Grade: Senior
Subject: Literature

#2780. Discussion questions on Bertolt Brecht's Galileo

Literature, level: Senior
Posted Mon Jan 6 09:33:45 PST 2003 by Richard Bloom (
Central HS of Prince George's County Public Schools, Capitol Heights, Maryland
Materials Required: text of Galileo, handout, looseleaf for answers
Activity Time: 3 class periods to go over 28 questions
Concepts Taught: plot, theme, characterization, intellectual history


(page numbers refer to Grove Press paperback edition c.1966)

1. In scene 1, Galileo's assistant, Andrea, compares the inner sphere of the Earth-centered world, inhabited by the Pope and the world's leaders in the 17th century, to a "cage". In what sense, do you think, did such people live in a "cage"? (page 48)

2. "The sayings of the wise men won't wash any more. . . and the sons of fishwives will pack the schools," says Galileo. Explain what he means. (49)

3. What invention is brought to Galileo's attention in scene 1? What is its significance for him? (51-52)

4. "I am 46 years of age and have achieved nothing that satisfies me." Is this statement by Galileo well founded, do you think? (54)

5. Is Galileo being honest when he calls the telescope "Christian" as he does in scene 2? Why? (56)

6. What does the manifest interest in producing for sale Galileo's inventions say about the alliance between science and business in the modern world? (57)

7. What did laymen call every object in the sky before the 17th century? Why? (59)

8. Why were Galileo's "new astronomy" and the invention of the telescope important to the world well beyond their significance to science itself? (60)

9. What does Galileo suggest about businessmen and their relationship to his new science? (61)

10. What are the "lesser stars" Galileo spots around Jupiter? (62)

11. What is the place of God in Galileo's system? In whom or what does Galileo put faith? (63)

12. How does Galileo blame free market business for the state of the world's ignorance? (63)

13. For what reason does Galileo say he needs to flatter the powers that be, such as Cosimo de Medici? (64)

14. Has Galileo really "abolished Heaven" with his theory of the universe? Why or why not? (65)

15. Why is it ironic for Galileo to call the Medicean King "the rising sun of our great age"? (65)

16. Why is the "ah" of the ladies in response to the philosopher's mention of the "Divine Classics" ironic? (66-68)

17. "Truth is the daughter of Time, not of Authority," says Galileo. Explain. (68)

18. Galileo expresses impatience with the consternation of those who would be concerned "where the truth leads". What events in the 20th century proved him wrong, to some extent? (68)

19. What Newtonian law aren't the monks who ridicule Galileo's theory aware of? (71-73)

20. "Suppose God Almighty had . . . made the stars move like that?" said Barberini. "Well," said Galileo, "he would have given man a brain so that we could grasp movements like that." Explain what Galileo means here. (78)

21. What is the relationship between the treatment of peasants on Ludovico Marsilis's family's orchards and Galileo's theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun? Why does Brecht include this sub-theme in the play? What is the value of a man's opinion if the Earth revolves around the Sun--including the ones who exploit [take advantage of] peasants? (94-95; see the bottom of 99)

22. Is the Pope humane, or not? (109-110)

23. Why does it appear that Galileo took back his teachings? (114)

24. Does his decision to recant prove to be the right one? He lives in comfort, he studies motion (the science of mechanics) surreptitiously, and he lives to a ripe old age. His decision was based on "common sense". (116-121)

25. "Even the Church will teach you that to be weak is not human; it is just evil." Compare Galileo's speech to the reasoning behind Gawain's keeping of the Green Girdle. (123)

26. Galileo is rather hard on himself on page 124. Is it justified, or is he playing Devil's Advocate for his oppressors?

27. In what sense is the "new age" "a whore, spattered with blood"? (124)

28. Compare Brecht's inclusion of the episode between the boy and the "witch" with what you can glean on the Internet about the Salem witch hunts in 17th century Massachusetts. Is it significant that her "broomstick" turns out to be a soup ladle? (127)