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In 1625–1626, Mother Courage journeys through Poland with the Swedish army. The scene begins in the tent of the Swedish Commander and the adjacent kitchen outside the besieged town of Wallhof. Courage is arguing with the Cook over the sale of a capon, a castrated rooster. She cries that the soldiers are starving, chasing after field rats and drooling over boiled leather—no food is left. If the Cook does not buy the capon, the Commander will take his head. Nonplussed, the Cook begins to prepare an old cut of beef.

The Commander, a Chaplain, and Eilif enter the tent, the Commander lauding the young man for a recent raid on the local peasants. Angrily he calls for meat. Having overheard the conversation, Courage rejoices at finding her son again and forces the capon on the Cook for a pretty penny.

Eilif recounts the raid. Upon learning that the peasants had hidden their oxen, he began to deprive his men of their meat rations to make them desperate for food. When his company attacked, however, they found that the peasants outnumbered them. Four cornered Eilif. Laughing, he bid on the oxen to confuse them and then he retrieved his sword and chopped them to pieces. "Necessity knows no law, huh?" he chuckles.

The Commander asks the Chaplain what he thinks of the tale. Cynically, the Chaplain notes that Jesus told men to love their neighbor at a time when their bellies were full, but this is no longer the case. The Commander remarks that Eilif got his men meat, and any act done for the least of God's children is done for God. He celebrates Eilif's bravery, calling him Julius Caesar, and declares that he should be presented to the king. In the kitchen, Courage remarks that trouble must be afoot. If the Commander's campaign were any good, he would not need brave soldiers. Indeed, great virtues always signal that something is amiss.

The Commander declares that Eilif's father must have been a great warrior. The boy concurs and sings a song of warning Courage taught him called "The Song of the Wise Woman and the Soldier." It tells of a soldier who joins the fight against the advice of a wise woman and dies, vanishing like smoke and leaving nothing but glorious deeds that cannot console the living. Courage picks up the song from the kitchen, beating on a pan with a spoon. Eilif enters and embraces her. She boxes him on the ear for failing to back down when the peasants attacked him.


Scene Two continues to elaborate the brutal business of war. Simply put, the people are starving—to put it otherwise would probably contravene Brecht's dark antiwar humor. Note the trope of meat: the Commander screams for meat; for the Commander, the peasants stuff their priests with beef at both ends; the farmers want to make mincemeat out of Eilif. Everyone is out for flesh and the depravity of war is clear. Eilif's glorious deeds, told in the barest terms, are theft and murder. His ostensible bravery, the virtue that supposedly does him in, is more brutal than heroic. All too quickly in this war waged in the name of God does the Commander's religious sophistry justifies his crimes, though certainly the Chaplain disapproves of the young murderer. Mother Courage exploits the situation to gain an extra buck.