Mother Courage appears outside an officer's tent, complaining to a Clerk that the army has destroyed her merchandise and charged her with an illicit fine. She plans to file a complaint with the captain. The Clerk responds that she should be grateful they let her stay in business.
A Young Soldier enters, threatening the captain's murder. Apparently the captain has stolen his reward for rescuing the Colonel's horse, squandering it on food, drink, and whores. He is hungry and wants to eat. The Commander ordered the army into the fields the year previous, not thinking they would remain in the area. The soldiers ruined the crops, and famine has been the result.
An Older Soldier tries to calm the younger one. Courage tells him to quiet down, saying that the screamers never last long. His rage will not last. He wonders how much time it will take in the stocks before he realizes that he can bear with injustice. Suddenly the Clerk announces the captain's imminent arrival and orders the group to sit. They follow and Courage remarks that it is better to not rise again.
Courage then sings "The Song of the Great Capitulation." It tells of a proud man who joined the army and quickly came to submit to its discipline and ultimate capitulation. The soldier leaves and the Clerk informs Courage she can see the captain; she exits as well.
Two years have passed and the wagon crosses Poland, Moravia, Bavaria, Italy, and Bavaria again. In 1631, it stands in a war-ravaged village after Tilly's victory at Magdeburg. Mother Courage and Kattrin serve two soldiers at the counter. One wears a stolen women's fur coat. Victory marches play throughout the scene.
Courage demands that the men pay and they protest that their "humane" commander was bribed and only allowed one hour for plundering. The Chaplain staggers in and there is another family of peasants in the farmhouse. He needs linen, and an excited Kattrin tries to get her mother to fetch some. Courage refuses, as she has sold all her bandages and will not sacrifice her officer's shirts.
The Chaplain brings in a wounded woman and peasant who stayed behind to protect their farm. All look to the unmoved Courage. Kattrin threatens her with a board. The Chaplain lifts her off the wagon, takes out the shirts, and begins tearing them in strips. From the house comes the cry of a child in pain. Kattrin rushes into the collapsing building.
Torn in two directions, Courage anxiously watches for Kattrin and warns the Chaplain to go easy on her linen. Kattrin emerges triumphantly with a baby. Courage commands that she return it to its mother. Kattrin rocks the baby and hums a lullaby. Courage demands that the victory marches stop; the victory has only cost her money. She sees a soldier trying to make off with a bottle of schnapps and snatches his fur coat as payment. The Chaplain murmurs that there is still someone in the farmhouse.
Scene Four is a scene of education and capitulation is its lesson. As Brecht notes in the Courage Model Book, it features Courage as the soldier's teacher, instructing him on the impermanence of his rage and their automatic deference to authority that they share. This deference involves a collective submission. Thus, they will all sit when commanded and not rise again in revolt. Similarly, note how the pronouns of the "Song of the Great Capitulation" shift from "you" to "we." Courage herself learns by teaching, capitulating once she realizes the limit of her own rage.
For Brecht, this scene shows Courage at her most depraved. At the same time, she remains aware and angered by her depravity. Note in this respect the ironic parenthetical remarks that interject into the "Song." These remarks and other devices similarly "alienating" her lesson carry with them a certain political urgency. Brecht considers this scene especially dangerous if played without techniques of alienation, fearing that it might seduce the audience into the pleasures of capitulation.
Scene Five elaborates on Courage's depravity further. Brecht understands this scene as presenting a "new Courage." Having lost her son, she defends the wagon and its merchandise with her teeth bared. So attached is she to the wagon that she appears torn between it and her daughter. Bent on protecting her own interests, Courage becomes complicit in the suffering of the war's victims. Though ultimately the Chaplain tends to the wounded, the scene denies the audience any momentary relief, cathartic or otherwise, which this act might offer. Instead, it ends with Courage's crude act of theft and the indication that others remain in the crumbling farmhouse, refusing to release the spectator from the realities of war.
This scene also develops a number of characters. As noted in the Model Book, the Chaplain to this point has appeared as an ineffectual, pious, and wooden man who rather tenuously hangs onto the wagon as an outsider needing protection. Thus, he decidedly does not intervene into the horror around him. For example, recall Courage's haggling over Swiss Cheese. In deying Courage and attempting to save the victims of Tilly's victory, he regains a sense of his old importance and Brect comes to understand himself as someone oppressed by war as well.
This scene is above all dependent, however, on Kattrin, who, through mime, reveals her increasing rage at her mother's inhumanity. The scene insists on the intelligent, willful nature of Kattrin's character. She is not prey to dumb animal instincts, and though she is ostensibly the most helpless creature in the play, she consciously decides to intervene. At the same time, there is something sinister in her self-sacrificing rescue of the baby. Brecht notes in the Model Book that if her mother's spoil is the fur coat, hers is the baby. Indeed, she almost plays the thief in her rescue of the baby, running out of the farmhouse with the child above her head. She coddles and comforts it, apparently ready to take it from its mother. Moreover, it appears she has done this before. One wonders if she stages revenge against Mother Courage, violently supplanting the "bad mother" by playing the good one herself.