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Brecht: Mother Courage and her Children Cambridge University Press Peter Thomson


4th April 2012 Literature & Fiction 11 Comments

This is the first comprehensive study in English of Brecht’s Mother Courage in production. Peter Thomson provides a detailed account of Brecht’s own production in 1949 and then explores how the play has been transmitted–from Joan Littlewood’s production in 1956 to the Royal National Theatre in 1995. The book also examines interpretations by Judi Dench, Glenda Jackson, and Richard Schechner, among others. Seminal productions from the continent are also analyzed and a final chapter examines the play’s influence on among others, Peter Brook, and highlights the new urgency of the text in light of the wars in former Yugoslavia and Uganda.

“Thomson surveys a wide range of productions–German, US, Swiss, French, Austrian, British, and one Ugandan–combining critical acumen with a sharp eye for detail and a wealth of information….Highly recommended for theater and literature collections in academic libraries.” M.C. Riggio, Choice

“Thomson’s book will…rapidly become a standard reference, especially for directors and dramaturges with the ambition and fortitude to tackle this demanding and rewarding classic.” Richard J. Rundell, Monatshefte

This is the first comprehensive study in English of Brecht’s Mother Courage in production. Peter Thomson provides a detailed account of Brecht’s own production in 1949 and then explores how the play has been transmitted from Joan Littlewood’s production in 1956 to the Royal National Theatre in 1995. The book also examines interpretations by Judi Dench, Glenda Jackson, and Richard Schechner. Additional seminal productions from the continent are also analysed and a final chapter examines the plays influence on, amongst others, Peter Brook and highlights the new urgency of the text in light of the wars in former Yugoslavia and Uganda.

“Thomson surveys a wide range of productions–German, US, Swiss, French, Austrian, British, and one Ugandan–combining critical acumen with a sharp eye for detail and a wealth of information….Highly recommended for theater and literature collections in academic libraries.” M.C. Riggio, Choice

“Thomson’s book will…rapidly become a standard reference, especially for directors and dramaturges with the ambition and fortitude to tackle this demanding and rewarding classic.” Richard J. Rundell, Monatshefte

Brecht: Mother Courage and her Children (Plays in Production)










  • 11 responses to "Brecht: Mother Courage and her Children Cambridge University Press Peter Thomson"

  • Dave S.
    9:23 on April 4th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    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.

  • jorge robert
    16:26 on April 4th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    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.

  • oldschool
    0:39 on April 5th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I found this play, although interesting, to fully satisfy the alienation that Brecht intended to place upon his audience. It was somehow very difficult to feel any really emotion except disdain, and perhaps hatred, towards Mother Courage herself, and this was not helped by her continual hipocracy and mecurial nature. I would have prefered something perhaps slightly more aimed at providing a satisfying read (or show) for the audience, and somehow found “Mother Courage” rather depressing and horrid. She is a symbol for everything wrong with the world and I hope that I never come across anyone of similar moral or ethical values.

  • nedendir
    2:05 on April 5th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Our son used the book this summer to become familiar with the play. He was selected to be one of the characters and the book helped him.

  • Analyzethis
    13:32 on April 5th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This Samuel French edition was published as an acting edition only to accompany the 1963 Broadway production. The adaptation by Eric Bentley had actually been published first in 1955, and presented on Broadway (in NYC of course) in March of 1963 at the Martin Beck Theatre with Jerome Robbins (he of West Side Story (Full Screen Edition)) co-producing and directing an EXCELLENT cast (I wish I were there!).

    Mother Courage was played by the great Anne Bancroft (she of The Miracle Worker, supported by several great if less remembered actors, including Dick Branford, Eugene Roche, Conrad Bromberg, Zohra Lampert and Barbara Harris. We may best remember today the actor who played the chaplain: Gene Wilder Young Frankenstein and the original The Producers (Deluxe Edition), and the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Widescreen Special Edition), etc.

