Essay: Thirty Years of War

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¶ … War

Brecht and Montaigne have significantly different perspectives of the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, especially given the fact that they are authors living more than 350 years apart. Montaigne is indeed a contemporary of the end of the 16th century, which is probably the primary reason for which he can actually describe factually some of the historical facts going on during the respective period of time. He has, indeed, lived through much of the intolerance period in France and the rest of Europe and is thus able to philosophically contemplate these events out of his posture of someone living them.

Brecht, on the other hand, has a modern perspective to the things occurring at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, including in his "Mother Courage." Despite this modern perspective, he is also able to paint a very explicit portrait of a Europe devastated by war, a Europe where the individuals have to pass through incredible challenges just for the simple survival.

Brecht introduces the Mother Courage and her three children, of which Eilif is early in the play carried to war and recruited by the sergeant. Further on in the play, Brecht describes the meeting, two years on, between Mother Courage and Eilif, during which Eilif is praised by the General for his killing of peasants and for slaughtering cattle. At the same time, he is scolded by his mother for taking some unnecessary risks and is slapped across the face. These separate scenes show several beliefs that Brecht holds related to the act of war and to Europe during those times.

First of all, the Europe at the beginning of the 17th century (the play describes events during the Thirty Years War) is a Europe being devastated by the war between most of the nations and countries on the continent. The devastation occurs on two different levels. First, this is an individual devastation -- a person such as Eilif is not necessarily a violent or absurd person, yet he finds himself in the posture of voluntarily (also out of duty) slaughtering peasants and killing their cattle. This type of act is obviously an absurd act and one that he would probably not be doing under normal circumstances and in a normal situation.

Second, this is a collective devastation, at a country and society level. The peasants are not involved in any way in the struggle between the different countries fighting in the Thirty Years War or in the religious debate that is secondary to the conflict. The fact that they lose their lives and riches over a conflict that they are not really part of or really interested in (either politically or religiously) is devastating and absurd.

The absurdity of the conflict through its religious motivation is continued in the subsequent scenes, most notably when Swiss Cheese is shot as the Catholic army arrives. Swiss Cheese, or any of the members of the family for that matter, is not a religious individual, either Catholic or Protestant. He loses his life because he is in the Protestant camp and does not have enough time to switch his insignia to the Catholic one, just as he would switch it back if the Protestants had returned. To add to the absurd, the mother cannot recognize the body because she would thus be killed… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Thirty Years of War."  Essaytown.com.  June 20, 2009.  Accessed July 24, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/thirty-years-war/52672.