Mother Courage and Her Children



  • Bertolt Brecht's sombre play about individual andcollective responsibility during wartime. First produced in 1941 inZürich, it was revived after the war by Brecht's own BerlinerEnsemble, with his wife, Helene Weigel, playing Mother Courage.In Britain, the role provided a triumph for Judi Dench at the BarbicanTheatre in 1984 and for Diana Rigg at the National in 1995. US actressesto play the role include Meryl Streep (2006).

    The play, set in Germany during the Thirty Years' War, waswritten just before World War II as a warning against the evils ofwar profiteering. In performance, however, the leading character tendsto win the audience's admiration as an indomitable survivor, ratherthan arousing their disgust as a profiteer. Brecht is more successfulin establishing the connection between small civilian contributionsto the war effort and great military atrocities.

    The plot follows the career of Anna Fierling, a Swedish army canteen worker, over a period of 12 years. Although Anna intends to profit from the war, she is determined to keep her three children (who haul her wagon) outof it. To her grief, her two sons are arrested on various charges andexecuted, while her daughter is shot dead by soldiers while trying towarn the townspeople of an attack. In the play's last scene Anna tenaciously carries on, hauling the wagon herself in search of business amongst the warring troops.