Mother Courage and Her Children as an Epic Theatre

Bertolt Brecht was the staunch follower of the Epic Theatre and almost all of his plays fall into this category. The alienation method followed by Brecht is a landmark in the Western theatrical world to express the disillusionment, frustrations and discontent of the post war world and Europe. Brecht desired that the audience should be motivated to think and so the character of Mother Courage brings apathy and helplessness to the audience. On the one hand we empathise with Mother and on the other we are shocked with the business like manner conducted by her. Brecht’s technique of theatre and ideas was a product of a devastated world and he used theatre to communicate his perception of reality. Brecht wanted to show Mother Courage unreformed, unadvised and unadvisable. According to him, each society is unique with its own circumstances facing its own problems. The aim of the theatre is to raise such problems. He puts forward the view that the goodness must be ready to take a stand against the evil rather than meekly resigning to the oppression.

The play Mother Courage and Her Children begins with a broad sweep of historical fact that is The Thirty Years’ War. it is a chronicle of the Thirty Years War that took place froml618 to 1648 in Germany fought between the Protestants and Catholics. Though Brecht wrote it as an anti-war play, he does not mention it explicitly. He simply depicts the misfortunes and sufferings of a family against the background ofwar, and leaves his audiences to draw their own inferences. The play creates a powerful impact upon the minds ofthe spectators especially because the evils of the war produce tragic effects upon the main characters in the play itself.

The play is divided into 12 scenes that serve the purpose of an episodic structure to explicate the themes of War as Business, Profit and Capitalism. The purpose of the narrative in epic theatre was to reveal the conditions in which people lived.

The play successfully depicts the social conventions in Europe at the time of war. All the characters are meek sufferers of the war unable to express their rebellion or resistance to the war. Kattrin who alerted the villagers through drum beats met with death as a punishment for her resistance.

The aim of epic theatre was to clarify the process by which men and women were shaped by their living conditions and by which they were also able to shape those conditions. This aim was the theatrical basis for another technique which Brecht employed was alienation. He wanted his audiences to view characters and their actions on the stage with detachment and with a critical observation. Brecht has certainly used distancing or alienation devices in the course of the play. We do feel alienated from Mother Courage at various points in the play. The contradictions in her character particularly alienate us. She wants the war to continue, and yet she does not want her sons to enlist in the army. She denies that she is a ‘hyena of the battlefield’ and yet is the most callous towards the Protestants who have been wounded in an attack by the Catholics. She is full of maternal anxiety about the safety of her own children but proves hard-hearted towards a child whom Kattrin has rescued. She curses the war, and yet continues to desire continuance of the same and even to sing songs praising the war. And yet at the end of the play, the audience is filled with the deepest sympathy for her so that all the alienating devices in her case ultimately lose their effectiveness. Mother Courage emerges as a noble, tragic figure despite Brecht’s own unfavourable view of her. Kattrin’s heroic deed to save the townspeople is also highly esteemed by the audience.

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