A comparison of three songs of Brecht’s “Mother Courage and her Children” with the parados and 3rd stasimon of Sophocles’ “Antigone”

The play, “Mother Courage and her Children” was written by Bertolt Brecht in 1939 as an anti World War II play. “Antigone”, by Sophocles, was written somewhere between 400 and 500 B.C and talks about the debate between family laws and state laws in the form of a popular drama.

Through analyzing the three songs “The Fraternisation Song” (scene 3), “The Song of the Wise and the Good” (scene 9) and “The Song of the Hours” (scene3), it will be seen that these songs can be contrasted with the parados and 3rd stasimon of the play “Antigone”.

“The Fraternisation Song” is a song of caution voiced by Yvette, the camp prostitute, to the gullible Kattrin. Yvette denounces the opportunistic fa�ade of love and the foolishness of belief in the higher concepts of love. In the first stanza consisting of 12 lines, Yvette portrays her deflowering by the enemy. The three types of rhyming patterns are “abcb”, “aabb” and “abba”. In the second stanza of 12 lines, Yvette gives us a closer look at the idiocy when she gave herself up to the camp cook and saw other girls do the same. The third stanza of 12 lines relates the birth of recognition and understanding in Yvette as it dawns upon her that war brings nothing but melancholy and disaster in its wake. She describes how men condescended with her notions of love and how love was twisted to rape towards December. The month December is an allegory for the departure of the soldiers as well as the loss of innocence. There is grief and a sense of terrible loss etched in those two words: “December came.” Her song brings to light the general futility of conflict and the personal loss of her innocence. The second and third stanzas follow the same rhyming pattern as the first.

“The Song of the Wise and the Good” boldly criticises and ridicules virtues during times of war. The first stanza of 10 lines is a simple tale of the wise Solomon who was acclaimed for his lofty ideals and his throne like position above the littleness of mortals. The first stanza goes on to tell the readers how Solomon was cut down because of his wisdom. The second stanza of 10 lines describes Julius Caesar’s mighty fall from his invulnerability due to his reckless courage. The third stanza of 10 lines shows the death of Socrates because of his honesty. Death because of altruism is seen in the death of the unfortunate martin in the fourth stanza. The fifth stanza jests at the essence of the Ten Commandments and the precarious position that godliness occupies. All the stanzas follow the rhyming patterns “abcc”, “ab” and “abab”. Throughout the song, the following four lines act as a necessary refrain to reinforce the idea that virtues are unreliable during war:

“But ere night came and day did go

The fact was clear to everyone:

It was our wisdom/bravery/honesty/unselfishness/godliness that brought us low.

Better for you if you have none.”

“The Song of the Hours” consists of 10 stanzas of 4 lines each. The song is presented by the hapless Chaplain which talks about Jesus Christ and the Crucification. The song describes how Jesus was condemned of murder in the 1st hour by Pilate the heathen and later taken to King Hesiod. In the 3rd hour, Jesus is flogged mercilessly and the mockery of a crown made of thorns was placed on his head and a robe flung over his body. The 6th hour recounts the Crucification and Jesus’ plight and his continual mockery by bandits resigned to the same fate. The scene is so cruel that even daylight looks away. In the 9th hour, Jesus gives up his soul and miracles are seen. The most interesting aspects of the song are the last two stanzas which talk about Jesus’ maltreatment by the heathens who laugh at ‘this simple son of man’ The song, in context of the play, reminds the readers of the imminent death of Swiss Cheese who is compared to Jesus in this regard. It tells us that war reveals all the blood and gore and the ugliness of society and any semblance towards beauty is mutilated.

All three songs from the play bring to light one aspect of the play. They are all reminders to Mother Courage of war bringing along agents of destruction and mayhem in its wake. Moreover, not even a drop of profit can be wrenched from a time of war; it tends to suck in all virtues and innocence.

The parados in “Antigone” highlights the events that have occurred till the moment of the entry of the Chorus and the present situation. The Chorus talks about the battle between the seven commanders of Argos and seven heroes of Thebes outside its seven gates. The Chorus claim that victory was foreseen as Zeus and Ares had themselves lent a hand towards their aid. The Chorus also notes with misery the death of the brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices. Finally the Chorus harks for peace and forgetfulness. There is also a general stir as they have no idea why they are summoned to council by the new king, Creon.

The 3rd stasimon projects the theme of Love as an evil entity. Eros, harbinger of passion, is omnipresent and omnipotent. No man or god can resist its allure. The 3rd stasimon records how love drives beings to unreasonable actions and fires them up into activity. The 3rd stasimon underscores the fact that Antigone, a daughter of Oedipus, had committed treachery because of the love of her brother.

The parados and the songs are both lyrical pieces which relate to war. However, unlike the ridicule of virtue and the loss of innocence which revolve as themes, the parados applauds and glorifies the notion of war. Lines such as “he flew over the land/Screaming like an eagle” and “Too much for him as he fought/The dragon of Thebes” adds an appealing quality of myth and heroism to war. The stark contrast is evident in “The Song of the Hours” in which the lines “And the blood and water ran/And they laughed at Jesus” tells us that the best of intentions and sacrifices mean nothing to minds fed by war. The concentration of the parados is on war itself whereas the songs examine lateral themes as a consequence of war. The other point to note is the fact that there is a sight of victory and virtues like forgetfulness are broached and seen with optimism. The songs shun notions of victory and virtue.

The 3rd stasimon condemns the idea of love as an unpardonable emotion which drives men to recklessness. However the contrast is seen when love is feared and given a godlike stature whereas the songs treat any semblance to virtue like dirt. Love is, clearly, laughed at. Moreover the objects of criticism are not similar as love does not entirely constitute a virtue. There is an underlying similarity seen in the 3rd stasimon and “The Song of the Wise and the Good”. Virtues and love drive men and women to commit recklessness which sentence their existence to the doldrums consequently. Yvette and Antigone are clear examples. In the 3rd stasimon, love as a flaw is the object of focus whereas in the songs the idiotic behaviour is brought to light. Both the 3rd stasimon and the songs look at criticism; however the songs view the object with ridicule whereas the 3rd stasimon criticizes with unconditional reverence.