and incorruptible by the music and rhythm. If he drops into the melody, this must be an event; to emphasize this, the actor can show clearly his own delight in the melody (pp. 106-107)." SO next time you are forced at a wedding, etc., to sing Karaoke, just read it, against the music, until discovering a section you enjoy singing, and make it show!

I avoid the story for now, as it should be well known to everyone. As Lenya's foreword recounts well, Brecht based this play on an excellent and popular work from the early 1700's by John Gay which mocked the official extortion and theft by the London aristocracy. These well sanctioned thieves and immoral organized crime was thinly disguised with the trade of much poorer (as less royally favored) thieves who were liable for the courts for not having received royal license and monopolies (at a price). That earlier play is called The Beggar's Opera, By John Gay; To Which Is Added the Music To Each Song, available now in several editions, and also a DVD production starring the Who's Roger Daltrey at John Gay - The Beggar's Opera / Jonathan Miller John Eliot Gardiner Roger Daltrey English Baroque Soloists. Yale's ubiquitous Harold Bloom also offers a critical edition at John Gay's the Beggar's Opera (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations).

Please read this book, as being the most easily available, and open yourself for further study of this work and related works, including the interesting remarks on the evils of corporate capitalist globalization which close Sacramentum Caritatis: el Sacramento de la Caridad: una Exhortacion Apostolica Postsinodal. This present work available in a variety of translations (of varying literalness or free translation and interpretation) and formats, including Die Dreigroschenoper: Berlin 1930 and The Threepenny Opera (1954 New York Cast) (Blitzstein Adaptation).
49 of 67 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A rather boring translation of the great Dreigroschenoper 1 Mar 1999
By Meik (michael.streif@infotech.at) - Published on Amazon.com
One has to know and understand the original German text of the Dreigroschenoper to be really able to judge the quality of the English translations. This one, used among others by Helen Schneider on her album with Weill songs, has nothing of the sarcasms of the German lyrics. Better read the 1954 translation of Marc Blitzstein or the translation made by Frank McGuinness in the early 1990s.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humorous, Fun Version of The Beggar's Opera 25 Feb 2012
By SusieBookworm (Susanna P) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
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?
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars IN THE MATTER OF ONE MAC THE KNIFE 1 Sep 2007
By Alfred Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I have reviewed some of the Communist master playwright Bertolt Brecht's later more consciously political and didactic plays elsewhere in this space. The play under review is an earlier work, before he fully committed himself to communism, and is an adaptation of John Gay's 18th century Beggar's Opera to the modern theater. The subject at hand is a look at the way those in the lower depths of society survive under emergent capitalist conditions, especially the main character, one MacHealth a.k.a. Mac the Knife. As such Brecht's adaptation has given no end of problems for those critics who want to claim it for the communist cause. It is far too universal in it sentiment about human nature in the capitalist era and therefore properly is a transitional to his later more consciously partisan works like The Measures Taken and The Mother. Thus one should take it for is own worth as a look at survival in a seemingly Hobbesian world.

The plot line is rather simply-MacHealth, a former British imperial soldier, has struck out on his own in dog-eat dog London and has created a name for himself as a master criminal and seducer of the ladies. Other forces including the constabulary, a small disreputable but conniving businessman and, let us be politically correct here, some sexual workers combine in an attempt to deprive Mac of life and limb. However luck and a royal coronation combine to thwart those best laid plans. All of this is performed in a light operatic format that allows Brecht to wax poetic at humanity's plight through a series of sharply-etched songs in which he collaborated with the legendary Kurt Weill.

Above I referred to some controversy about Brecht's intention in this work. That the roguish, incipient capitalist MacHealth is saved in the end through royal intervention has caused some commentators to argue for the organic connection between the rising capitalist class and the monarchy in England. Others have noted the similarities in appetite between the lumpenproletariat element as represented by MacHealth and his criminal crew and the developing capitalism of the time. I think that both views overdraw what one can take out of Gay's story or Brecht's adaptation. This story line is much more conducive to a generalized treatment on the nature of survival in a world that has broken from its agrarian past and has not yet stabilized it bourgeois norms of propriety. Some of these same characteristics were played out in the development of American capitalism, especially in the Wild West. But as presented here this is only a rudimentary outline of where things could go. I stand by my comment in the first paragraph about the unmediated nature of Brecht's take on Gay's little work. He most definitely got more focused on the nature of the human plight under capitalism latter as he developed as a Marxist.
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