The name of the central character, Mother Courage, is drawn from the picaresque writings of the 17th-century German writer Grimmelshausen. His central character in the early short novel, The Runagate Courage, also struggles and connives her way through the Thirty Years' War in Germany and Poland. Otherwise the story is mostly Brecht's, in collaboration with Steffin.
The action of the play takes place over the course of 12 years (1624 to 1636), represented in 12 scenes. Some give a sense of Courage's career, but do not provide time for viewers to develop sentimental feelings and empathize with any of the characters. Meanwhile, Mother Courage is not depicted as a noble character. The Brechtian epic theatre distinguished itself from the ancient Greek tragedies, in which the heroes are far above the average. Neither does Brecht's ending of his play inspire any desire to imitate the main character, Mother Courage.
Mother Courage is among Brecht's most famous plays. Some directors consider it to be the greatest play of the 20th century. Brecht expresses the dreadfulness of war and the idea that virtues are not rewarded in corrupt times. He used an epic structure to force the audience to focus on the issues rather than getting involved with the characters and their emotions. Epic plays are a distinct genre typical of Brecht. Some critics believe that he created the form.
As epic theatre
Mother Courage is an example of Brecht's concepts of epic theatre and Verfremdungseffekt, or "V" effect; preferably "alienation" or "estrangement effect" Verfremdungseffekt is achieved through the use of placards which reveal the events of each scene, juxtaposition, actors changing characters and costume on stage, the use of narration, simple props and scenery. For instance, a single tree would be used to convey a whole forest, and the stage is usually flooded with bright white light, whether it's a winter's night or a summer's day. Several songs, interspersed throughout the play, are used to underscore the themes of the play. They also require the audience to think about what the playwright is saying.