How the Bible and a Chinese folk tale inspired Bertolt Brecht play

Saturday September 8 2018

The theme of justice is the main feature in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, writes Lucy Kamau. ILLUSTRATION| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

The theme of justice is the main feature in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, writes Lucy Kamau. ILLUSTRATION| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 


The main message in the Caucasian Chalk Circle is justice. Apart from justice, the playwright also addresses other issues, among them misuse of power, class warfare, religious hypocrisy and motherhood. These issues are brought out in the three stories in the play as the playwright tries to present his idea about ownership.

The play, Caucasian Chalk Circle, is adapted from two parables: The Chinese chalk circle where a false claimant is given custody to claim her dead husband’s estate after bribing. However, this is overturned by the Emperor, the guarantor of law, in a retrial.

The other parable is that of King Solomon in the Bible, where two mothers give birth at the same time but one of the babies dies and both women claim custody of living baby.

King Solomon rules that the baby be cut into two, and each to take a half. The real mother relinquishes her claim and she is given custody by the king.

In the two parables, law is equated to justice because it is through it that justice is seen. However, in the Caucasian Chalk Circle, this is not the case.

Law cannot be relied on to give just verdict because what prevails is class justice that protects and secures the interests of the ruling classes.

The playwright seeks to emphasise that within this class justice, the poor can only gain justice under exceptional circumstances. Azdak becomes judge only through a matter of chance and mistakes and the prince’s nephew, who is a representative of the ruling class, is denied the chance. It is through this mistake that the poor, who have nothing to bribe with, get justice. This is seen when Azdak receives bribes from the rich like the invalid, the innkeeper, the blackmailer and the farmers, and rules in favour of the poor like the doctor, the stableman and the granny. Azdak is saved from persecution through sheer chance when the Grand Duke rein state him as the judge for saving him. This gives him a chance to rule over Michael’s custody, giving him a chance to end up with the mother who is caring and loving. Azdak is referred to as the poor man’s magistrate and recourse for those who didn’t have money to bribe. The singer comments; he broke the rules to save the poor and broke law like bread and gave them (pg 82). His reign as the judge is referred to as ‘the golden age,’ almost of justice. This is the only time the poor, who have been denied justice for a long time, get a reprieve.

Sample question:

"What there is shall go to those who are good for it." Write an essay to show the validity of this statement drawing your illustrations from The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Bretch.

Answer: Resources that are available in the society should be given to those who can make good use of them to benefit the community. This is well illustrated in the play the Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Bretch.

The valley that is under dispute is assigned to the Galinsk, members of the collective fruit farm. The valley initially belonged Rosa Luxembourg, members of the collective goat farm, who were ordered to vacate and move east by the government when the Hitler’s army approached. They plan to return to the valley now that war is over. They claim that the valley belonged to them from eternity and the valley belongs to them by law. They also say the grazing land where they are is not good and their goats don’t like the new grass.

The Galinsks however, plan to plant vineyards and orchards and have an elaborate plan to build the fruit culture ten times the original size by making a dam across the mountain and irrigating 700 acres of infertile land to grow more fruit and support the vineyards. After much deliberations, the valley is assigned to the fruit farmers because they will make good use of it and benefit the whole community.

Baby Michael is given to Grusha. When war is over, Natella, Michael’s biological mother, files a case against Grusha, her former kitchen maid, for taking and keeping her son, whom she abandoned when she was choosing and packing her dresses and shoes and ended up leaving the baby when running to safety. Grusha sacrifices herself and takes many risks while taking care of the child.

After listening to the argument from both mothers, Azdak, the judge, asks Shauwa to draw a circle on the ground using a piece of chalk and Michael is placed in the middle and whoever will pull the child out of the circle will be given the child. Natella pulls hard twice but Grusha refuses claiming that she cannot bring the child up only to come and tear him to bits. Azdak gives the child to Grusha because she proves to be caring and compassionate as opposed to Natella, who only claims the baby so that she can access her late husband’s estates.

The judge chair is given to Azdak. After the coup and the princes taking over the government, the fat prince brings his nephew, Bizergen, to be installed the new judge after the city judge is hanged by the carpet weavers. The ironshirts decide to conduct a mock trial with Azdak acting the Grand Duke, the defendant and Bizergen as the judge. After listening to both, they realise that Azdak is well versed and informed as compared to Bizergen and they therefore install aazdak the new judge so that he can exercise his wisdom in making judgments.

After Michael’s case is concluded, Azdak mistakenly divorces Grusha and Jussup, making it possible for her to get back to Simon, her true love. She had sacrificed her love for Simon by marrying a ‘dying’ man Jussup for the sake of Michael; that he may become legitimate and have a roof over his head. During the trial, Azdak realises that Grusha deserves to be with Simon because he loves and cares for her.

From the above illustrations it is evident that the resources should only go to those who can make good use of them not only for their own sake but also for the sake of others.




The writer teaches at Alliance Girls High School. [email protected]