Mother Courage and Her Children
Mother Courage and Her Children (German: Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) is a play written in 1939 by the German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) with significant contributions from Margarete Steffin. After four very important theatrical productions in Switzerland and Germany from 1941 to 1952—the last three supervised and/or directed by Brecht—the play was filmed several years after Brecht's death in 1959/1960 with Brecht's widow and leading actress, Helene Weigel.
Mother Courage is considered by some to be the greatest play of the 20th century, and perhaps also the greatest anti-war play of all time.
Mother Courage is one of nine plays that Brecht wrote in an attempt to counter the rise of Fascism and Nazism. Written largely in response to the invasion of Poland (1939) by the German armies of Adolf Hitler, Brecht wrote Mother Courage in what writers call a "white heat"—in a little over a month. As leading Brecht scholars Ralph Manheim and John Willett wrote:
Mother Courage, with its theme of the devastating effects of a European war and the blindness of anyone hoping to profit by it, is said to have been written in a month; judging by the almost complete absence of drafts or any other evidence of preliminary studies, it must have been an exceptionally direct piece of inspiration.
Following Brecht's own principles for political drama, the play is not set in modern times but during the Thirty Years' War of 1618–1648. It follows the fortunes of Anna Fierling, nicknamed "Mother Courage", a wilycanteen woman with the Swedish Army who is determined to make her living from the war. Over the course of the play, she loses all three of her children, Swiss Cheese, Eilif, and Kattrin, to the same war from which she sought to profit.
The name of the central character, Mother Courage, is drawn from the picaresque writings of the 17th-century German writer, Grimmelshausen, whose central character in the early short novel, The Runagate Courage, also struggles and connives her way through the Thirty Years' War in Germany and Poland, but otherwise the story is mostly Brecht's, in collaboration with Steffin.
The action of the play takes place over the course of 12 years (1624 to 1636), represented in 12 scenes. Some give a sense of Courage's career without being given enough time to develop sentimental feelings and empathize with any of the characters. Meanwhile, Mother Courage is not depicted as a noble character – here the Brechtian epic theatre sets itself apart from the ancient Greek tragedies in which the heroes are far above the average. With the same alienating effect, the ending of Brecht's play does not arouse…