(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is Brecht’s most cheerful and charming play, offered as a moral lesson with deference to the techniques of both the Oriental and the Elizabethan theater. Its structure is intricate, and more distanced, or epic, than that of any other Brechtian play. Several plots run through it, all merging at the end.

Plot 1 is set in the Russian province of Georgia, where members of two collective farms meet to resolve a dispute about a tract of land. Plot 2 is a story of flight. The peasant Grusha is forced to flee a Caucasian city as a result of usurpation and revolt. Having saved the abandoned child of the dead governor’s wife, she risks her life for her maternal instinct, passing over dangerous bridges, marrying an apparently dying man (who then revives to plague her), and almost sacrificing her lover, Simon, who is returning from the civil war. After two years, a counterrevolt returns the governor’s party to power, and the governor’s widow claims her estate, which she can obtain only as the mother of the legal heir. Her soldiers find Grusha and the infant and bring them to trial. As the storyteller, who distances the text in epic fashion, sings, “She who had borne him demanded the child./ She who had raised him faced trial./ Who will decide the case?”

The judge is Azdak, one of the finest rogues in dramatic literature. Plot 3 features him as a brilliant Lord of Misrule. Having been appointed magistrate as...

(The entire section is 463 words.)