Analyzing Brecht’s Techniques in The Play: Mother Courage and Her Children

Literary compositions such as drama and plays have become an inspirational tool over the years for conveying both political and social messages from the author’s point of view. German playwright, Bertolt Brecht commonly used these genres to relay his messages. To allow his audience to be in harmony with his ideas and for him to achieve his goals, Brecht designed his plays in such a way that prevented them from being emotionally connected with the play. This approach allowed him to provoke an intellectual response to the play. Brecht commonly used special strategies also referred to as distancing and alienation techniques the main objective here was to create a distance between the actors in the play and the audience in the hall. This paper is aimed at exploring the ways in which Brecht used to bring out his messages with an emphasis on the play; mother Courage and Her Children I follow a cognitive analysis of distancing techniques used in relation to the use of Cognitive Poetics. This will be achieved through an analysis of the functionality of distancing techniques and how he used them to designate, through psychological and cognitive principals as well as his success in applying these techniques to prevent the audience from getting emotionally involved with the characters on stage.  In essence, Brecht was able to remain objective with his ideas as he could create an absence of empathy that would develop into the concept of the Epic Theater. Brecht could be considered to being ideological out of how he was able to obtain a balance between the concept of epic theatre and that of dramatic theater. “WHAT FOLLOWS REPRESENTS an attempt to describe a tech-nique of acting which was applied in certain theatres (1) with a view to taking the incidents portrayed and alienating them from the spectator. The aim of this technique, known as the alienation effect, was to make the spectator adopt an attitude of inquiry and criticism in his approach to the incident. The means were artistic.” (Brecht 101)

The play, Mother Courage and Her Children is one of the most famous plays by Bertolt Brecht where the use of alienation techniques dominates its design and presentation. The storyline revolves around the life of a woman and a mother, Anna Ferling, her two sons and one daughter. The story is based around the 1600s during the war periods. From the play, the authors seemingly intend to make a critical analysis of the challenges of war and the concept of capitalism that was popular during the era. Therefore, in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the play, Brecht intellectually uses alienation techniques throughout the play as a diversion of the emotional attachment that the audience is bound to draw from the play. This is because the play touches on the social and political dynamics of the time that had major influence on society. The distancing techniques used in the play are applied in terms of the performance of the actors and the stage design.

Brecht deliberately designed the stage in such a manner that every new scene could be introduced to the audience prior to the appearance of the actors. The setting involved the use of placards hung on the stage that described the events to expect in the next scene including the time, place and some other details about what was to be expected as the scene progressed. The main idea here is to extinguish the curiosity of audiences and doubts in relation to what will transpire. This allows the audience to follow through the play passively without getting actively involved in the dynamics of the play (Schechner 747). The spectators, therefore, have to alternative but to discuss the play as a comparative analysis of what was advertised and the real actions on display rather than speculating. The use of such placards, projections and special captions analyzing the performance prevents the audience from believing in the conceptual world of the actors and remain focused on the author’s ideas and themes.

For instance, the first scene begins with a placard with words that read, “spring 1624. The Swedish commander-in-chief count Oxenstierna is raising troops in Dalecarlia for the Polish campaign. The Canteen woman, Anna Ferling, known under the name Mother Courage, loses one son”. Another placard reads “Country road near a town. A sergeant and a recruiter stand to shiver.” Apart from placards, Brecht is also a wordsmith. This is evident in his choice of words and his diction (Morgan 49). For instance, in the opening scene, the words on display read as “three years later mother courage is taken prisoner along with elements of a Finnish regiment. She manages to save her daughter, likewise covered cart, but her honest son is killed.” (Brecht 126) Brecht is trying to persuade the audience to not dislike Anna for her preference of her family over the safety of her children.

In respect to distancing techniques used by Brecht in terms of stage acting, one of the other notable strategies is the application of the concept of “breaking the fourth wall” this concept is used in plays and drama where the actors are seen to address the audience directly. This works in such a manner that the actor gets out of character and summarize themes and ideas through singing songs and other activities. This allows the audience to make a connection between them and the actors as real people and not as characters in the play. The main objective here is to not leave the comprehension of the themes of the play and the actions of the characters in the hands of the audience. The vocal and explicit presentation by actors out of their character means that the audience is hindered by maintaining a virtual illusion that they are an invisible audience. Also under this strategy is the technique known as Gestus (Fagner 40). This technique is usually used to represent sensation and emotion within the context of the play and the dynamics of the character. This technique alienates the audience by introducing them to the bigger picture and the main theme of the play in a less realistic manner. For instance, the Mother of courage is depicted as one who cares more about her cart than her children do which literally spells out the main theme of the play. In addition, the application of the Gestus technique allows the author to expose and discuss social and political injustices in such a manner that the audience can follow through the play by seeing it in a different perspective other than the obvious that is seen live on stage.

One of the most influential and practical alienation techniques used by the author is the application of music and song. The author uses songs to emphasize his ideas and themes that underlie the story of Mother Courage and her children. The songs are designed and performed in such a manner that they leave the audience pondering upon what the playwright is trying to say as conveyed in the general performance of the play. The songs as applied in the applied in the play are independent of the main performance of the story. As such, they are used to create a disharmony between the character performing it and the song itself. As such, it results in the alienation of the characters and the audience. For instance, in scene four of the play, “Mother Courage” sings the “Song of the great capitulation”. This causes an alienation as it causes both the furious soldier and Mother Courage to leave the commander’s tent at the end. The song goes as;

“Back when I was young, I was brought to realize

What a very special person I must be

And insisted that my soup should have no hairs in it.


