Study Guide

Mother Courage and Her Children Scene IV

By Bertolt Brecht

Scene IV

MOTHER COURAGE SINGS THE SONG OF THE GRAND CAPITULATION.

  • MC is waiting outside a Catholic officer's tent.
  • A clerk looks out of the tent. He recognizes her as the host of the "Lutheran paymaster." He tells her she'd best stay out of the way.
  • MC has a complaint to make. The officers slashed everything in her wagon to pieces and then she had to pay a fine.
  • The clerk advises her to keep quiet. The army is short on canteens, so she'll get off easy if she just pays a fine now and then.
  • MC doesn't budge.
  • The clerk tells her to wait, and goes back inside.
  • A young officer enters, shouting, "Bouque la Madonne!" (That's a French curse, meaning something like "Steal a kiss from the Madonna!") He wants to see the captain who took his reward money.
  • An older officer is right behind him, telling him to can it, or else the people in the tent will lock him up.
  • The young officer continues to shout at the captain to get out of the tent so he can teach him a lesson.
  • MC asks the older officer what the deal is.
  • He explains that the guy rescued the colonel's horse from the river and didn't receive a reward.
  • MC says he should leave him alone. Demanding a reward is "good sound sense."
  • The young officer continues to bellow.
  • MC tells him not to shout so much, or he'll wear out his voice before the captain comes. People who shout too much are worn out after only half an hour.
  • The officer says he's not tired, but hungry. The bread they're giving them is made of seeds, and the captain is in there spending his reward money on wine and women.
  • MC remembers when the general ordered his soldiers last year to trample all the enemy's wheat (the translation has "corn," which is British for wheat) in the local fields. She could have made a fortune on boots then, she says, if anyone had had money. But now they're back in the same place and have nothing to make bread with.
  • The officer tells her it isn't fair.
  • He's right to be mad, MC tells him. But how long is he willing to stand up for himself? Once he's stuck in jail, he might not mind the unfairness as much as he thought.
  • The officer still yells for the captain. He doesn't want to listen to MC.
  • MC says he's listening to her, all right, because he knows what she says is true.
  • The soldier asks if she thinks he's in the wrong.
  • She thinks he's right. But she doesn't think he's really angry enough to kill the captain. She doesn't want them all to get into trouble.
  • The older soldier agrees.
  • The young soldier draws his sword and says he's ready.
  • Looking out of the tent again, the clerk says the captain will be there soon. He tells the soldier to sit down and the soldier obeys.
  • MC sees her point proven: they tell him to sit, and he sits. Now that he's followed their orders, his rebellion is over. Womp-womp.
  • Then again, MC says, she's no better. She could fight back, but it would be bad for her business.
  • She sings The Song of the Grand Capitulation. The song tells of her youth, when she thought she was "a very special person," and how she grew up to realize that, in the end, there's no use in resisting those who are in charge. You'll eventually have to capitulate. It's like I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables, only a bit more tongue-in-cheek.
  • MC turns back to the soldier, and tells him that if he's angry enough to kill the colonel, then he should stay, but if not, then he should swallow his pride and get out.
  • The young soldier staggers off, deflated.
  • The clerk reappears, saying the captain is ready to hear MC's complaint.
  • But MC has changed her mind, and walks off.