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Caucasian Chalk Circle


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A: Bertolt Brecht (with Margarete Steffin) Pf: 1948, Northfield, Minnesota; 1954, Berlin Pb: 1949 Tr: 1948 G: Pol. drama in 6 scenes and a prologue; German prose and some verse S: USSR collective farm, 1946; and the imaginary province of Grusinia in Georgia, indeterminate period C: 39m, 11f, extrasTwo groups of villagers meet to discuss who has the greater claim on a fertile valley, the goatherds who traditionally owned it or the fruit growers who are improving it with irrigation. The Singer stages a play to illustrate why the valley is to be awarded to the fruit growers. A tyrannous governor is overthrown by his nobles. In her panic to escape, the governor's wife abandons her baby son Michael. A palace maid, Grusche Vachnadze, who has just said farewell to her soldier boyfriend Simon, saves the baby and flees with it. In the mountains, she endures considerable hardships and only escapes pursuing soldiers by knocking one of them out and crossing a chasm on a rotting rope bridge. She arrives at her brother's house, but is forced to marry a dying peasant. In the middle of the wedding celebration, news comes that the war is over, and her husband leaps off his deathbed, fit and well. When Simon comes in search of Grusche, he sees Michael and leaves sadly. Soldiers arrive and seize Michael. Grusche follows them, determined to prove that she is his mother. The action rewinds to the night of the revolution, when Azdak, a drunken village scribe, unwittingly shelters the fleeing Grand Duke. He goes to the capital to denounce himself, and the soldiers, who have just executed the judge, are so amused by his antics that they appoint him the new judge. Azdak now tries a number of cases, accepting bribes but always deciding in favour of the dispossessed. Eventually, an old couple come before him, seeking a divorce. Azdak now has to judge the case of Michael, using the test of the chalk circle: both claimants are to take an arm each, and the one who pulls the child out of the circle will be declared the mother. Grusche soon stops pulling, crying out that she cannot hurt her son, and thereby proving that she is Michael's ‘true’ mother. The child is given to Grusche, the divorce petition is signed – ‘unfortunately’ divorcing Grusche from her husband – and Azdak urges her to flee with Simon and Michael, for the ‘time that was almost just’ is now over. The Singer concludes that, just as Grusche was the true mother, so too the valley must go to those who will care for it best.

A: Bertolt Brecht (with Margarete Steffin) Pf: 1948, Northfield, Minnesota; 1954, Berlin Pb: 1949 Tr: 1948 G: Pol. drama in 6 scenes and a prologue; German prose and some verse S: USSR collective farm, 1946; and the imaginary province of Grusinia in Georgia, indeterminate period C: 39m, 11f, extras

This piece is the most mature example of Brecht's epic theatre, using many distancing devices, above all the commentary by the Singer, often speaking the thoughts of the characters. The Falstaffian Azdak is perhaps the most memorable character created by Brecht, and the moral of the tale, that human caring is more important than traditional rights of ownership, is both good Marxism and good sense.

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Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Bertolt Brecht (1898—1956) German dramatist, producer, and poet


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