Mother Courage and Her Children

The Complicity and Explicability of Mother Courage

Berthold Brecht’s explicit intention to impose an emotional distance between dramatic actors and the viewing audience stands in opposition to the use of propagandistic techniques intended to heighten sympathy and runs contrary to notions of theatrical realism. Brecht’s distancing effect involves smashing any passive emotional response a viewer may have through a series of disconcerting elements: the explicit self-consciousness of players, heightened absurdity, deliberate paradoxes and perplexing contradictions, and an irreverent juxtaposition of humor and drama that borders on the offensive. While perhaps meaningful in themselves, these techniques effectively amount to the constant reminder that the performance being viewed is merely a performance, one which stitches together a panoply of nearly vaudevillian theatrical elements, including the slapstick, songs, and witty back-and-forth that flood the dramatic space between the audience and the essentially horrendous story of an impoverished mongrel family in the most devastating war in central European history.

Brecht’s epic theater was in a way a dialogue with the 1940s Germany that had been for decades surfeited with poverty, destruction, tragedy, and propaganda. East Berliners...

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