(Kushner's article appeared in The Guardian, September 8.)
Tony Kushner: Mother Courage is not just an anti-war play
It is the mother of all roles – and arguments still rage over its true meaning, but Mother Courage is Brecht's greatest work
Mother Courage and Her Children an anti-war play? It's certainly not a wildly enthusiastic endorsement of war, not a pro-war play. Brecht had been an ambulance driver during the first world war, an experience that cured him of any appetite for military conflict. The Thirty Years war, the setting for Mother Courage, was a pointless, grotesquely protracted, gruesome catastrophe for everyone except the handful of victors among the European aristocracy who profited from it. This is an assessment of the conflict to which no historian I've encountered would take exception. War for Brecht, as it is for Mother Courage by the end of the play, is hell – as it is assumed to be by most people who haven't lived through it, and known to be by nearly everyone who has.
Driven into exile by the Third Reich, Brecht began work on Mother Courage in Sweden in the summer of 1939; he was writing it when Germany invaded Poland. Ten years later, the play received its German premiere at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. The refugee playwright had circumnavigated the planet. The city to which he returned, once his home and the arena for his great successes, scandals and remarkable theatrical experiments, was now a wasteland of burnt, rat-infested rubble. The Reich was gone, the second world war had ended, but the cold war was heating up. The possibility of atomic annihilation overshadowed an uneasy peace. Brecht wrote:
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