Course Pack III: The Great War. Having considered the history in which the young Brecht was steeped, and the historical context in which he was most productive, and, indeed the context in which Mother Courage itself was written and produced, we return to our poor 16 year old Bertolt, as we left him in 1914, about to face the horror of a war whose impact he was only beginning to understand.
. Brecht was lucky, in that he was able to find and exploit a loophole in the war machine: if he took a course in medicine, i.e. if showed some promise as a medic, he would be kept from the front lines, and out of the trenches in the relative peace of the city of Munich. By the time he saw action, the war had almost ground to a halt: he was drafted to serve in a military VD clinic in 1918, mere weeks before the cease-fire.
. Despite the shortness of his service, the war left an impact on the Brecht. He found himself in a state of disillusion. This led to many ideas and themes prominent in his works, most of which are present in Mother Courage.
. After the war, Brecht ended up in Berlin, where he became an admirer and amateur of comedian and satirist Karl Valentin (1882-1948). In the early 1920s, Brecht and Valentin collaborated in the Cabaret. In 1923, Valentin starred in Brecht's silent film "Mysterien eines Friseursalons" (Mysteries of a Barbershop). The film was loosely based on a sketch by Brecht, and legend has it that the action and such were completely improvised ad libitum.
. Brecht continued working in Berlin between the wars, where he was active in the contemporary theatre scene, writing many avant-garde plays. In 1924, he adapted Marlowe's Edward II. Between this time and 1933 when the Nazis officially took power, Brecht was fairly liberally involved in political satire and, by logical extension, activism. His plays became more and more leftist, and he studied Marx and Marxism. As Thomas Mann once said regarding the plight of the artist under such a regime, "when the boat is about to capsize to the right, one leans instinctively to the left."
. During the Reichstag Fire, Brecht had the good fortune of being in hospital. This probably saved him from being transported to a concentration camp as a political prisoner. Conditions became worse and worse. SA thugs would attend Brecht productions, only to heckle and throw rotten vegetables and the like. Brecht took the hint that he was not welcome in Hitler's Reich (Hitler was not known for his subtlety) and left. He went North, first to Denmark, then to Sweden as the war broke out in 1939. It was at this point that he wrote Mother Courage.