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Mother Courage

Bertolt Brecht

Important Quotations Explained

Scenes Eleven and Twelve

Key Facts

I hope I can pull the wagon by myself. Yes, I'll manage, there's not much in it now. I must get back into business.

Relinquishing her daughter's corpse to the local peasants, Mother Courage resolves to continue her trade at the conclusion of the play, indicating for Brecht, as he notes programmatically in the Courage Model Book, that she has learned nothing. Once again she has lost a child while engaging in business. She understands nothing of what has come to pass, however, barely reacting to the peasants' accusation that she is to blame for the death of her child. Wearily, Courage presses on with business as usual, the business that serves as her material and psychical support. As with much of Mother Courage, the brilliance of this final scene lies in its staging. With the taking up of the wagon, Brecht envisions Courage crossing an empty space that recalls Scene one, showing her treading a full circle like a damned soul. The soldiers sing her trademark song, calling all to continue in the service of a war that continues across the generations.

You all know honest Socrates Who always spoke the truth They owed him thanks for that, you'd think But what happened? Why, they put hemlock in his drink And swore that he misled the youth. How honest was this Socrates! Yet long before the day was out The consequence was clear, alas: His honesty had brought him to this pass. A man is better off without

This excerpt is from "The Song of the Great Souls of the Earth," a song that delivers another of Brecht's thematic pronouncements—that during war, virtues become fatal to those who possess them. This song tells of four great figures, Solomon, Julius Caesar, Socrates, and Saint Martin, who meet their dark fates due to their respective virtues, wisdom, bravery, honesty, and kindness. Thus, a "man is better off without." This refrain is ironic as the Cook sings the song for food. In other words, a man might do without virtues but not bread. Indeed, for the Cook, virtues are to be bartered for food, "try honesty, that should be worth a dinner" he cries.

This song is also an allegory for Mother Courage and her children. Eilif is Caesar; Swiss Cheese is Socrates; and Kattrin is Saint Martin. Similarly, Courage's wisdom only brings about her ruin. Note the dissonances in this apparently transparent allegory. Swiss Cheese, for example, is not that similar to Socrates. Here Brecht exploits the apparently arbitrary relations between allegory's terms. In this case, the gap lies between the song and the characters. This manifest gap would hopefully impel the spectator to become aware of the structures that make these figurative relations possible.

For that little bird whisper in your ear "That's all very well but wait a year And we will join the big brass band And with our trumpet in our hand We will march in lockstep with the rest. But one day, look! The battalions wheel! The whole thing swings from east to west! And falling on our knees, we squeal: The Lord God, He knows best! (But don't give me that!)"

Described by Brecht as at her most depraved point in the play, Mother Courage sings the "Song of the Great Capitulation" to a young soldier seeking to rectify an injustice performed by his captain. She herself awaits the captain to file a complaint against the army. Intended to deflate the young soldier's rage, the song tells of a proud man who joins the army and quickly submits to both its discipline and surrender. His capitulation is the capitulation of the masses, thus the shift from the "you" to "we." It ends in a quivering before God, a motif that prefigures in the capitulation of the peasants in Scene 11. Here Courage learns by teaching, her cynical realism driving both the soldier and then herself from the officer's tent. To succeed, this scene must above all alienate the spectator from the spectacle or else risk seducing it with the pleasures of capitulation. Note in this respect how Brecht also underlines Courage's bitter awareness of capitulation's indignity with the parenthetical "But don't give me that!"

I won't let you spoil my war for me. Destroys the weak, does it? Well, what does peace do for'em, huh? War feeds its people better.

Courage delivers these forceful lines at her moment of greatest prosperity. Immediately before in the scene previous, she had cursed the war for its disfigurement of her daughter. Now she celebrates it, prefiguring her ultimately failure to learn from the horrors of war. As noted by a Sergeant in Scene One, war is her breadwinner. In Scene Six, the Chaplain similarly notes cynically that war, though degrading, provides for all the people's needs. Brecht poses war as Courage's good provider to insist that it is not a rupture of "business as usual" but the continuation of business by other means.

No, there's nothing we can do. (To Kattrin:) Pray, poor thing, pray! There's nothing we can do to stop this bloodshed, so even if you can't talk, at least pray. He hears, if no one else does.

This excerpt comes from Scene Eleven, the scene of Kattrin's murder. Here, upon discovering a Catholic regiment readying for a surprise attack on the town of Halle, the peasants with whom Mother Courage has left her wagon immediately capitulate. They are certain that there is nothing they can do and support each other in their belief. Ultimately, the only "action" possible for them is an appeal to God. Certainly their reaction recalls the "Song of the Great Capitulation." In the Model Book, Brecht underlines the horrifyingly ritual character of their surrender. Years of war have frozen them into patterns lamentation. The Model Book identifies this capitulation as one of the most alienating element of this more conventionally dramatic scene, a scene that could easily entrance the audience with its pathos. By elaborating their capitulation, the play invites the spectator to consider the peasants through critical eyes. Though silent, Kattrin will intervene where they fail, saving the children of Halle. She does not address her voice silently to God but to the town's defenses.

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