The play ”Mother Courage and her children” is written in 12 scenes or part that are tagged with numbers but loosely connected in between. The plot is related to a novel by Hans Jacob Grimmelshausen “Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus” in which 30 years long war, that started in the 17th century, between Protestants and Catholics was described.
The play was written in 1939 and performed 1941 in Zurich. It isn’t a regular play because it doesn’t have a dramatic plot or scene structure and through songs, we get to know the characters and the situation in the play.
We can see the tragic destiny of a mother and her daughter, different opinions on how war can be useful and through the whole play the writer is trying to raise the awareness of the readers about the number of war victims and that war should be despised because it cannot solve any problem.
Time: 30 years war (1624 -1636)
Place: Europe (mostly cities of today’s Germany)
The plot is set in the time of the 20 years old war between 1624 and 1636. Anna Fierling, who is called Mother Courage, and her children travel with the Sweden army during the war, and they run a cafeteria. Anna got the nickname Mother Courage because she does not give up on the journey of following the army with her cafeteria and her children during the war.
She has a daughter and two sons, and all of them have different fathers and different characters. Her mute daughter Kattrin Haupt and sons Swiss Cheese and Eilif accompany their mother and the army.
The first scenes happen in the spring of 1624, a little before the attack of General Oyenstjern to Poland. In the first scene, her sons are persuaded to join the army. But Mother Courage is strongly against her sons joining the military. She sees the war as a useful source of income but does not want her children in the military.
When Mother Courage gets into business and sells the commander a silver buckle, she forgets her kids and her son Eliff is taken to the army.
In the second scene, the plot is set in Poland from 1625 to 1626. The son of Mother Courage Eliff is honored in the military because he managed to confiscate the cattle of the enemies. During the honoring mother and son meet again, and while celebrating his glory, they dance until dawn.
Soon trouble began to pile up for this family. Mother Courage and her children fall into the hands of the enemies and get trapped with a prostitute Yvette Poitier.
Mother Courage tries to run away with the help of the cook who is very fond of Yvette. She dresses as a chaplain, and her daughter takes Yvette’s clothes. Her son does not want to be a traitor so he tries to save the cash register but gets caught and sentenced to death.
When Mother Courage finds out about it, she decides to buy him and bargains with the commander about the price while Yvette tries to seduce him and get him to do the same thing.
Despite all of the effort the son is executed and his execution is announced with a drum sound. His death body is shown to Mother Courage and his sister, but they pretend not to know him so they wouldn’t get discovered.
The conformist philosophy of Mother Courage is best described in the fourth scene were Mother Courage meets a young soldier fighting injustice.
Mother Courage keeps on following the army but after the army of General Tilly wins near Magdeburg and a world peace is near Mother Courage is concerned will her incomes decrease with the end of war. The captain calms her down saying that the war is not going to end because the Pope and kings always call to new wars and a time when a permanent peace is possible is impossible.
Mother Courage tries to get a new delivery of merchandise and sends Kattrin to get it. She gets attacked by soldiers, and they scar her face. Her face is permanently ruined and including the fact that she got pregnant when she was a child her chances to get married are small.
Mother Courage lost her children in the war, both sons and Kattrin who was sentenced to this miserable life.
The war is ending, and the cook who was courting to Mother Courage is back, Yvette is married to a commander and Eiliff is caught and sentenced to death.
New war starts and Mother Courage decides to go with the army again. The cook and her daughter go after her. After some time the cook wants to settle down because he gets tired of living out of a suitcase. His wish is to marry Mother Courage, but she turns him down because of her daughter Kattrin who is weak and psychically broken. Despite her condition Kattrin still, pushes the cafeteria and travels with the army.
In front of the city Halle, the army is prepared for a night attack. Kattrin climbed to the roof of a village building and decided to warn the villagers about the offensive with a drum. The soldiers threaten her to quiet down, but she does not stop with the drumming until they shoot her.
In the penultimate part, Mother Courage cries for her daughter while singing her sad lullabies. She keeps on following the army.
In the last scene, Mother Courage pushes the cafeteria on her own with her daughter’s dead body.
Characters: Mother Courage and her children, commander, cook, Yvette, soldiers
Mother Courage (Anna Fierling) – the main character in the play. Persistent, aggressive, insensitive. A mere shopkeeper who believes she can live off the war without having to pay a toll. She benefited from the war and earned money at the expense of the war, which is not moral, but on the other hand her, she wanted to spare her children from the war. She only once cursed war, and that was just for a moment. At the end of the story, all of her children are dead, and each one died because of their virtues. Eliff died for the sake of courage, Swiss Cheese for honesty and Kattrin due to maternal compassion. With the death of her children, all parts of her humanity perish. Motherhood was the only thing that made her human.
Bertolt Brecht Biography
Bertolt Brecht (1989. – 1956.) is a German storyteller, play writer, poet, director and a theoretician who started the “epical theater”.
He was born in Augsburg and studied medicine and science. But love towards theater won over. He began his playwriting in 1922. when he publishes “Drums in the Night” and “Baal”.
Soon after that, he goes to Berlin where he starts the epical theater. His famous “The Three Penny Opera” was performed in all of the grand theaters in the world.
In 1933. Brecht emigrated to Denmark, and after that, he spends some time in Sweden and Finland. In 1941 he decided to leave Europe and go to America.
He came back to Berlin after the war in 1949. when he founded Berliner Ensemble theater.
His famous works are “The Life of Edward II of England”, “Man equals Man”, “The Exception and the Rule”…
Book summaries from Bertolt Brecht