and Her Children (German: Mutter Courage und ihre
Kinder) is a play written in 1939 by the German dramatist and poet
(1898–1956), with significant contributions from
Margarete Steffin. Four theatrical productions were produced in
Switzerland and Germany from 1941 to 1952, the last three supervised
and/or directed by Brecht, who had returned to East Germany from the
United States. Several years after Brecht's death in 1959/1960, the
play was adapted as a German film starring Helene Weigel, Brecht's
widow and a leading actress.
is considered by some to be the greatest play of the
20th century, and perhaps also the greatest anti-war play of all
2.1 As epic theatre
6 Brecht's reaction
7 Popular culture
8 English versions
9 See also
11 External links
Mother Courage is one of nine plays that Brecht wrote in resistance to
the rise of
Fascism and Nazism. In response to the invasion of Poland
by the German armies of
Adolf Hitler in 1939, Brecht wrote Mother
Courage in what writers call a "white heat"—in a little over a
As leading Brecht scholars
Ralph Manheim and
John Willett wrote in
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
Thirty Years' War of 1618–1648,
which involved all the European states. It follows the fortunes of
Anna Fierling, nicknamed "Mother Courage," a wily canteen 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 very war from which she tried
Stamp commemorating the
Berliner Ensemble production
The name of the central character, Mother Courage, is drawn from the
picaresque writings of the 17th-century German writer Grimmelshausen.
His 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. 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, but do not provide time for viewers to develop sentimental
feelings and empathize with any of the characters. Meanwhile, Mother
Courage is not depicted as a noble character. The Brechtian epic
theatre distinguished itself from the ancient Greek tragedies, in
which the heroes are far above the average. Neither does Brecht's
ending of his play inspire any desire to imitate the main character,
Mother Courage is among Brecht's most famous plays. Some directors
consider it to be the greatest play of the 20th century. Brecht
expresses the dreadfulness of war and the idea that virtues are not
rewarded in corrupt times. He used an epic structure to force the
audience to focus on the issues rather than getting involved with the
characters and their emotions. Epic plays are a distinct genre typical
of Brecht. Some critics believe that he created the form.
As epic theatre
Mother Courage is an example of Brecht's concepts of epic theatre and
Verfremdungseffekt, or "V" effect; preferably "alienation" or
Verfremdungseffekt is achieved through the use
of placards which reveal the events of each scene, juxtaposition,
actors changing characters and costume on stage, the use of narration,
simple props and scenery. For instance, a single tree would be used to
convey a whole forest, and the stage is usually flooded with bright
white light, whether it's a winter's night or a summer's day. Several
songs, interspersed throughout the play, are used to underscore the
themes of the play. They also require the audience to think about what
the playwright is saying.
Mother Courage (also known as "Canteen Anna")
Kattrin (Catherine), her mute daughter
Eilif, her older son
Swiss Cheese (also mentioned as Feyos), her younger son
Man with the Bandage
Another Peasant Woman
The play is set in the 17th century in Europe during the Thirty Years'
War. The Recruiting Officer and Sergeant are introduced, both
complaining about the difficulty of recruiting soldiers to the war.
Anna Fierling (Mother Courage) enters pulling a cart containing
provisions for sale to soldiers, and introduces her children Eilif,
Kattrin, and Swiss Cheese. The sergeant negotiates a deal with Mother
Courage while Eilif is conscripted by the Recruiting Officer.
Two years thereafter,
Mother Courage argues with a Protestant
General's cook over a capon, and Eilif is congratulated by the General
for killing peasants and slaughtering their cattle. Eilif and his
mother sing "The Fishwife and the Soldier".
Mother Courage scolds her
son for endangering himself.
Three years later, Swiss Cheese works as an army paymaster. The camp
prostitute, Yvette Pottier, sings "The Fraternization Song". Mother
Courage uses this song to warn Kattrin against involving herself with
soldiers. Before the Catholic troops arrive, the Cook and Chaplain
bring a message from Eilif. Swiss Cheese hides the regiment's paybox
from invading soldiers, and
Mother Courage and companions change their
insignia from Protestant to Catholic. Swiss Cheese is captured and
tortured by the Catholics having hidden the paybox by the river.
