Article Title

Silencing Violence: Repetition and Revolution in Mother Courage and Her Children


Robert Vork


Though infrequently performed in the English speaking world, Mother Courage and Her Children is one of Bertolt Brecht’s most important major works, and is often cited among the most powerful and moving dramatic works ever written. The play shares the story of Mother Courage, a petty war profiteer who struggles through the Thirty Years’ War and ultimately fails to protect and preserve her offspring. Scholarly commentary on the play has focused on its overt themes of war and business, whereas the less explicit yet all-pervasive theme of silence in the play has received little attention. This article focuses particularly on Mother Courage’s mute daughter Kattrin in order to address the silence of the play and uncover the literally unspeakable violence at its heart. It argues that, in both the play’s plot and in its lived performance, the play seeks to reenact the force of silent, silenced death, thereby relaying an event that cannot be shared in any other way. The play ultimately responds to this violent force by attempting to overthrow it with its own revolutionary call to resist, which on the one hand repeats the very crime it attempts to subvert, but on the other hand reveals an essential link between theatrical performance and traumatic witnessing, while also revealing theater’s unique potential to facilitate a vital, healing recognition of subjective loss.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.