Striking Anti-War Metaphor
You gotta love a character who can stand the test of time. Seana McKenna’s Mother Courage is an unforgettable figure, like so many women of early European times she’s tough, resilient, loud and never admitting the pain, a true heroine who forever picks up the pieces and goes on. She’s street smart and exercises family headship like it’s her birth right to so.
The play’s title, however, is Mother Courage and her Children, and only if we can look at Courage’s behaviour in that light can we make sense of her. She loses all three of them in dreadful circumstances, but from the beginning she sees her duty as protecting them. One son, Eilif runs away to join the battle against her will and of course is killed; the second son Swiss Cheese is executed for stealing the pay box; and the mute daughter Kattrin is shot as she tries to warn the town about an impending siege by banging a cricket bat against a corrugated iron wall, the only way she can communicate.
But even after the loss of all her children Mother Courage picks up her cart and keeps on going. She has changed, and even after she has lost her children, her main reason for living, she progresses from being the Great Mother to the Great Survivor, heroic in an even more universal sense. And that’s why the play still matters, in any adaptation, because it’s about survival, not necessarily of the fittest, but of the toughest.
The Stratford Festival presentation clearly illustrates why this this is a masterpiece that needs to be told again and again. If we see it as a metaphor for life as well as a striking anti-war play seen through the eyes of the people and the forgotten victims, it’s simple words reminds us why armed conflict has no victors.
“The world will end and time will cease; and while we live we buy and sell; and in our graves we shall find peace, unless the war goes on in hell.”
Review by Jonathan O’Neil