The Caucasian Chalk Circle

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In The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Brecht combined the theme of motherhood with revolutionary ideas about theatre.’ Discuss.

Bertolt Brecht’s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a social and political commentary, focusing on justice and motherhood. Using revolutionary theatrical techniques and devices to reinforce his theme, Brecht attempts to free his audience from the constraints of traditional theatre, enabling them to make impartial judgments of their own. Despite combining these radical ideas about theatre with the theme of motherhood, Brecht does not wholly succeed in alienating the audience, as it is impossible for them to totally distance themselves from such an emotive subject as motherhood.

A German poet, playwright, and theatrical reformer, Brecht was born in Augsburg, Germany in 1898. He showed an interest in literature at an early age, writing articles for a school magazine and for the local newspaper. Upon leaving school in 1917, he studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Munich. During the First World War, he worked as a medical orderly in a German military hospital. This experience reinforced his hatred of war and undoubtedly influenced his support for the failed Socialist revolution in 1919. When he returned to University Brecht abandoned medicine in order to pursue a literary career, and in 1922 his first play, Bael was written. Brecht’s plays reflect and advocate a Marxist interpretation of society and when Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, he was forced to flee from Germany. He lived in Denmark, Sweden and the Soviet Union, before arriving in the United States of America in 1941. During his exile, Brecht wrote a number of anti-nazi plays, including The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1943). In 1947, he returned to East Germany, where he died in 1956. During his life Brecht lived under various and different political regimes and these influenced him in his work.

As a playwright, Brecht is famous for his revolutionary ideas about theatre. Throughout his earlier plays, he experimented with dada and expressionism. However, as his work progressed he developed his own theatrical style and techniques. He schooled actors to alienate themselves from their roles. He created epic theatre in which narrative, montage, self-contained scenes and rational argument were used to create a shock of realisation in the spectator. In order to give the audience a more objective perspective on the action, Brecht promoted a style of acting and staging that created a distancing effect. Instead of identifying with their roles, actors were instructed to demonstrate the actions of the characters they portrayed. Brecht’s aim was to “develop the political awareness of the audience, to teach while entertaining and to force the spectators to draw concrete conclusions from the issues presented on stage.” His theatrical style was a radical development in theatre at the time, as it departed from the conventions of theatrical illusion and allowed for drama to become a social and ideological forum for leftist causes.

Brecht’s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a good example of Brechtian theatre, using many of Brecht’s theatrical techniques and devices. It is a play within a play, a collection of scenes related loosely by social theme. The singer, who acts as narrator and commentator, links two separate yet convergent stories, which relate back to the realistic prologue set in Soviet Georgia. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story, The Chalk Circle (which is also echoed in the tale of the judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating the idea that resources should go to those best able to make use of them. In this play Brecht presents a number of ideological and social alternatives, through his distancing techniques he encourages the audience to consider the options with less bias than conventional theatre allows....
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