The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht


Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht

The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Brecht uses
epic theatre to bring forth an idea or meaning for the audience to consider
while entertaining the audience. Epic theatre involves the use of alienation
techniques to distance the viewer from the story but still concentrate
on the overall meaning. The person who just views the story would likely
take it as fantasy and not reach the true depth of the play. Brecht shocks
the viewer by making the events and actions in the play "strange and abstract"
this contrasts with dramatic plays where the audience sympathises and relates
to the characters of the play. The theme throughout the play is natural
justice versus class justice.

The title has links to other parables and
stories before it. The Chalk Circle, a Chinese play involved a legal action
where the false claimant was granted custody due a bribe to claim her dead
husbands estate. This however was overturned by the emperor, the guarantor
of the law, in a retrial as the emperor was the father. This particular
story is a whisper to the result of Grusha's trial. The emperor is portrayed
as the epitome of justice and gives a true verdict. The trial scene is
also adapted from the parable of King Solomon. Solomon the paragon of justice
and truth oversees the trial of two mothers, one child is dead the other
alive, they seek custody of the alive child. The king asks the child to
be cut in half, the real mother relinquishes her claim and thus
gains custody of her rightful child. In
these two whispers the law is shown to be equated with justice, however

Brecht seeks to highlight that within Grusinia this is not the case and
it takes a greedy Azdak who despises the upper classes to give a just verdict.

The class justice presented in the novel
has close links to the Marxist view of the law, with the law serving all,
but in reality it protects and secures the interests of the ruling classes.

The play seeks to emphasise that within this class justice the poor can
only gain justice under exceptional circumstances. Azdak as the judge and
arbiter of justice has come to this position only through a matter of chances
and mistakes. Firstly he harbours the Grand Duke from Shauva, then he confesses
to the Ironshirts only to be made judge because the Duke escaped. Then
through shear chance just before his execution the Duke redeems him and
makes him judge, finally making him the arbiter of justice between Natasha

Abashvilli and Grusha. This shows that the poor class can only get justice
under a system of whims and extraordinary circumstances and that
justice is intrinsically linked to a series
of chances and not linked to the law as it should be in a feudal regime.

Azdak finally decides in Grusha's favour on the spur of the moment, the
chalk circle is a real test, and it is through this test that Azdak decides
the child's fate. In order to entertain the audience, Brecht sought to
keep the verdict in flux, keeping the audience in suspense as to the final

Azdak although seen as the arbiter of justice
between Natasha Abashvilli and Grusha is shown throughout the play as greedy
and corrupt when dealing with the upper classes. The humour that Azdak
displays toward the upper class is entertaining, he constantly refers to
them as "arse-holes.. sows.. well-born stinkers." This anal imagery is
continued right through the novel. Azdak is so disgusted by the odours
the upper classes emit that he occasionally "before passing judgement,

I went out and sniffed the roses." This helps Azdak give the verdicts he
gives to the "monied classes" such as the Invalid, and the landowner. He
swindles them into giving him money for a bribe then turns about and gives
a contradicting verdict against the upper classes. This duplicity when
passing judgement is seen by the audience but the lower classes see that
for once the law is on their side. This is the final hint that Grusha will
get the child, as she is good for the child and will continue to do good
for the child, contrasting to Natasha Abashvilla's intent to get the child
only to keep her late husband's estate.

The singer sums up the meaning of the entire
play, linking the prologue with the stories of Azdak and Grusha. "That
what there is shall belong to those who are good for it, thus the children
to the maternal, that they thrive;