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The Caucasian Chalk Circle Paperback – August 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews


A play consisting of a prologue and five scenes by Bertolt Brecht, first produced in English in 1948 and in German as Der kaukasische Kreidekreis in 1949. The work is based on the German writer Klabund's play Der Kreidekreis (1924), itself a translation and adaptation of a Chinese play from the Yuan dynasty (1206-1368). Brecht's play is set within the context of a dispute over land claimed by two communes in the Soviet Union after World War II. The main action of the play consists of a parable that is performed to celebrate the decision in the dispute. The parable, set during a feudal insurrection in the 13th century, concerns the struggle of two women over the custody of a child. The dispute between the governor's wife, who abandoned the child, and the young servant who saved the child and cared for him is settled by an eccentric judge who places the child in a chalk circle and declares that whichever woman can pull him from the circle will be granted custody. When the servant, not wanting to harm the child, lets the governor's wife have him, she is awarded the child, having demonstrated greater love than the natural mother. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st Arcade pbk. ed edition (August 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559702532
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559702539
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,233,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on March 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," written in self-imposed exile towards the end of World War II, is a story within a play, in which a bard, or singer, interrupts a group of Caucasian farmers arguing over ownership of land that has been ravaged by Nazi tanks and entertains them with a relevant tale of yore. In a city called Grusinia, the Governor is executed in a coup and his wife flees for her life, abandoning their baby son Michael, who is picked up by a humble kitchen maid named Grusha. Having recently betrothed herself to a soldier named Simon who is away on duty, she sets out on a cross-country journey with the infant to get help from her brother, a farmer in a distant village.

Lavrenti, her brother, suggests she get married immediately to avoid suspicion that the baby is hers out of wedlock, and the most available candidate is a local wretched peasant. After living with this man for a couple of years, Grusha is apprehended by soldiers who have come to take young Michael, the sole heir of the deposed Governor's estate, back to Grusinia. The case of Michael's custody, contested by the Governor's wife against Grusha, is brought to trial, where the judge, a drunk named Azdak whose unofficial appointment to this position is a farce, decrees that the boy will be placed inside a circle drawn with chalk on the courtroom floor, and that the woman who is able to pull him out of the circle is the real mother. (Study the judge's exact words when you read this.)

Although the story is of medieval Chinese origin, Brecht's play is a sort of refashioning of the Biblical anecdote about Solomon and expands the idea by supplying a whole backstory to the women's argument.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Johnson on June 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
One of the master communist playwright Bertolt Brecht's strengths as an artist was the ability to set up a moral dilemma and work it out to a conclusion, not always a satisfactory one, by play's end. This is unusual in a seemingly orthodox follower of the old Stalinist' socialist realist' cultural program. This work nevertheless permitted Brecht to address an age-old question about the nature of property ownership, extending it from its natural and historic setting in land and chattels to the question of personal human ownership.

The question posed here is whether a child abandoned by its natural mother then found and raised by another women should go to the former or that latter. Nice dilemma, right? But Brecht, as seem in Mother Courage and other parables, is not above cutting right to the bone on moral questions. What makes this work a cut above some of Brecht's more didactic plays is the way that he weaves the parable about the odd resolution of an ancient Chinese property dispute and places that `wisdom' in context of a then current dispute between two Soviet-era communes.

In the ancient dispute the judge who is called upon to render judgment, using the circle as a medium to resolve the dispute, seems to be Solomonic but is really a buffoon. This is pure Brechtian irony. This says as much about Brecht attitude toward property as it does about the old time Chinese justice system. The question of property rights as presented by Brecht and their value as a societal glue is also something the reader or viewer of this play should think about as well.
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By StriveForExcellence on June 21, 2013
Format: Paperback
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a very entertaining and enjoyable play to read or perform, whilst also containing attitudes and ideologies to analyze. It's a great read for its own sake, but can also easily be used to teach literature in a classroom. A great play!
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