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Mother Courage and Her Children Paperback – September 11, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Play by Bertolt Brecht, written in German as Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder: Eine Chronik aus dem Dreissigjahrigen Krieg, produced in 1941 and published in 1949. Composed of 12 scenes, the work is a chronicle play of the Thirty Years' War and is based on the picaresque novel Simplicissimus (1669) by Hans Jakob Grimmelshausen. In 1949 Brecht staged Mother Courage, with music by Paul Dessau, in the Soviet sector of Berlin. The plot revolves around a woman who depends on war for her personal survival and who is nicknamed Mother Courage for her coolness in safeguarding her merchandise under enemy fire. One by one her three children die, yet she continues her profiteering. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 126 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (September 11, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802130828
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802130822
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #289,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 104 people found the following review helpful By G M on October 3, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What were Penguin thinking? "Mother Courage and her Children" is a German-language play set in the 1600s. There is therefore no excuse for having one character turn to another to say "Bob's your uncle" within the opening lines. When reading this play, we are supposed to be hearing the voices of German peasants and soldiers. However, I found myself listening to what sounded like north-of-England coal-miners. (Perhaps this was translator John Willett's clever rendering of the 'Verfremdungseffekt'. If so, it has certainly succeeded in alienating this reader.) Within the first two scenes, we hear Mother Courage herself using such choice verbiage as:

"Talk proper to me, do you mind, and don't you dare say I'm pulling your leg in front of my unsullied children, 'taint decent, I got no time for you. My honest face, that's me licence with the Second Regiment, and if it's too difficult to read there's nowt I can do about it."

Talk proper, indeed. It gets worse. Here is another dollop of Yorkshire pudding for the reader to chew on:

"My eldest boy. It's two years since I lost sight of him, they pinched him from me on the road, must think well of him if the general's asking him to dinner, and what kind of a dinner can you offer? Nowt."

The dinner, it seems, is a dog's dinner. So awful was this translation that I soon wound up buying the Eyre Methuen edition (with Eric Bentley translating). Compare-and-contrast the two translations:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

--Scene 1:--
EYRE METHUEN:
"Stay here. You're never happy till you're in a fight. He has a knife in his boot and he knows how to use it."

PENGUIN:
"Stop there! You varmint! I know you, nowt but fights. There's a knife down his boot. A slasher, that's what he is.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
Saying that Brecht didn't want his plays to evoke an emotional response is an extreme oversimplification of his theories. He just didn't want the emotional response to overwhelm the intellectual response and remove the audience's capacity to judge the work objectively. In this play, we have a heroine who is not a heroine. We understand her, but we never empathize with her. Consequently, the interdependence of war and economy is illuminated without making the reader wallow in excessive emotion. Yes, we do feel strongly when Kattrin is beathing her drum, but that feeling is not what the audience leaves with at the end of the play.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Molly McBride on May 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Brecht doesn't want emotion because that is Brechtian theater. He thought that in order for a play to invoke social change, it needed to be clear to the audience, that the audience needed to learn something. Emotions, Brecht felt, clog the mind and only feed the brain sentiment, not rational thought. Mother Courage and Her Children is, quite obviously, an anti-war play. Brecht wants you to see that war makes criminals out of everyone, even mothers. He wants you to love Mother Courage while you hate her so that the emotion is cancelled out and you are only left with the thoughts of her actions and why they were wrong. If you want a play to read or perform that is challenging, amazing, and intellectual all at once, this is the way to go. I performed this and I was forever changed.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Adam Roberts on March 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
I had to read this for my English/Theater class, and I found it to be extremely compelling and profound. Our teacher told us that Brecht doesn't want to evoke an emotional response, but even so, I was strongly moved by the events that transpire, and Kattrin's ultimate sacrifice. I also had to compare David Hare's version with the translations of Manheim and Bentley, and I found that Hare's was the sharpest because of the way he distills the dialogue down to its core. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in theater, literature, or life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James E. Egolf VINE VOICE on June 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)wrote a terribly depressing play which demonstrated the loss of character and decency among soldiers and civilians caught in the middle of total war. While the background of the play was the Thirty Years War (1618-1648),the play was about the terrible conditions that existed during W.W. II and thereafter. Brecht knew his work would "raise eyebrows," but he wrote and spoke that he did not care who was irritated by his work.

Brecht's background as a refugee from the Hitler regime and places that German forces invaded involved his relocating to avoid arrest and the ravages of war. In other words, Brecht knew the ravages and loss of self respect that war can generate. The characters in this drama were willing to "sell their souls" in other to either survive or to make money by taking advantage of the war. Mother Courage was willing to sacrifice her children to profit from the Thirty Years War. Maybe the message was that parents and cowardly political leaders are willing to sacrifice the lives of sons and daughters to satisfy their vain egos and "arm chair patriotism."

The misery described in this drama reflects the tragic dilemmas faced by civilians caught in the middle of W.W. II. The German/Soviet War (1941-1945)forced civilians caught in the middle to be at the mercy or lack thereof of German and Soviet forces. A saying was that men lost all hope, and women lost sense of shame if only to survive. The same conditions were faced by Germans during the Thirty Years War especially when mercenary troops were not paid and vented their frustrations on civlians. Famine and abuse of civilians was the norm during the Thirty Years War and poor souls during W.W. II.
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