I've read (in the Manheim trans*) and taught this play, set in the Thirty Years War, and some others by Brecht, while attending performances of Galileo (at the Schubert Theater, Boston), BAAL (at Trinity Rep, Providence), the Threepenny Opera (at my own Bristol Comm College, directed by Brenner) and two at American Rep, Cambridge, and Brandeis.** Arguably, Brecht's best plays, like this one and Galileo, were written in the US, 1938-39. Prior, as a Marxist pacifist in Berlin until 1938, he mostly translated Moliere's Don Juan and Shakespeare's Corialanus, left Berlin just before Hitler destroyed all intellectuals. He also left the US the day after he was hauled before the House Un-American Activites Comm, 1947.
Brecht's theatrical ideas almost block the good actor by undermining the illusion created on stage, and even the audience's sympathetic participation in the drama. He urges in his "epic" theater the "alienation effect," such as actors speaking in the third person, masks used for wicked people, and other artificiality to discourage audience identification with stage characeters, or belief in the plot. Moreover, Brecht contradicts the best literature with open didacticism, lessons on capitalism and war: which is simply a continuation of business by other means. (War, military items, surely keep the US economy going.)
Even in translation, Brecht wields a hefty proverb. When the Recruiter complains in the first lines, that there's no honor, no loyalty, The Sergeant says:
"It's easy to see these people have gone too long without a war."
"Like all good things, a war is hard to get started."
He later denies there's any religion in the Swedish army camp, as if to be religious is an insult. The Sergeant also confesses, "I always stay in the rear" (just as the German army did behind the Hungarians who were put in the Front against the Russians in Austria (half immediately killed, another section sent to Russian POW camps in caves--my neighbor was there, who surrendered to the G.I's, said they looked well dressed.
As for proverbs, Mother Courage says,
"Oh, won't you come fishing with me? said the fisherman to his worm"
She had just sung:
O Captains, don't expect to send them
To death with nothing in their crops.
First you must let Mother courage mend them
In mind and body with her schnapps. [Ger., wein]
Mother Courage gives all her kids different last names:
"This one, for instance, his name is Eilif Nojocki. Because his father always claimed to be called Kojocki or Mojocki. The boy remembers hims well, except the one he remembers was somebody else, a Frenchman with a gotee. But aside from that, he inherited his father's intelligence, the man could strip the pants off a peasant's ass without his knowing it."
Clearly, anti-sentimental, hard-headed, good Courage a rampant capitalist who only values her own kids, rather like the US leader, though her kids lose out because of their honesty and pity.
Brechtian paradox, "Whenever you find a lot of virtues, it shows something is wrong," Cook, "No, something is all right." "No, if stupid leader leads his men up shit creek, they need courage, and that's avirtue....You don't need virtues in a decent country, the people cn all be perfectly ordinary, medium-brought, and cowards too for my money"(scene 2 of 11).
In 3, on war of religion, "He had one thing in his favor, the word of God, which was lucky, for otherwise people would have said he was doing it all for himself." Defeat is good for Mother Courage, "One time in Livonia our general got such a shellacking from the enemy that in the confusion I laid hands on a beautiful white horse from the baggage train. That horse pulled my wagon for seven months, until we had a victory and they checked up"
The Chaplain likes war, "War meets every need, everythings's taken care of..." He tells Courage, "I'm a shepard of souls," and she answers, Sure. But I have no sould and I need firewood." Someone says the war turned the chaplain into a godless bum. He, "Being a bum has made me a better man.
In 9, the Thirty Years War has been going on tfor 16 years, killing half the poepl in Germany, those left laid low by epidemics. Countrysides filled with famine, wolves prowling through the cities.
In 11, Mother Courage is pulling her own cart, having lost her last alive. She hears from the rear, "The Spring is come, And if by chance you're still alive,/ It's time to rise and shake a leg.
* The only major writer since Homer that I've read just in translation. A serious gap for a Comp Lit student: the head of Comp Lit at UCal Berkeley, Blake Spahr, asked me why I took Russian instead of German. Oh, Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Griboyedev, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Bunin...
** Pirandello says seeing a play one cannot judge it, becuase so many others have a hand in a given production. See my Review of Sei Personaggi. But I surely feel I can judge Galileo having seen it at the Schubert.