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Chalk Circle


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AT: The Circle of Chalk A: Li Xingfu (Li Ch'ien-fu, Li Hsing-tao) Pf:c.1300 Tr: 1929 G: Drama in 4 acts; Chinese prose and verse S: The home of Ma Chun-shing, and a court in Kaifeng, 11th c. C: 6m, 2f, extrasA 17-year-old nobly born girl, Hai-t'ang, is sold by her impoverished brother to become the secondary wife of the rich and kindly Ma Chun-shing. She bears him a son, Shoulang, and all is well. When the boy is 5 years old, however, the jealous first wife Ah-Siu poisons Ma Chun-shing with the help of her lover, and blames Hai-t'ang for the crime. Moreover, Ah-Siu now claims that Shoulang is her child. Hai-t'ang is arrested and, after being beaten until she confesses, is taken on a journey through a snowstorm to the court in Kaifeng. Here her brother pleads for her, and the wise judge Bao (or Pao) decides to test the truth of the accusations against her. He does this by having Shoulang placed in a circle drawn on the ground with chalk, and ordering the two wives to try to pull the boy out of the circle. Hai-t'ang soon stops pulling for fear of hurting her son, and thereby reveals herself as the true mother. Bao pardons her and punishes Ah-Siu.

AT: The Circle of Chalk A: Li Xingfu (Li Ch'ien-fu, Li Hsing-tao) Pf:c.1300 Tr: 1929 G: Drama in 4 acts; Chinese prose and verse S: The home of Ma Chun-shing, and a court in Kaifeng, 11th c. C: 6m, 2f, extras

The Chalk Circle is the best-known Chinese classic play in the West, a rich mixture of an intriguing plot, lyrical songs, farcical episodes, and larger-than-life characters. Through it all, the heroine Hai-t'ang moves, offering a model of Confucian patience and fortitude, to be rewarded finally by the just decision of a wise Mandarin. It became popular in the West, initially through the translation into German in 1923 by Klabund, which was performed many times and served as the source for Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The style of the play indeed now appears quite ‘Brechtian’, as characters enter and directly address the audience with information about themselves, sometimes in song. Similar ancient Chinese theatre also provided the inspiration for the popular Lady Precious Stream by S. I. Hsiung (1938).

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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