Mother Courage attempts bribery to free him, planning to pawn the
wagon first and redeem it with the regiment money. When Swiss Cheese
claims that he has thrown the box in the river, Mother Courage
backtracks on the price, and Swiss Cheese is killed. Fearing to be
shot as an accomplice,
Mother Courage does not acknowledge his body,
and it is discarded.
Mother Courage waits outside the General's tent to register a
complaint and sings the "Song of Great Capitulation" to a young
soldier anxious to complain of inadequate pay. The song persuades both
to withdraw their complaints.
When Catholic General Tilly's funeral approaches, the Chaplain tells
Mother Courage that the war will still continue, and she is persuaded
to pile up stocks. The Chaplain then suggests to
Mother Courage that
she marry him, but she rejects his proposal.
Mother Courage curses the
war because she finds Kattrin disfigured after being raped by a
drunken soldier. Thereafter
Mother Courage is again following the
Two peasants try to sell merchandise to her when they hear news of
peace with the death of the Swedish king. The Cook appears and causes
an argument between
Mother Courage and the Chaplain.
Mother Courage is
off to the market while Eilif enters, dragged in by soldiers. Eilif is
executed for killing a peasant while stealing livestock, trying to
repeat the same act for which he was praised as hero in wartime, but
Mother Courage never hears thereof. When she finds out the war
continues, the Cook and
Mother Courage move on with the wagon.
In the seventeenth year of the war, there is no food and no supplies.
The Cook inherits an inn in Utrecht and suggests to Mother Courage
that she operate it with him, but refuses to harbour Kattrin.
Mother Courage and Kattrin pull the wagon by themselves.
Mother Courage is trading in the Protestant city of Halle,
Kattrin is left with a peasant family in the countryside overnight. As
Catholic soldiers force the peasants to guide the army to the city for
a sneak attack, Kattrin fetches a drum from the cart and beats it,
waking the townspeople, but is herself shot. Early in the morning,
Mother Courage sings a lullaby to her daughter's corpse, has the
peasants bury it, and hitches herself to the cart.
Therese Giehse as
Mother Courage by Günter Rittner
The play was originally produced at the Schauspielhaus Zürich,
produced by Leopold Lindtberg in 1941. Most of the score consisted of
original compositions by the Swiss composer Paul Burkhard; the rest
had been arranged by him. The musicians were placed in view of the
audience so that they could be seen, one of Brecht's many techniques
in Epic Theatre. Therese Giehse, a well-known actress at the time,
took the title role.
The second production of
Mother Courage took place in then East Berlin
in 1949, with Brecht's (second) wife Helene Weigel, his main actress
and later also director, as Mother Courage.
Paul Dessau supplied a new
score, composed in close collaboration with Brecht himself. This
production would highly influence the formation of Brecht's company,
the Berliner Ensemble, which would provide him a venue to direct many
of his plays. Brecht died directing Galileo for the Ensemble. Brecht
revised the play for this production in reaction to the reviews of the
Zürich production, which empathized with the "heart-rending vitality
of all maternal creatures". Even so, he wrote that the Berlin audience
failed to see Mother Courage's crimes and participation in the war and
focused on her suffering instead.
The next production (and second production in Germany) was directed by
Brecht at the
Munich Kammerspiele in 1950, with the original Mother
Courage, Therese Giehse, with a set designed by Theo Otto (see photo,
In the Spanish theater, it was premiered in 1954 in Buenos Aires with
Alejandra Boero and in 1958 in Montevideo with
China Zorrilla from the
Uruguayan National Comedy Company.
Elizabeth Cutts played Courage in the English Midlands premiere,
Keith Fowler in Stratford-upon-Avon, 1961
In 1955, Joan Littlewood's
Theatre Workshop gave the play its London
première, with Littlewood performing the title role.