I’ve known people tried to storm the summits:

There’s no star too bright or seems too far away.


Then men swear God’s there-

Not the faintest chance!” (Brecht 131)

The main takeaway here is how the song is able to cause the audience to concentrate on the intentions of the performance. This is because the audience did not expect “Mother Courage” to give up and surrender but the sudden capitulation of her children successfully creates a distance between the character and the audience. It is only in peculiar circumstances that a person can use a rendition of a poem and sing it to describe a much simpler event in the play. This provokes a sense of bewilderment of the audience, which is the main objective of the author.

The fact that Brecht took full advantage of the techniques of character-Audience alienation is clearly manifested in the play as he tries to prevent the audience from identifying emotionally with the characters. Nonetheless, the application of these techniques have been on the spotlight as the hindrance of emotional attachment with a particular work of art negates the general intention of the creation of such works. In practice, the receiver of a particular artistic representation should be able to identify with the play to be able to make the direct deduction and have a deeper understanding of the themes and ideas in the play. This has remained a major cause of disagreement among experts in the scientific field of cognitive poetics, as the fundamental principle here is to create an emotional involvement and a conceptual simulation of the dynamics of the play by the intended receiver.

According to the proponents of the science of cognitive poetics, there is no real difference between the audience’s perception of the dramatic work being presented before them and the reality being depicted from the play (Canning 2). Therefore, it can be concluded that the real mind is not different from the fictional mind. As such, the audience is expected to be emotionally connected in the absence of alienation techniques. This is the reason why the author actively employs these techniques to create an artificial distancing between the characters and the audience. For instance, when one reads a novel or storybook, he is initially aware that the characters and the whole story, in general, are fictional. However, when the same story is presented as a play on stage or any other media, people are likely to develop close relationships with the characters. Some are so deep that they lead to fatalities. This is because a live performance creates some kind of telepathic connection between the characters on stage and the audience. The use of alienation techniques as used in the play is meant to create a difference between the feelings and attitudes of the real performers and that of fictional characters in the play (Cardullo 637).

In science and biology, every human being has a mental ability that is referred to as “Theory of the Mind (TOM).” (Foucault 333) In psychology, this ability of the mind is designed to help people recognize that different people have different beliefs and perceptions regarding various issues in the world that are unlike their own. The main takeaway here is that people’s minds become conscious of different issues and events differently. To eliminate the danger of having different perceptions and emotional connections, the author uses alienation techniques to even the playing field. This gives the audience the impetus to have an open mind and consider the hidden message of tools such as songs in addition to what is being presented on stage. In general, what the author is trying to avoid are the negative reactions that are related to perceptions of the mind.

For instance, when a person kicks the computer monitor in case of a malfunction to when they curse their car after breaking down, it means that these people have become emotionally connected to their appliances or what these appliances can do for them. As such, their actions may lead to a further destruction of the item in question or create an emotional imbalance in their person. The process of brainwashing begins with the theory of the mind. The author is aware of the ability of the mind to drift towards a certain direction. Therefore, he uses techniques that are going to convince the audience that there is another way of looking at the themes of the play as presented on stage. The cornerstone of this technique is to help the audience appreciate the functionality of the play through the application of their knowledge with the storyline of the play-acting as the guiding factor. In general, the author of  Mother Courage and Her children are striving to distract the audience in the National Theatre to desist from focusing all their attention on the personness of the characters but rather concentrate on the deductions of the personification in the light of the major themes of the play.




França, Fagner. “Artaud e o Cinema Da Crueldade.” 2018, pp. 40–45., doi:10.24824/978854442258.8.

Bennett, S. (2013). Theatre audiences. Routledge.

Brecht, Bertolt. “The resistible rise of Arturo Ui.” Adaptations of Shakespeare. Routledge, 2014. 131-168.

“Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children: Marxist Concept of Alienation.” International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, vol. 2, no. 4, 2014, pp. 126–127., doi:10.7575/aiac.ijclts.v.2n.4p.30. The Twentieth Century Performance Reader (2013): 101.

Cardullo, Robert J. “Bertolt Brecht: the naturalist, the theatricalist, and the dramatist-as-director.” Neohelicon 40.2 (2013): 637-653.

Canning, Charlotte. “The Importance of the Astonished Eye.” Theatre Research International 39.1 (2014): 1-4.

Foucault, Michel. “Book Reviews : Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault. Pp. 333. New York, Pantheon, 1977. $10.95.” Crime & Delinquency, vol. 25, no. 3, 2012, pp. 376–379., doi:10.1177/001112877902500313.

Morgan, Margot. “Bertolt Brecht: The Theatre of Proletarian Revolution.” Politics and Theatre in Twentieth-Century Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2013. 49-85.

Schechner, Richard. “Performed Imaginaries by Richard Schechner.” Theatre Journal, vol. 67, no. 4, 2010, pp. 747–748., doi:10.1353/tj.2015.0125.

Calculate your order
Pages (275 words)
Standard price: $0.00
Open chat
Hello 👋
Thank you for choosing our assignment help service!
How can I help you?