Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti

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Title: Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti
Genus: Folk piece
Original language: German
Author: Bertolt Brecht
Publishing year: 1950
Premiere: June 5, 1948
Place of premiere: Schauspielhaus Zurich
  • Puntila (landowner)
  • Matti ( servant of Lord Puntila)
  • Eva (daughter of Mr. Puntila)
  • Attache
  • Fredrik, the judge
  • Smuggling ceremony
  • Sandra, the operator
  • Cow girl
  • Fina (maid)
  • Laina (cook)
  • Probst
  • Priestess
  • Cattle doctor
  • Upper
  • Fat man
  • Workers
  • Redhead
  • Poorer
  • the red surkkala
  • Advocate
  • Forest workers
  • Pharmacist

Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti is a play by Bertolt Brecht that was created from 1940/1941 and premiered on June 5, 1948 in the Schauspielhaus Zurich under the direction of Kurt Hirschfeld . The play “Sawdust Princess” by the Finnish poet Hella Wuolijoki , on whose estate Brecht was in Finland during his exile, served him as a model . The work was created - with Wuolijoki's support - for a competition organized by the Finnish Dramatists Association. It was translated into Finnish by Wuolijoki and published in 1946 under the title "The Squire Iso-Heikkilä and His Servant Kalle". In addition to the play by Hella Wuolijoki, Brecht used the story The Brotherr by Maxim Gorki and Denis Diderot's novel Jacques the Fatalist and His Lord as inspiration. Whether it was also influenced by Charlie Chaplin's film City Lights , in which a millionaire befriends a poor tramp in a drunk state , but abandons him when he is sober, cannot be proven with certainty.


The Finnish landowner Puntila is sober an exploiter and drunk a philanthropist. Soberly, Puntila wants to marry his daughter to an aristocrat, drunk with his chauffeur Matti. While drunk, he gets engaged one after the other to the smugglers' ceremony, the pharmacist, the cowgirl and the operator; But when the four actually appear at the scheduled engagement for fun, the sober Puntila chases them back from the yard.

His daughter Eva values ​​the attaché , whom her father wants her to marry, very highly, but doubts that he is the right man for her, as she is a very lively person and has an easy time with the very reserved and always correct attaché might get bored. In order to break the engagement, she even pretends to be having an affair with Matti in the bathing hut. However, the attaché seems to believe the chauffeur that they only played cards in the bathing hut. At this point it is debatable whether he is simply too naive or whether his debts are so great that he has to rely on the (very substantial) dowry he receives from marrying Eve.

All of Eve's efforts to prevent the engagement fail. Mr. Puntila is not drunk at the engagement party when he realizes that the attaché is a pushover and not a man for his daughter; but this insight causes him to get drunk. The more drunk Puntila gets, the more he dislikes "the face" of the attaché, so that he even chases him out of the house and throws stones after him. Eva doesn't care much, on the contrary, she is glad to be rid of him.

When Puntila finally appoints the chauffeur Matti as his son-in-law, he subjects the rich man's daughter to an exam in which she is supposed to prove that she can make him happy. The result of this test: rich and poor cannot come together; Eva just doesn't meet the requirements Matti places on a wife.

The next morning, sober Puntila tries to put everything he has done the previous day back in order and makes the decision to destroy all alcohol he possesses so that something like this cannot happen again. Instead of throwing the alcohol out of the window, however, he begins to drink it from a glass that Matti has brought him "eagerly" and promises him, which he recently wanted to fire, first a raise, then even part of his forest. In the final scene Matti leaves the courtyard early in the morning because he has realized that things cannot go on like this and he doesn't want to wait until Mr. Puntila wakes up sober and calls him accountable.


Puntila: The landlord is a capitalist and exploiter, but when he is drunk he becomes a philanthropist (describes himself as a communist). As he is drunk, his moral standards also grow. His behavior resembles a dissociative identity disorder ; However, this is not used by Brecht in the sense of a medical finding, but as an artistic metaphor (see interpretation).

Matti: The Puntila's chauffeur (also known as “servant”) is the second main character in the play, alongside the lord of the manor. Matti is mostly good-natured and usually tolerates his superiors without objections. In the end, however, he leaves the estate because, after a night of high alcohol consumption, he sees no future for his employment with Puntila.

Eva: Is the landlord's daughter, she is to be betrothed to the attaché. However, she refuses this due to his character and instead prefers the chauffeur Matti, with whom, however, there is no engagement.

Performance history and reception

Brecht played a major role in the premiere, which took place in June 1948 at the Zurich Schauspielhaus. Officially, he was not allowed to work as a foreigner, so his name did not appear on the cast list. However, it was he who essentially directed it. The performance was not an undivided success with the specialist critics. Brecht was accused of having acted as a "pulpit speaker of reason" in comedy and of using more the style of the didactic poem. The audience success was probably the main reason why there were fifteen performances in West Germany in 1949 alone.

