Galileo Church V. Hero Essay

1249 words - 5 pages

Galileo Church v. Hero

It is a volatile point in history: the intersection of science and religion at the height of the Inquisition; it is a time when the Church reigns and a man, a physicist, must choose life or death, himself or science. Galileo Galilei's legendary dilemma and the circumstances surrounding it are presented in Bertolt Brecht's Galileo from a perspective that is clearly criticizing institutions with such controlóin this case, the Catholic churchówhile reminding us that men are simply men, no matter how heroic their actions appear. These issues are expounded throughout the play; however, Scene 11 has the most significant role in Galileo's development, as it simultaneously reveals the extent of the Church's control and humanizes Galileo in just a few lines.

Despite his courage to venture into unexplored realms of science and thought, Galileo is not a hero. He is only a man. Scene 11 is the shortest scene in the play and one of only three scenes in which the title character does not appear. Yet it is here that Galileo is made completely human. In the quest for a hero, one might ignore his almost hedonistic desire for food, thought, and fine wine and the sacrifices that he makes to acquire money. These characteristics of Galileo are revealed early in the play, when he plagiarizes another man's telescope invention in order to get a salary raise from the city (Scenes 1 and 2), and then again in Scene 11 when the Pope says, "He has more enjoyment in him than any other man I ever saw. He loves eating and drinking and thinking. To excess. He indulges in thinking bouts! He cannot say no to an old wine or a new thought" ( Brecht 109). However, one cannot ignore a hero's cowardice in the face of physical pain. In this light, he is reduced from hero to ordinary man. In this scene, the Pope and the Inquisitor are in the midst of an argument over the pending examination of Galileo by the Inquisition and the torturous methods that may be involved. The scene subtly reveals the evil at the heart of the Inquisition: the Church, which should be Godly in practice, partakes in torturing individuals capable of testing the power of the institution, forcing them to conform to the Church's will and thereby eliminating any danger of upheaval. The Inquisitor states, "He is a man of the flesh. He would soften at once" (Brecht 109). This describes the basic human instinct to shrink from pain. Every man has his breaking point, the point at which the pain and the fear and the shame are so great that he cannot withstand one moment more. Galileo is no different. Also, Galileo is a man of scienceóhe knows more of how pain can be inflicted than most men. As the Inquisitor later adds, "Mr. Galilei understands machinery" (Brecht 110). With this knowledge added to the fear of physical discomfort, Galileo later does what most men would do under the circumstances: he recants. Because this scene reveals the negative side of the Church and the human-ness of...

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