Betrolt Brecht s Life of Galileo , depicts key episodes in the life of the great Italian physicist, Galileo Galilei. The central concern of the play is the essential conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church. The scientist s heretical discoveries about the solar system brought him to the attention of the Inquisition and led ultimately to his theories being silenced by the Church. It seems that Galileo s supposal, that put the sun at the center of the Universe, did not correspond with that of the Church. They realised that the new findings demolished the notion of a finite Universe and threatened the teachings which they advocated and followed.
Ultimately the Catholic Church was successful in silencing Galileo, as preservation of their own power was their main priority.
Early in the play we see Galileo as a cheerful and honorable man, a charismatic and imaginative teacher, who certainly has the potential, not only as a distinguished scientist, but also as a man of energy and vision. The early scenes glorify his passion for science and show him to be recklessly enthusiastic about the way the old ignorance is being swept away. O early morning of new beginnings... We sense Galileo s excitement. He dreams of the day when astronomy will be discussed in the marketplaces. [When] the fish-wives sons will hasten of the school. His goal is to bring science to the masses. The investigations that led to Galileo s difficulties resulted in the conformation of the Copernican system of astronomy. Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus advanced the theory that the earth and planets revolve around the sun- a theory undoubtedly confirmed by the experiments of Galielo. Galileo so confident about his findings, openly proclaimes, Today mankind can write in its diary: Got rid of heaven. His beliefs challenged the traditional Christian view of a Universe in which man was center, ruled over by God and the angels. His system challenged man s conception of the Universe he lived in, and the God he worshiped. This enraged the Catholic Church, as they believed Galileo s teachings contradicted theirs. What would the effect be if they were to believe in nothing but their own reason, which this manic has set up as the sole triabunal? Galileo however, sees himself as an instrument of this new progress and isn t afraid to express his beliefs despite the consequences.
Brecht presents the Church as a power structure, the ideological arm of the ruling class, and the ultimate judge in spiritual, intellectual and even political matters. In the 17th century the Catholic Church functioned simply as authority. The source of the endowment was almost immaterial. They had the power of life and death without reason or justice. In Galileo s case the argument was not personal- it was political. They could see that Galileo s findings challenged their authority. The Church was fearful that public knowledge of Galileo s theories would bring the dogma into disbelief, so they prohibited Galileo from presenting his views publicly. At the Inquisitors ball in scene seven, Cardinal Bellarmin warns Galileo that [he] must abandon [his] views , as the Church decided the theories of Copernicus would be banned. Galileo resists. In scene twelve the Inquisitor tells the Pope that this evil man is part of an attempt to unhinge the authority of the Church. To stop him the pair devise an heartless ploy. They will show Galileo the instruments of torture. We realise with a shudder that these are the foremost men of the Church, and yet what they discuss so casually is the deliberate infliction of pain on a man whose only crime is to tell the truth. Galileo was to be crushed, not because what he said was wrong- on the contrary he was the one advocating the truth- but because he challenged those in authority.
As the play progresses, we realise Galileo faces a losing battle. His very human fragility is his undoing. We must however, give him credit as a realist. One man cannot successfully oppose such a powerful authority. With the threat of torture and death the Church silences Galileo. Why? Because the truth challenges their power.