The triviality of melodrama is so often the theatrical scapegoat that boils the blood of the modern-day critic: the sentimental monologues, the martyred young lovers, the triumphant hero, and the self-indulgent imagery. Melodrama would seem the ultimate taboo; another failed Shakespearean staging or even worse, an opera minus the pretty music. Ironically, Bertolt Brecht, dramatic revolutionary and cynic of all things contrived found promise in the melodramatic presentation. Brecht examined and manipulated the various superficial and spectacular aspects of theatre, establishing a synthesis of entertainment and social criticism as his fundamental goal. Bertolt Brecht employs various facets of melodramatic technique in The Jewish Wife, ultimately reconfiguring the genre and conveying his central theme; a society rendered immobile at the will of a totalitarian regime.
In an initially superficial investigation of the text, Brecht's The Jewish Wife is aesthetically structured in the same concrete format of melodrama. Though only a one-act piece, the play is broken down into a series of distinct units, each one an intense highlight of the protagonist's life (Brooks, 87). Superfluous exposition is almost entirely eliminated from the text and the audience is introduced to the heroine, Judith Keith, through her rather impersonal phone conversations.
Much like its traditional counterpart, the text utilizes precise rhythmic patterns through each of Judith's one-sided segments of dialogue (Brooks, 89). The suspense
builds with every call Judith makes, the urgency of her departure made more imperative
with every conversation. Whereas in the first call, she takes the time to explain her parting and making small talk with her doctor friend ["I just wanted to call and say you'll have to be looking for a new bridge partner (11).], she is in a state of total panic by the completion of such goodbyes; the length of her dialogue shorter and her sentences choppy. "This is Judith. Look, I'm leaving right away (13)." Like the grand opera of the nineteenth century, we are presented with a formulaic plot that is easily understood, clearly reflecting a change in time or consciousness (Brooks, 141).
Providing the audience with over-the-top imagery, elements of the stage direction indicated by Brecht embellish an already melodramatic piece in The Jewish Wife. Perhaps one of the most deliberate actions taken by Judith comes as she completes the series of departing telephone calls. A blatant symbolic device, Judith is not only to said to "have been smoking," but that, "she now burns the little book in which she looked up the telephone numbers (13)." This reflects the end of her character's existence up until this point as wife and passive homemaker.
Examining the intense political and social climate in which Brecht's text is set, it becomes clear that for the aforementioned reasons and more, The Jewish Wife is intentionally...