Scene by Scene Synopsis
It is the Spring of 1624 and Mother Courage, a canteen woman who sells the goods from her cart to make a living with her family, comes into contact with the Recruiting Officer and the Sergeant. They have just been discussing how hard it is to find a decent man to join the army and how society functions better during a war as 'you got your shoes all stacked, your corn in bags, young men lined up - all there for the taking. This is the story of today - no war, nothin to live for'. Then along comes Mother Courage. The Sergeant stops her and asks for her 'papers', her proof of identity, and so begins a long discussion about how each of her children were named, and why they all have different fathers. The recruiting officer and the sergeant then set about trying to get Eiliff to sign up as a soldier. Mother Courage performs a bit of fortune telling, but the results are not in her favour as all of her children draw out a black cross for death. To get Mother Courage away from her son the Sergeant pretends to be interested in an item from her cart, and while she is busy trying to make a sale, the recruiting officer sneaks Eiliff away, tempting him with glory, money and women.
It is now the year 1625 and Mother Courage is journeying through Poland with the Swedish Army. She is bargaining with the cook trying to wager a high price for her capon. As they bargain Mother Courage hears the voice of her son Eiliff in the Commanders tent. Eiliff is being congratulated on his 'heroic' behaviour with a group of peasants. He explains how he murdered the peasants in order to get their oxen. When Mother Courage enters the tent, rather than congratulate her son she admonishes him for not surrendering when he was attacked.
It is now three years later and Mother Courage, with parts of the Finnish Regiment, is taken prisoner. An officer is trying to sell Mother Courage some bullets, and she finally agrees to pay one and a half guilders for them. Yvette, a prostitute who also lives off the war, is complaining that now that all the men 'know' her, she doesn't have any business. She leaves her trademark hat and boots on the ground and walks off. The Chaplain and the Cook have entered and are talking with Mother Courage. As Kattrin enters, wearing Yvette's discarded boots and hat there is pandemonium. There is drumming and bombs going off, screaming and shouting. The Catholic army is closing in on them. The Chaplain tries to disguise himself so that nobody will know he is a priest, as he fears persecution as this is a religious war. With the arrival of a new batch of men Yvette returns to don her boots and hat seeing this as a new opportunity for business. Swiss Cheese, who has become the paymaster tries to quickly hide the cashbox so that he wont be hung for being the 'enemy'. Later on he is worried that the Catholics will find it so he goes to hide it in the river, but he is caught. Mother Courage bargains with the soldiers through Yvette trying to both buy back her son and still keep enough money to survive. She bargains for too long and Swiss Cheese is murdered. They bring his body back to Mother Courage so that if she crumbles at the sight of him they will know she knew him. She says she doesn't recognise him, but the soldiers still ransack her cart.
Mother Courage is going to complain to the Officer about the mess the soldiers made to her cart. As she is waiting a pair of soldiers enter, one is furious because he saved the colonel's horse and has not yet received his reward. Mother Courage tries to talk some sense into the soldier, telling him that unless his angers a long one then there's no use in complaining at all. The soldier stumbles out and when the clerk returns to tell her she may see the officer, she takes heed of her own advice and also leaves the tent.
Two years pass and Mother Courage ends up in a poverty stricken village. Some peasants have been injured and the Chaplain seeks help from Mother Courage for the use of her linen. Kattrin wants to help but Mother Courage does not want to waste her precious products on peasants who can not pay for them. The Chaplain takes matters into his own hands, moves Mother Courage aside and starts to rip into the shirts himself. There is a baby that has been left in a nearby farmhouse and Kattrin rushes in to save it. Mother Courage admonishes her for this act, believing that she should have been looking after herself first.
Mother Courage and Kattrin are doing a stock take of her cart and Mother Courage asks the Chaplain how much longer he thinks the war will go on for. The Chaplain believes that the war will go on forever because there will always be someone who wants to get something out of a war, and that 'war is like love, it will always find a way'. Mother Courage sends her daughter into town to get more supplies but Kattrin is attacked on the way and is left with a big scar on her face. The Chaplain and Mother Courage state that now she will not be able to marry. This is deeply upsetting to Kattrin.
Mother Courage sings about how good the war is for her business, and how it doesn't matter how you live life, everyone is going to die anyway.
Mother Courage hears news that the King of Sweden is dead and that Europe is again at peace. This upsets her as she has just bought a lot of supplies, but delights her as well as she knows she will be able to meet up with Eiliff. The Cook and the Chaplain rail against each other, as they are both trying to win Mother Courage's affection. They all meet up with Yvette again. Eiliff arrives, but he has been arrested by two soldiers for performing an act of war during peace time. Eiliff is confused as to why an act that would have earned him such high praise before has now landed him in such trouble. War is once more declared and Mother Courage convinces the cook to travel with her and the wagon.
Business is getting worse for Mother Courage and she and the cook have been forced to start begging. The cook discovers that he has inherited an inn from his mother and wants Mother Courage to move there with him and start a new life. Mother Courage almost agrees until the cook makes it clear that he does not want Kattrin to join them. While the cook goes into a house that has offered them food, Mother Courage and Kattrin remove all of his belongings from the wagon and leave him.
Mother Courage and Kattrin follow along behind the army through Germany. They hear a farm owner singing about how lucky they are to be warm and to have shelter from the winter. They continue on their journey.
They arrive outside the town of Halle. Mother Courage is in town buying supplies when the Catholic army arrives and are preparing to sneak into the town and kill everyone they see. The soldiers ask a peasant to show them the way to town, and threaten to kill the livestock if he does not comply. He leads them into the town while the rest of the peasants think there's nothing else they can do but pray. When Kattrin hears that the soldiers are heading to the town to kill everyone in their sleep she gets on to the roof of the farmhouse and starts banging on a drum to try and warn the townsfolk. The soldiers try to make her stop by convincing her to come down, but she wont listen to them, and they eventually shoot her off the roof. However, her drumming has worked and the town now knows that something is amiss.
Mother Courage has returned and pays the peasants to bury her daughter. Mother Courage states that she will now try to find her son Eiliff and get back to business. She hitches herself to the wagon and continues on her journey.