Mother Courage and Her Children
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Widely considered one of the great dramatic creations of the modem stage, Mother Courage and Her Children is Bertolt Brecht’s most passionate and profound statement against war. Set in the seventeenth century, the play follows Anna Fierling (“Mother Courage”), an itinerant trader, as she pulls her wagon of wares and her children through the blood and carnage of Europe’s religious wars. Battered by hardships, brutality, and the degradation and death of her children, she ultimately finds herself alone with the one thing in which she truly believes—her ramshackle wagon with its tattered flag and freight of boots and brandy. Fitting herself in its harness, the old woman manages, with the last of her strength, to drag it onward to the next battle. In the enduring figure of Mother Courage, Bertolt Brecht has created one of the most extraordinary characters in literature.
HARD TO SWALLOW: FIRST YOU MUST GIVE THEM BEER TO DRINK. THEN THEY CAN FACE WHAT IS TO FOLLOW – BUT LET ’EM SWIM BEFORE THEY SINK! CHRISTIANS, AWAKE! THE WINTER’S GONE! THE SNOWS DEPART, THE DEAD SLEEP ON. AND THOUGH YOU MAY NOT LONG SURVIVE, GET OUT OF BED AND LOOK ALIVE! YOUR MEN WILL MARCH TILL THEY ARE DEAD, SIR, BUT CANNOT FIGHT UNLESS THEY EAT. THE BLOOD THEY SPILL FOR YOU IS RED, SIR, WHAT FIRES THAT BLOOD IS MY RED MEAT. FOR MEAT AND SOUP AND JAM AND JELLY IN THIS OLD CART
if necessary, two at a time. MOTHER COURAGE. Seventeen leather belts. – Then you don’t think the war might end? CHAPLAIN. Because a commander’s dead? Don’t be childish. Heroes are cheap. There are plenty of others where he came from. MOTHER COURAGE. I wasn’t asking just for the sake of argument. I was wondering if I should buy up a lot of supplies. They happen to be cheap right now. But if the war’s going to end, I might just as well forget it. CHAPLAIN. There are people who think the war’s
cattle. YOUNG PEASANT. Not the cattle! PEASANT WOMAN. (weeping) Spare the cattle, Captain, or we’ll starve! LIEUTENANT. If he must be stubborn. FIRST SOLDIER. I think I’ll start with the bull. YOUNG PEASANT. (to his father) Do I have to? (The OLD PEASANT nods.) I’ll do it. PEASANT WOMAN. Thank you, thank you, Captain, for sparing us, for ever and ever, Amen. (The OLD PEASANT stops her going on thanking him.) FIRST SOLDIER. I knew the bull came first all right! (Led by the YOUNG
COOK. Maybe not for long. How d’you know he’ll come back alive? You’re hard, you women. A glass of brandy wouldn’t cost you much. But no, you say, no – and six feet under goes your man. CHAPLAIN. My dear Cook, you talk as if dying for one’s beliefs were a misfortune – it is the highest privilege! This is not just any war, remember, it is a religious war, and therefore pleasing unto God. COOK. I see that. In one sense it’s a war because of all the cheating, plunder, rape, and so forth, but it’s
What’s more, you eat his bread. COOK. I don’t eat his bread: I bake his bread. MOTHER COURAGE. He’ll never be conquered, that man, and you know why? We all back him up – the little fellows like you and me. Oh yes, to hear the big fellows talk, they ‘re fighting for their beliefs and so on, but if you look into it, you find they’re not that silly: they do want to make a profit on the deal. So you and I back them up! COOK. Surely. CHAPLAIN. (pointing to flag, to COOK) And as a Dutchman you’d do