In June 1959 the
BBC broadcast a television version adapted by Eric
Crozier from Eric Bentley's English translation of the play. Produced
by Rudolph Cartier; it starred
Flora Robson in the title role.
The play remained unperformed in Britain after the 1955 Littlewood
production until 1961 when the Stratford-upon-Avon Amateur Players
undertook to introduce the play to the English Midlands. Directed by
Keith Fowler and presented on the floor of the Stratford
Hippodrome, the play drew high acclaim. The title role was played
by Elizabeth ("Libby") Cutts, with Pat Elliott as Katrin, Digby Day as
Swiss Cheese, and James Orr as Eiliff.
The play received its American premiere at
Cleveland Play House
Cleveland Play House in
1958, starring Harriet Brazier as Mother Courage. The play was
directed by Benno Frank and the set was designed by Paul Rodgers.
The first Broadway production of
Mother Courage opened at the Martin
Beck Theatre on 28 March 1963. It was directed by Jerome Robbins,
starred Anne Bancroft, and featured Barbara Harris and Gene Wilder. It
ran for 52 performances and was nominated for 5 Tonys. During this
production Wilder first met Bancroft's then-boyfriend, Mel Brooks.
In 1971 Joachim Tenschert directed a staging of Brecht's original
Berliner Ensemble production for the
Melbourne Theatre Company
Melbourne Theatre Company at the
Princess Theatre. Gloria Dawn played Mother Courage; Wendy Hughes,
John Wood and Tony Llewellyn-Jones her children;
Frank Thring the
Chaplain; Frederick Parslow the cook; Jennifer Hagan played Yvette;
and Peter Curtin.
Angelique Rockas as Yvette (
Mother Courage and her children) in 1982
at the Internationalist Theatre.
In May 1982
Internationalist Theatre gave the first UK multi-racial
and multi-national performance of
Mother Courage at London's Theatre
Space, a basement theatre in the old Charing Cross hospital. Peter
The Stage affirms that "director Peter Stevenson has
achieved a significant piece of epic theatre with his multi-national
cast". Richard Ingham (Where To Go) observed that the cast "is
made from experienced actors from all over the world, and perhaps
their very cosmopolitanism helps to bring out new textures from a
familiar dish". Christopher Hudson of The Standard lauds "the
serious, workmanlike performances" of the actors of Internationalist
Theatre prepared to allow the play to "speak for itself".
Diana Rigg was awarded an
Evening Standard Theatre Award
for her performance in the title role, directed by Jonathan Kent, at
the National Theatre. David Hare provided the translation.
From August to September 2006,
Mother Courage and Her Children was
The Public Theater
The Public Theater in New York City with a new translation
by playwright Tony Kushner. This production included new music by
Jeanine Tesori and was directed by George C. Wolfe. Meryl
Mother Courage with a supporting cast that included
Kevin Kline and Austin Pendleton. This production was free to the
public and played to full houses at the Public Theater's Delacorte
Theater in Central Park. It ran for four weeks.
Tony Kushner translation was performed in a new production
Royal National Theatre
Royal National Theatre between September and December
Fiona Shaw in the title role, directed by Deborah Warner
and with new songs performed live by Duke Special.
Wesley Enoch directed a new translation by Paula Nazarski for
an all-indigenous Australian cast at the Queensland Performing Arts
Centre's Playhouse Theatre.
In Sri Lanka,
Mother Courage has been translated into Sinhalese and
produced several times. In 1972,
Henry Jayasena directed it as Diriya
Mawa Ha Ege Daruwo and under the same name
Anoja Weerasinghe directed
it in 2006. In 2014, Ranjith Wijenayake translated into Sinhalese the
translation of John Willet as Dhairya Maatha and produced it as a
stage drama.[full citation needed]
After the 1941 performances in Switzerland, Brecht believed critics
had misunderstood the play. While many sympathized with Courage,
Brecht's goal was to show that
Mother Courage was wrong for not
understanding the circumstances she and her children were in.
