The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Brecht uses epic theatre to bring forth an idea ormeaning for the audience to consider while entertaining the audience. Epic theatreinvolves the use of alienation techniques to distance the viewer from the story but stillconcentrate on the overall meaning.
The person who just views the story would likelytake it as fantasy and not reach the true depth of the play. Brecht shocks the viewer bymaking the events and actions in the play “strange and abstract” this contrasts withdramatic plays where the audience sympathises and relates to the characters of theplay. 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 Chineseplay involved a legal action where the false claimant was granted custody due a bribeto claim her dead husbands estate. This however was overturned by the emperor, theguarantor of the law, in a retrial as the emperor was the father. This particular story isa whisper to the result of Grusha’s trial. The emperor is portrayed as the epitome ofjustice and gives a true verdict.
The trial scene is also adapted from the parable ofKing Solomon. Solomon the paragon of justice and truth oversees the trial of twomothers, one child is dead the other alive, they seek custody of the alive child. Theking asks the child to be cut in half, the real mother relinquishes her claim and thusgains custody of her rightful child.
In these two whispers the law is shown to beequated with justice, however Brecht seeks to highlight that within Grusinia this is notthe case and it takes a greedy Azdak who despises the upper classes to give a justThe 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 rulingclasses. The play seeks to emphasise that within this class justice the poor can onlygain justice under exceptional circumstances. Azdak as the judge and arbiter of justicehas come to this position only through a matter of chances and mistakes. Firstly heharbours the Grand Duke from Shauva, then he confesses to the Ironshirts only to bemade judge because the Duke escaped. Then through shear chance just before hisexecution the Duke redeems him and makes him judge, finally making him the arbiterof justice between Natasha Abashvilli and Grusha. This shows that the poor class canonly get justice under a system of whims and extraordinary circumstances and thatjustice is intrinsically linked to a series of chances and not linked to the law as itshould be in a feudal regime.
Azdak finally decides in Grusha’s favour on the spur ofthe moment, the chalk circle is a real test, and it is through this test that Azdak decidesthe child’s fate. In order to entertain the audience, Brecht sought to keep the verdict influx, keeping the audience in suspense as to the final outcome.Azdak although seen as the arbiter of justice between Natasha Abashvilli and Grushais shown throughout the play as greedy and corrupt when dealing with the upperclasses. The humour that Azdak displays toward the upper class is entertaining, heconstantly refers to them as “arse-holes.. sows..
well-born stinkers.” This anal imageryis continued right through the novel. Azdak is so disgusted by the odours the upperclasses emit that he occasionally “before passing judgement, I went out and sniffed theroses.” This helps Azdak give the verdicts he gives to the “monied classes” such as theInvalid, and the landowner. He swindles them into giving him money for a bribe thenturns about and gives a contradicting verdict against the upper classes. This duplicitywhen passing judgement is seen by the audience but the lower classes see that for oncethe law is on their side.
This is the final hint that Grusha will get the child, as she isgood for the child and will continue to do good for the child, contrasting to NatashaAbashvilla’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 storiesof 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; the carriages to good drivers, thatthey are driven well; and the valley to the waterers, that it shall bear fruit.” Brecht inthe play seeks to highlight the difference between justice and the law within Grusinia.
The feudal society, or Marxist society, is shown to have harder implications for thepoor than the even distribution of wealth which is the main emphasis of the Marxiststate. The Marxist law is not equated with justice for all rather justice for the upperclasses, or class justice, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.By Michael McAuliffe, Western Australia, email: emailprotectedBibliography:The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Bertolt Brecht, Published by Methuen Press