    This Samuel French publication is NOT A CRITICAL EDITION. There are no essays discussing history and meaning of the text, which has in fact been adapted for the Broadway stage. What this edition contains are full production notes. The list of actors names the roles the played, often doubling or tripling roles, and what costume they needed for each scene. There is also a property plot naming every item which must be on stage, from tables to pipe (specifying filled with tobacco). There is a listing of all the lyrics to each song and a note on how to acquire the orchestration of the Paul Dessau score. The “orchestra” basically consists of a few flutes, trumpet, guitar, accordian and piano (“with thumb tacks on hammers”), as well as how to acquire a recording of the songs. In brief, this Samuel French edition excellently presents everything necessary for a full production of this important Bertolt Brecht play.

    It also makes great reading, essential for understanding and relief in our present times. Mother Courage follows the war through Europe, dragging her cart of goods to sell the soldiers over their barren battlefields. Read, remember and reapply to where we are today.

    A wonderful relic from when the theatre was not yet dead. Read it.

  • Seano
    18:28 on April 5th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I can only assume that the previous reviewer choose not to look at the matieral from a critical viewpoint, and because of that saw only what was on the outside of this play. Also why would Brecht not want emotion? I’ll stop questing this person and get on to the genius of Brecht. The play is genius, and (after playing in it) I would say its theme is very relevant, and furthermore the play is entertaining to see, and read. So if a production is going on in the neighborhood I would recommend going to see it. BYE

  • clomid pcos
    2:15 on April 6th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    It is a good, good play,
    that is what they say.
    The English translation of the songs is pretty good.
    It is definitely great literature, even in translation.
    I’ve read Greek master drama/ tragedy that wasn’t as convincing.
    The characters are realistic
    and the situations are true to life.
    But in the realism is the blow of a weapon
    that strikes us.
    Courage fails the brave mother
    as her children are stripped from her in death by war.

  • Anna Poelo
    6:33 on April 6th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    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.

  • John Baxter
    9:28 on April 6th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    In what appears to be a permanent war in Iraq it is not untimely to address the question posed by Bertolt Brecht of how individuals caught up on the margins of warfare cope, for good or evil, with the traumas, unappetiting personal decisions and unmitigated horror of it. Brecht, the master Communist playwright, has taken a story of a working mother’s struggle to survive as a camp following petty merchant in the Thirty Years War of the 17th century in Germany as his backdrop to investigate one aspect of that phenomena- the elemental struggle for individual survival. And it is not pretty. This mother is not the mother who gains increased political consciousness in another Brecht classic-The Mother. Far from it.

    If the simple moral of the story is that war does nothing to elevate the human spirit or bring out the better instincts of our nature Brecht has made his point in rather stark terms. The struggle of Mother Courage to keep her `mom and pop’ business going at the cost of the lives of her children may not go down well with today’s more squeamish audiences but the unfortunate fact is that all over the world, and most notably in today’s Iraq, those very same kind of cold, calculating decisions are being made by families in order to survive. The fact that it is a mother, the source of life and supposed nurturer-in-chief, who is sacrificing her children only makes that observation more compelling. Brecht wants us to see that, while greed and acquisitiveness may not be eternal human characteristics, under conditions of scarcity that have dominated most of human history the struggle has led to some very strange behavior. In the end his play is not only a cry against war but the economic conditions that engender war as well. That would require some mighty big changes. But we better think about it.

  • David Tawil
    23:10 on April 6th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This edition by Eric Bentley differs from other published editions and is specially prepared based on the 1963 Broadway production. It was written for 18 males, 5 females and extras. The story follows Mother Courage on her travels in 17th century Europe as she and her family encounter waring factions at every turn.

  • Not There
    15:48 on April 8th, 2012
    Reply to comment

    well, its not as good as a good FullHouse episode it still ranks up their in the top ten plays I’ve ever read, allthough so will the next two i read because of my only reading eight to this point. I was forced to read this for english and I don’t believe that Brecht achieved his big goal of not having emotion evoked by his works, because Kattrin’s banging on the drum is pretty tear jerking if you ask me, allthough it would be more sad if we didn’t know it was allready gonna’ happen. Wel I’m just wastin’ time because I’m supposed to be writing an essay on this right now, so read it, only if you like to read.

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