According to Hans Mayer, Brecht changed the play for the 1949
East Berlin to make Courage less sympathetic to the
audience. However, according to Mayer, these alterations did not
significantly change the audience's sympathy for Courage. Katie
Baker, author of a retrospective article about
Mother Courage on its
75th anniversary, notes that "[Brecht's audiences] were missing the
point of his Verfremdungseffekt, that breaking of the fourth wall
which was supposed to make the masses think, not feel, in order to
nudge them in a revolutionary direction." She also quotes Brecht as
lamenting: "The (East Berliner) audiences of 1949 did not see Mother
Courage's crimes, her participation, her desire to share in the
profits of the war business; they saw only her failure, her
The German feminist newspaper Courage, published from 1976 to 1984,
was named after Mother Courage, whom the editors saw as a
"self-directed woman ... not a starry-eyed idealist but neither is she
satisfied with the status quo".
The character of Penelope Pennywise in the Tony Award-winning musical
Urinetown has been called "a cartoonish descendant of Brecht's Mother
The rock band
My Chemical Romance
My Chemical Romance created the character Mother War for
their third album The Black Parade. Mother War's song, "Mama", is
influenced by themes from
Mother Courage and Her Children, including
the effect of war on personal morals.
Mother Courage has been compared to the popular musical, Fiddler on
the Roof. As Matthew Gurewitsch wrote in The New York Sun, "Deep down,
Mother Courage has a lot in common with Tevye the Milkman in Fiddler
on the Roof. Like him, she's a mother hen helpless to protect the
brood."[full citation needed]
Mother Courage was the inspiration for Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer winning
play Ruined, written after Nottage spent time with Congolese women
in Ugandan refugee camps.
1941 – Hoffman Reynolds Hays (1904–1980), translation for New
1955 – Eric Bentley, translation for Doubleday/Garden City
1965 – Eric Bentley, translation, and W. H. Auden, songs
translation, for the National Theatre, London
1972 – Ralph Manheim, translation for Random House/Pantheon Books
1980 – John Willett, translation for Methuen Publishing
1980 – Ntozake Shange, adaptation for New York Shakespeare Festival
1984 – Hanif Kureishi, adaptation, and Sue Davies, songs
translation, for the Barbican Centre, London (Samuel French Ltd.)
1995 – David Hare, adaptation for the Royal National Theatre, London
(A & C Black, 1996)
2000 – Lee Hall, adaptation, and Jan-Willem van den Bosch,
translation, for Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, England (Methuen Drama, 2003)
2006 – Michael Hofmann, adaptation, and John Willett, songs
translation, for the
English Touring Theatre (A & C Black, 2006)
2006 – Tony Kushner, adaptation for The Public Theater, New York
City, published in the form used in the 2009 Royal National Theatre
2014 – David Hare, adaptation presented by the Arena Stage,
Washington DC with
Kathleen Turner as
Mother Courage and featuring 13
2014 – Wesley Enoch, adaptation, Queensland Theatre Company
2014 - David Edgar, translation for Stratford Festival, directed by
2015 – Ed Thomas for National Theatre Wales, site specific
production with an all-female cast held at the
Merthyr Tydfil Labour
2015 – Eamon Flack, adaptation, Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.
List of plays with anti-war themes
^ Brecht Chronik, Werner Hecht, editor. (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998), p.
^ Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder. (DEFA-Film 1959/60), after the
Bertolt Brecht and Erich Engel at the Berliner Ensemble,
with Helene Weigel, Angelika Hurwicz, Ekkehard Schall, Heinz Schubert,
Ernst Busch; directed by Peter Palitzsch and Manfred Wekwerth; with
music by Paul Dessau.
^ Oskar Eustis, "Program Note" for the New York Shakespeare Festival
Mother Courage and Her Children, starring Meryl Streep,
August 2006. See also Brett D. Johnson, "Review of
Mother Courage and
Her Children," Theatre Journal, Volume 59, Number 2, May 2007, pp.
