Course Pack IV: Inspiration and Themes. Brecht borrowed Mother Courage, a character created by the satirist Grimmelshausen, to be his anti-hero. Grimmelshausen wrote from personal experience about the 30 Years' War, notably The Adventurous Simplicissimus, a political and religiously satirical picaresque. I suggest you all read it, since it gives a very good understanding of contemporary opinions on war.
. The question that is to be asked is as follows: Why would Brecht write about a war that was already 300 years old and irrelevant to contemporary Germany? To answer, I break off from fact and offer my own opinion, having studied German history and literature of both periods. The 30 Years' War, among wars, is strange. The Americans love their civil war, and it's still obvious who's who so many years after the fact. The same goes for many other historical wars: there are strong feelings many generations after the wars' ends, and a general sense that the war was justified and that justice was served. This is not so for the 30 Years' War. It is as if both sides admit defeat: no one will acknowledge that any lasting good came from that war. No slaves were freed, no uprising was crushed, no tyrant was dethroned, no cause was furthered. The war was a religious war, and not really a religious war at that: it was supposedly between protestants and catholics, but it had nothing to do with faith (neither does the situation in Northern Ireland: catholics are for independence, protestants are for remaining in the UK). Protestants and catholics have almost always gotten along in Germany. All that is remembered now of the 30 Years' War is the destruction, death, rape, pillage, and such debauchery that pervaded the land. Indeed, more than half of the population of Germany was killed, or died as a direct result of the war. Every German city, even a great many of the little villages will have monuments to or historical accounts of how they were raped and pillaged during those 30 years. It is this sort of miasma and sense of the nihilism of war that Brecht sought to evoke; hence the setting.
. Brecht completed the play in exile shortly after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, and the play was first performed in neutral Switzerland in 1941 (not under Brecht's direction). (The day before Hitler's famous 50th birthday party)
Themes in the Play and Words that Ought to Be Defined:
- Marxism and/versus Communism;
- Pointlessness of War;
- Downfall and Tragedy (?);
- Dada and/versus Brecht;
- War as "destructive capitalist activity" (Literary Encyclopedia);
- Corrupt times rewarding vice rather than virtue;
- The irony of Eilif's cattle-stealing;
- Profiteering: plundered riches vs. moral bankruptcy;
- the siege which lost Mother Courage 4 shirts killed 25000 civilians.
- War as a means of increasing wealth rather than a form of patriotism;
- The Verfremdungseffekt (V-Effekt)
- Epic Theatre