Mother Courage Teaches Us

My astute movie buddy found out that Texas Women’s University was staging Bertold Brecht’s play, “Mother Courage” in nearby Denton, Texas. She bought tickets immediately, thereby providing a genuine educational experience for me.

My own experience with Brecht had never gone much further than listening to Bobby Darin’s 1960s rock song, “Mack the Knife.” But I knew he had been a communist and was a German who opposed Hitler. This play was written about the time the Nazis invaded Poland. The play doesn’t mention Hitler nor WWII, it is set in the Thirty Years’ War in Europe in the 17th century. But then,”M.A.S.H.” was set in Korea, but it was about Vietnam.

Wikipedia says, “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.” You should try to see it if you can, but not because you’re going to like the title character. Or not because you’re going to like anybody at all in this play. They’re not heroic nor self-sacrificing, not physically beautiful, not charming, not tremendously insightful nor clever. They are just people. In other words, this is not an American play. As far as I know, Hollywood has never shown the slightest interest in filming it.

Apparently, Bertold Brecht didn’t believe in cultivating emotional transference between his characters and the audience. He felt that nothing should get in the way of the basic art experience between audience members and the entire performance. He wanted to make his point. In this case, his point was that war is an awful thing benefiting no one, and perhaps adding that people who try to exploit war deserve help the least.

Mother Courage and her children sell food and sundries to Protestant soldiers, or sometimes to the Catholics, in the devastating religious war underway. The thing that she and others in the play dread most is the possible ending of the war. It would cut off their livelihoods. This message is more than obvious in a conversation between two Swedish soldiers in the first scene. The rest of the play enlarges the theme, like a map of battle zones, by sticking pins in it.

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