Mother Courage and her Children is the story of a clever, foolish woman who loses all three of her children in a war from which she seeks to profit. Anna Fierling, called “Mother Courage,” a canteen woman with a cart full of goods for sale, chases after the war, convinced it can nourish her and her family regardless of which side is winning and what brutalities it inflicts, sure that she can protect her children from its dangers while reaping its benefits. She fails, but she learns nothing. By the end of the play, she does not even fathom all she has lost, believing that her eldest son has survived when the audience knows that in fact he has perished. A grim story, on its face. And yet, alongside being a very sad play, Mother Courage is also a very funny one, thought-provoking and wry.

Widely regarded as a masterpiece, and as the most important antiwar play of the twentieth century, Mother Courage was conceived and developed between 1938 and 1939 by the playwright Bertolt Brecht in collaboration with dramaturg Margarete Steffin while in exile from Nazi Germany. The play, drafted in relative safety under the thatched roof of the house in Svendborg, Denmark, demonstrates the powerful potential of Epic Theater. This new student edition includes the classic English translation by John Willett, as well as a new introduction and notes from Katherine Hollander. These new sections introduce students productively to the play’s historical context, production history, and dramatic, thematic, and academic debates.

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