The title character, her real name is Anna Fierling. She earned her name Mother Courage in Riga when she ran through a bombardment in order to sell her loaves of bread. She has three children, Eilif, Swiss Cheese, and Kattrin, whom she tries to take care of and protect throughout the play. She loses all three children while following the war around Europe and ends the play alone with her wagon.
Mother Courage is a deeply contradictory character: courageous, forthright, and intelligent, yet fatally unable to forgo her trade in order to protect her children. Brecht attempts, by the end of the play, to make her seem deeply unsympathetic. At the close of the play, when she insists she must "get back into business," we realise that she has learned nothing. The war has ruined her, but it has failed to teach her, and Brecht's play desperately attempts to teach the audience by showing what Mother Courage never learns.
Mother Courage was originally played by Helene Weigel in the first production Brecht himself directed, and her achievement remains a major challenge to today's actresses. The character is one of very few unsympathetic major female parts in modern drama.
Mother Courage's daughter. Kattrin is a teenage girl, and the play details her awakening (and repressed) sexual desires. Initially she is promised that she can have a husband in peacetime, though she is disfigured by an assault in Scene 6. She thus is obsessed with babies and small children.
Kattrin is a mute, but ironically she is one of the play's most emotionally eloquent characters. In the play's penultimate scene, she is killed as she attempts to warn a town about an imminent siege. She bears out one of Brecht's favorite sayings: "silence sometimes makes the most noise."
Mother Courage's eldest and favorite son, he is something of a thug, though she thinks him "dashing" and "brave." He is recruited by the Recruiting Officer in the first scene, and he seems after that to really enjoy the war. Much praised by the General in Scene 2 for slaughtering peasants and stealing their livestock, Eilif is executed for committing the same deed in Scene 6 in peacetime. Mother Courage never knows of his death.
Mother Courage's younger son. Swiss Cheese is, according to his mother, too honest. He is painted by Brecht to be rather stupid. He takes a job as paymaster of the Second Finnish Regiment and attempts to hide its cashbox so that he can return it to his general after the Catholics have gained power. He is caught with it and shortly executed.
The cook for the Swedish General. He first appears when Mother Courage haggles with him over the price of a capon, and he becomes her sexual partner later in the play. He is "Peter the Puff," the man whom Yvette Pottier fell in love with, thereby causing her to follow the army as a prostitute for five years.
His name, rather aptly chosen, is "Lamb," which bears out his treatment in Scene 2--and his eventual going AWOL. When the food runs out, a cook is only a sacrificial lamb.
He is deeply cynical. He is perhaps best summed up by his line "what is, is" (was ist, ist). He is out for what he can get from the war, and at the end of the play he parts company with Mother Courage when she declines his offer of co-running his newly acquired inn in Utrecht.
An army chaplain and a personification of Brecht's view that religion is of no use when it comes to war. He is a total coward and a hypocrite, switching religious allegiance with the twirl of a clerical robe, and throughout the play he seems bitter if not also rather smarmy. He complains throughout the play that his clerical talents are going to waste, yet the virtues that we might expect from a religious man seem permanently absent in him.
A prostitute in the army, she follows the army after falling in love with the Cook. After the Catholics arrest Swiss Cheese, she picks up a colonel and convinces him to give her money with which to buy Mother Courage's wagon. In the end, Swiss Cheese's death means that the deal does not go forward.
She reappears later in the play, having married the same colonel's brother, now much older and fatter, but rich. She has sold herself completely to the war, but for a good price. She is the only person who gains from the war--at only the price of her beauty.
The man who recruits Eilif in Scene 1. He has the sergeant distract Mother Courage with the promise of a sale and takes Eilif away with him, promising him beer, new clothes, and the glamor of danger.
The man who distracts Mother Courage so that her son Eilif can be recruited into the army.
The leader of the Swedish Regiment, he is introduced in Scene Two. Mother Courage overhears him congratulating Eilif for Eilif's bravery. She claims that he must be a bad commander after hearing him tell Eilif that he needs more "brave" men, since if he had good battle plans, there would be no need for bravery.
Introduced in Scene 3, he sells Mother Courage a bag of bullets.
Man with the Eyepatch
An informer for the Catholic Army, he attempts to investigate Swiss Cheese's possession of the 2nd Finnish Regiment's cashbox. He spots Swiss Cheese hiding the cash box and arrests him. Puppeteered by Mother Courage, Yvette tries to bribe him to release Swiss Cheese, but the haggling takes too long, and Swiss Cheese is killed. (See Scene 3.)
An officer in the Catholic Army, he helps arrest Swiss Cheese after Swiss Cheese tries to hide the regimental cash box.
A regimental leader, he is very old. Yvette "picks" him up and convinces him to give her the money to buy Mother Courage's wagon. He pretends to be her "financial advisor" and talks to her as one might talk to a small child. He is one of the many high-powered grotesques of the play.
The clerk is in charge of the complaint station, where Mother Courage goes to complain about the way the soldiers messed up her wagon.
A young man who is furious that his sergeant stole some reward money that he should have gotten for rescuing the colonel's horse from the river. He waits with Mother Courage outside the tent. Mother Courage sings to him "The Song of the Great Capitulation," which leads to him storming out. (See Scene 5.)
An older man who accompanies the Young Soldier to the complaint tent in Scene 5, attempting to restrain him.
A man wounded in Scene 5 during the battle, he has lost his arm and needs bandages. He tells the chaplain that his child is still in the house, causing Kattrin to rush in and save the baby. Mother Courage refuses to provide bandages until the chaplain forcefully removes her from the wagon and takes some of her shirts.
A woman wounded in Scene 5. She is concerned about her farm and the fact that her family has lost everything.
A young man who tries to sell bedding feathers to Mother Courage in Scene 8. He takes his mother home after peace is declared.
An old woman who tries to sell bedding to Mother Courage in Scene 8; she faints when peace is declared and then leaves with her son to return home.
A voice that invites the Cook and Mother Courage to come inside the parsonage for some soup. There is also a voice that sings the "Song of Plenty" in Scene 10.
At the farmhouse in Scene 11, the peasants agree to work with the Catholic soldiers in besieging the town of Halle. They are mortified when Kattrin takes a drum and beats it on the roof of their farmhouse. They eventually are paid by Mother Courage to bury her body in Scene 12.
The man in charge of infiltrating Halle and killing off the residents. He orders the soldiers to shoot with a harquebus and kill Kattrin while she is on the roof.
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