281–282. Quote: "Although numerous theatrical artists and scholars
may share artistic director Oskar Eustis's opinion that Brecht's
masterpiece is the greatest play of the twentieth century, productions
Mother Courage remain a rarity in contemporary American theatre."
^ Klaus Volker. Brecht Chronicle. (Seabury Press, 1975). P. 92.
^ "Introduction", Bertolt Brecht: Collected Plays, vol. 5. (Vintage
Books, 1972), p. xi
^ Online text (German original).
^ Oscar Eustis (Artistic Director of the New York Shakespeare
Festival), Program Note for N.Y.S.F. production of
Mother Courage and
Her Children with Meryl Streep, August 2006.
^ Bertolt Brecht. Brecht on Theatre, Edited by John Willett. p. 121.
^ For information in English on the revisions to the play, see John
Willet and Ralph Manheim, eds. Brecht, Collected Plays: Five (Life of
Mother Courage and Her Children), Metheuen, 1980: 271,
^ a b "Shout it from the Rooftops", Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, April
^ , The Cleveland Memory Project at Cleveland State University
"Shown here the
Cleveland Play House
Cleveland Play House production of Bertolt Brecht's
'Mother Courage' are (from the left) Barbara Busby as Catherine the
Mute, Harriet Brazier in the title role and Kirk Willis as the
preacher. Benno Frank was guest director for this American premiere
and Paul Rodgers designed the set."
^ "Larry King Live – Interview With Gene Wilder." CNN.com –
Transcripts. Retrieved on March 18, 2008
^ Robinson, Ian (2 July 1973). "An 'authentic' version of Mother
Courage?". The National Times. Sydney: Fairfax Media.
^ Peter Hepple (13 May 1982). "Art of Keeping Alive".
The Stage –
via Internet Archive.
^ Richard Ingham (13 May 1982). "Review of Mother Courage". Where to
Go – via Internet Archive.
^ Christopher Hudson (6 May 1982). "Letting Mother take the load". The
Standard – via Internet Archive.
^ Bertholt Brecht (March 1982). "
Internationalist Theatre Production
Mother Courage and Her Children".
Mother Courage and Her Children
– via theatricalia.com.
^ Wolf, Matt (27 November 1995). "Review: '
Mother Courage and Her
Children'". Variety. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
Evening Standard theatre awards 1955-2002". Evening Standard. 12
^ "Aboriginal viewpoint gives two classic plays an intense colour" by
Bridget Cormack, The Australian, 18 May 2013
Mother Courage & Her Children, production details, Playhouse,
QPAC, May/June 2013
^ Diriya Mawa Ha Ege Daruwo of Henry Jayasena, 23 April 1972, The
Sunday Times, 12 March 2006
Mother Courage and Her Children", Daily Mirror Sri Lanka, 30
^ a b Coe, Tony; Bessel, Richard; Willett, Amanda (1989). Brecht on
stage (Television documentary).
BBC Two and Open University.
^ Downing, John D. H. (2011). "Feminist Media, 1960–1990 (Germany)".
Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. Sage Publications.
pp. 188–190. ISBN 9780761926887.
^ Matthew Gurewitsch. The New York Sun, August 22, 2006.
^ Iqbal, Nosheen (20 April 2010). "Lynn Nottage: a bar, a brothel and
Brecht". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
^ Merry, Stephanie (30 January 2014). "The many moving parts of Mother
Courage". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
Sources consulted (English versions list)
University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, Brecht's Works in
English: A Bibliography, online database.
Doollee – The Playwrights Database of Modern Plays:
"Adaptations/Translations of Plays by Bertolt Brecht"
Squiers, Anthony (2014). An Introduction to the Social and Political
Philosophy of Bertolt Brecht: Revolution and Aesthetics. Amsterdam:
The International Brecht Society: "Brecht in English Translation"
Bertolt Brecht Forum: "
Bertolt Brecht in English", tabular list
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