Baal was the first full-length play written by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. Set in Berlin's underworld, it concerns a wastrel youth who becomes involved in several sexual affairs and at least one murder. It was written in 1918, when Brecht was a 20-year-old student at Munich University,in response to the expressionist drama The Loner (Der Einsame) by the soon-to-become-Nazi dramatist Hanns Johst. Baal did not receive a theatrical performance until 1923, when it opened on the 8th December at the Altes Theater in Leipzig (in a production directed by Alwin Kronacher in which Brecht participated for most rehearsals). Brecht wrote Baal prior to developing the dramaturgical techniques of 'epic theatre' that characterize his later work. He wrote a revised version with Elisabeth Hauptmann in 1926 for a brief production at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater in Berlin, where he had worked recently as a dramaturg. It opened on the 14th February for a single matinée performance. It was performed by the Junge Bühne and directed by Brecht and Oskar Homolka (who also played the title role), with set-design by Caspar Neher.
The story traces the decline of a drunken and dissolute poet, Baal, an anti-hero who rejects the conventions and trappings of polite society. This honors the German Sturm und Drang tradition which celebrates the cult of the genius living outside the conventions of society that would later destroy him. "The outcast, the disillusioned tough becomes the hero; he may be criminal, he may be semi-human," argues John Willett, "but in plays like Baal he can be romanticized into an inverted idealist, blindly striking out at the society in which he lives." Baal roams the countryside, womanizing and brawling. He seduces Johanna, who subsequently drowns herself. He spurns his pregnant mistress Sophie and abandons her. He murders his friend Ekart, becoming a fugitive from the police. Defiantly aloof from the consequences of his actions, Baal is nonetheless brought low by his debauchery, dying alone in a forest hut, hunted and deserted, and leaving in his wake the corpses of deflowered maidens and murdered friends.
The play is written in a form of heightened prose and includes four songs and an introductory choral hymn ("Hymn of Baal the Great"), set to melodies composed by Brecht himself.
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