The Marxist notion of law as the handmaid of exploitation is everywhere in evidence' (Keith Dickson). Discuss this view of Der kaukasische Kreidekreis.
Der kaukasische Kreidekreis, like many of Brecht's plays, is, at its heart, a platform for the dissemination of Marxist ideology and a critique of bourgeois values and institutions. The key Marxist message of the play is that resources should be distributed to those able to make best use of them; as demonstrated by the prologue, in which one kolchos relinquishes its valley to another kolchos for the good of the Soviet state. This prologue is mirrored by the battle for the guardianship of a child in the main thread of the play.
It is Brecht's criticism of the bourgeois judicial system, however, which has lent itself better to evaluation by scholars of the social sciences. Close analysis of the play may clarify Brecht's opinion of the law, but there are a multitude of ways in which the content can be interpreted.
In this essay, I will interpret the depiction of the law in Der kaukasische Kreidekreis, relating my interpretation to Keith Dickson's assertion that "the notion of law as the handmaid of exploitation is everywhere in evidence." In doing so, I will touch upon the history of Brecht's Marxist beliefs, as they provide a framework by which one might better understand the motivation behind the play.
Brecht held socialist and anti-bourgeois tendencies from a young age. It was not until the mid to late 1920s, however, that he would adopt a firmly Marxist belief system whilst studying under the tutelage of the radical socialist, Karl Korsch. The concepts of class struggle, revolutionary justice and democratic socialism passed onto Brecht by Korsch were of great influence to the subject matter of his future productions and the further development of the epische Theater and Lehrstücke. Brecht aimed to provide an alternative to traditional bourgeois theater, forcing his audience to think critically about what was being enacted in front of them. As he asked in a 1939 essay on experimental theater:-
"How can theater be entertaining and at the same time instructive?
and transformed from a place of illusion to a place of insight?"
In essence, Brecht believed theater should be utilized as a means to improve society through the education of his audience, as opposed to being merely a mere form of entertainment.
In the case of der kaukasische Kreidekreis, Brecht asks the audience to consider the concepts of morality, revolution, legality, rights of ownership and the corruption of the ruling classes. All of this is within the framework of a play featuring many of the classical aspects of fairytale and Broadway theater, albeit with a healthy dose of epic theater thrown into the mix. Although further analysis of each of the Marxist themes within the play would prove to be infinitely interesting, the purpose of this essay dictates that I shall now focus purely on the concept of legality.
Now, any person with a prior knowledge of Brecht's opinions on the judiciary system could make the claim that der kaukasische Kreidekreis enforces the Marxist notion that the law is a mechanism for the exploitation of the lower classes. This was a cornerstone of Marxist belief and so Brecht, as a Marxist, would have a good chance of subscribing to this view. Dickson, however, is a serious scholar of Brecht and there is ample justification for his claim within the play itself.
It is the final two scenes of the play which provide the most ample justification of Dickson's claim. Although, much has happened before this point, for the purposes of this essay it is enough to give only a brief outline:
In the first scene of the play, the Großfürst of Grusinien and his governor, Georgi Abaschwili are deposed by a coup, instigated by the fat prince, Fürst Kazbeki. Whilst the governor is executed, the Großfürst and the governor's wife go into hiding. Unfortunately, the governor's...
Bibliography: Brecht, Bertolt, der kaukasische Kreidekreis, (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1955)
Brecht, Bertolt (translated by James and Tania Stern with W.H. Auden, The Caucasian Chalk Circle with commentary and notes by Hugh Rorrison, (Methuen, London, 1984)
Touster, Saul, Law at the Bar of Literature: Some Aspects of Dostoyevsky and Brecht, Alsa Forum Volume 5, Number 3, (Tarlton Law Library e-text, 1981)
Freeman, Michael, Fictions of Law: Truth and Justice in Bertolt Brecht, Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature Vol. 11, No. 2. (Winter, 1999)
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