Mother Courage

Summary

Scene Two

Summary Scene Two

Along with appearing as the opportunist ever bent on her survival, Courage figures anew as the wise woman, taking up her voice in Eilif's song as she foretells the soldier's death. Like much of the play's music, this song functions autonomously as a "plot within the plot" that once again foreshadows the son's demise. The Frankfurt School theorist Walter Benjamin notes the profusion of such thinkers and wise men in Brecht's plays, characters he describes as "untragic heroes." For Benjamin, these thinkers evoke an uncharted tradition of attaching a third party observer to the action. Such device generally remains artificial according to most standards of dramaturgy but appears consistent with the principles of epic form—in particular, with pedagogical intentions and its decomposition of the theatrical illusion.

In this scene, the thinker is an eavesdropper, commenting on the conversation in the adjacent playing space. Courage's reflections are once again on virtues during wartime. Here virtues serve as evidence that soldiers are unwittingly under the thumb of incompetent officers. The soldier's bravery can only cover over a leadership that needs it. In a well-regulated country, everyone could be ordinary, middling, and even cowardly.

Key staging elements include the use of the half-curtain, back projection, and poster. First, Brecht's famous half curtains serve to create various playing spaces on stage. This scene reveals one of its uses in its construction of eavesdropping. As we will see, the multiplication of playing spaces will allow for dialectical confrontations between events on-stage. As noted in the Courage Model Book, the Berlin production set the stage for these confrontations by attempting to eliminate all romantic remnants of atmosphere. It primarily did so by replacing background projections, traditionally used to convey certain locales, with the countries' names in stark, black letters. This anti-illusion device would at once locate the action in its historical context and force the spectator to become the action's critical observer.

Also of note is the introductory poster sketching the scene. Mother Courage meets her son, successfully sells a capon, and learns of Eilif's exploits. For Benjamin, these posters exemplify the epic progression of the play. By emphasizing individual events, the epic "loosens the joints" of the linear plot and allows itself to cover vast spans of time. Suspense lies not in outcome but in the events themselves. Thus, for Benjamin, the epic puts itself in league with the true and decidedly non-linear movement of history.