Mother Courage

by: Bertolt Brecht

Scene One

Courage then narrates the fatal flaws that will lead the children to their demise: bravery, honesty, and kindness. Thus, Mother Courage announces how war will make virtues fatal to those who exercise them. Brecht clearly has the tradition of the morality play—which featured an Everyman as its protagonist and various characters personifying Vices and Virtues—in mind. There is obviously a reason why the heroine's name is Courage.

Mother Courage is no morality play. First, its heroine is not an Everyman, nor will Courage offer a "universal figure" with which the audience can immediately identify. Second, the play finds irony in its personifications. Courage, for example, becomes Courage for her mercenary nature when she drove through a bombardment to keep a cart full of bread. Similarly, Mother Courage subjects its allegories to alienation by exploiting allegory's most irritating features: its heavy-handedness and the apparently arbitrary relationship between its terms. Brecht makes the arbitrariness in an allegory evident. Kattrin is a "cross in herself," war is a dice player. This revelation of the gap between allegory's terms functions to alienate or distance the spectator from the spectacle in hopes of generating his critical reflection.

The other major "distanciation effects" in this opening scene lie in Brecht's stage techniques. Again, recall that Mother Courage in large part offers a model for the epic theater. A key device in this scene is the emptiness of the stage. Brecht understood the void produced in this first scene as a horizon lying open to the enterprising family that prefigures the space of measureless devastation in which the play ends. Moreover, the spectator was to understand the void as the actors' tabula rasa. In seeing this void take shape, the spectator would in turn subject the actors' interpretations to scrutiny.