1624. The Protestant King of Sweden has invaded Catholic Poland. Mainland Europe, especially the Germanic central region, are a mess of looting, raping, and burning. A merchant by the name of Mother Courage follows the Swedish army with her wagon and 3 children, hoping to support her family by selling to the soldiers (or even better, the officers). Because if you can't turn a profit during war, you can't turn a profit at all.
- Camp Follower: Mother Courage.
- Death by Disfigurement: Kattrin. As a young child, she became mute after being used as a play-thing by soldiers. She travels with her mother Anna and her two brothers, but because she's unable to communicate, her mother sees her as little more than a burden. (Although she does care deeply for her children, Anna's own survival and her travelling shop are most important to her, and throughout the play she does everything she can to stay in business - which directly causes her to lose her children). Eventually Kattrin is attacked (and very possibly raped) while trying to run errands for the shop, and is left with a scar on the side of her face. When she overhears her mother say she'll be unable to ever find a man now, Kattrin decides to sacrifice herself to warn a nearby town about a group of soldiers by climbing a silo and banging on a drum as loudly as possible. She dies when she's shot down from the tower, still holding the drum in her arms.
- Downer Ending: The play ends with Mother Courage trying in vain to keep up with the army, after all her children have died. And the war won't be over for a long time.
- Embarrassing First Name: Poor Schweizerkas.
- Evil Chef: The Cook—also called Peter Lamb (but, like most characters in the play, mostly subject to Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep") is rather like this—fat, lecherous, fairly amoral and insensitive to his disturbed stepdaughter. Doesn't seem to put the women off, for some reason...
- In Which a Trope Is Described: The contents of each act are summed up at the beginning.
- Moral Myopia: Eilif kills a few enemy peasants, steals their cattle to feed his regiment, and is lauded as a hero. He does it again during peacetime and is hanged as a bandit.
- Oh, and X Dies: Brecht does this by telling you exactly what is going to happen at the beginning of each scene.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Mother Courage's real name is Anna Fierling.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Mother Courage outlives all of her children (though at the end she still doesn't know that Eilif is dead.)
- Picaresque: Naturally, for Brecht. Though Mother Courage's wits aren't enough to stop the war from claiming her entire family
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: A matter of course in the war; Eilif is rewarded for killing peasants and stealing their cattle. Kattrin sacrifices her life to save the city of Halle from being pillaged.
- The Speechless: Kattrin. Her mother is inconsistent on whether she was born mute or whether she was traumatised into silence (or, from the way it's hinted at, possibly had an injury to her mouth) as a small child.
- War for Fun and Profit: Arguably the main theme. Characters go from believing this wholeheartedly, to cursing the war, depending on how much it's profiting or costing them at the moment.
- War Is Hell
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Mother Courage names her youngest son Schweizerkas - "Swiss cheese" (His first name's Feyos but nobody uses it.) Well, nobody said she was the best mother.