Along with Mother Courage, the character of Galileo is one of Brecht's greatest creations, immensely live, human, and complex. Unable to resist his appetite for scientific investigation, Galileo's heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. He is scared into publicly abjuring his theories but, despite his self-contempt, goes on working in private, eventually helping to smuggle his writings out of the country.
As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of government or official ideology, Life of Galileo has few equals.
Written in exile in 1937-39 and first performed in Zurich in 1943, Galileo was first staged in English in 1947 by Joseph Losey in a version jointly prepared by Brecht and Charles Laughton, who played the title role. Printed here is the complete translation by John Willett. The much shorter Laughton version is also included in full as an appendix, along with Brecht's own copious notes on the play.