Production design from the world premiere at the Deutsches Theater Berlin: Gisela Trowe and Erwin Geschonneck

In October 1948, Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel traveled to East Berlin, where discussions about their own Brecht ensemble were recorded. From February 1949 the Berliner Ensemble was built under the direction of Helene Weigel. It was initially housed in the Deutsches Theater ; the opening took place on November 12th with Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti under the direction of Bertolt Brecht and Erich Engel . The stage design came from Caspar Neher . Brecht took up the Zurich premiere, especially since Leonhard Steckel - as at the premiere - played Puntila. However, he changed the features of Puntila, who was sympathetic in Zurich, "with a few bad feelings in a state of sobriety". In the Berlin performance, Brecht emphasized the dangerousness of Puntila by giving him a different mask. The popular actor Erwin Geschonneck embodied Matti in the Berlin production. The production received unanimous praise. Nevertheless, Brecht was not satisfied; he had made aesthetic concessions and was still far removed from his ideal of the “real, radically epic theater”. Brecht had a model book made of this performance, which contained descriptions, conceptual considerations, sample notes and photos of the staging, and which provided a kind of content guide for later performances of the piece.

Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti was one of the most popular Brecht pieces because of its character as a folk piece and was played equally often in the Federal Republic of Germany and in the GDR. In 1967 Peter Palitzsch and Manfred Wekwerth rewrote the text as an opera libretto, which Paul Dessau set to music under the title Puntila . The premiere took place on November 15, 1966 in the Berlin State Opera.


Reversal of realities is a common pattern in comedy. In Puntila, however, Brecht uses them not only to create comical entanglements, but above all in an ideological sense. Puntila is only human when he is drunk - that is, "not normal". He (apparently) develops a social sense, is full of joie de vivre, the ability to enjoy life and humor. In the sober state he falls back into the state of a calculating, ruthless and humanly cold egoist. It is reduced to the capitalist landlord who judges people according to their usefulness and acts solely according to his advantage. One could say: the role of the master alienates him from being human. Only with the help of the drug is it possible for him to connect to the positive properties of the species.

Brecht himself pointed out that in a state of drunkenness, Puntila by no means completely abandoned the social role of landowner. He lets others work for him even when he is drunk (for example when Matti built the Hatelma mountain out of furniture). He only transcends - and conceals - the class differences with jovial gestures that always turn out to be hollow for those affected when Puntila is sober again. Brecht shows that general humanity, with which social problems are only masked but not changed, is all the more dangerous because it whitewashes class conflicts. His aim is to "show the abyss that lies in the fact that there is indeed a friendly, human face, but that this does not change anything and nothing at all about the reality of oppression and exploitation".

Brecht also uses the reversal of realities in this piece in numerous games: Eva and Matti play lovers in the sauna to scare off the attaché. Eva later plays a working-class woman to prove to Matti that she would be a good wife to him. In these games, Brecht shows that Matti can leave his traditional role in the game - that is, play in the real sense. Puntila and Eva cannot do this. They are unable to break the framework of their social existence. This thought ties in with the Hegelian paradox of master and slave: Although the master seems to have power over the slave, in reality it is the master who is dependent. He who thinks he is independent is dependent on the servant's work, because only that makes him master. This logic of the game contains Brecht's political message that a change in social conditions is ultimately not to be expected from “good-natured” capitalists, but only from the servants, whose representatives Matti is. Logically, at the end of the play Puntila, Matti gives up his followers and leaves the estate.

Film adaptations

Literature (selection)

  • Hans Peter Neureuter: Mr. Puntila and his servant Matti. In: Brecht-Handbuch in 5 volumes, Vol. 3, ed. by Jan Knopf , JB Metzler, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-476-01829-6 , pp. 440–456.
  • Bernhard Spies: The comedy in the German-language literature of exile: a contribution to the history and theory of comic drama in the 20th century. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1997, ISBN 3-8260-1401-4 .

Individual evidence

  1. Jan Knopf: Brecht-Handbuch Theater . JB Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung Stuttgart 1980, p. 217
  2. a b c Jan button: Brecht manual theater . JB Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung Stuttgart 1980, p. 226
  3. theater work. 6 performances by the Berliner Ensemble . Ed .: Berliner Ensemble, Helene Weigel. VVV Dresdner Verlag, Dresden 1952.
  4. quoted from: Jan Knopf: Brecht-Handbuch Theater . JB Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung Stuttgart 1980, p. 221
  5. Jan Knopf: Brecht-Handbuch Theater . JB Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung Stuttgart 1980, p. 218

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