Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a political play about the complexities of making decisions, the precarious validity of the law, and humans’ behavior toward their fellows. Bertolt Brecht has the singer sum up the meaning of the ancient song:

What there is shall belong to those who are good for it, thusThe children to the maternal, that they thrive;The carriages to the good drivers, that they are driven well;And the valley to the waterers, that it shall bear fruit.

The theme of justice frequently occurs in Brecht’s plays. The two sources Brecht used as a model for the depiction of justice were Li Xingfu’s thirteenth century play Hui-law ji (the chalk circle) and the judgment of Solomon (I Kings 3:16-28). Both sources deal with legal disputes over the fate of a child. In both cases, the wise judge awards the child to its real mother. Departing from these models, the playwright has his judge award the child to the woman who cared for him rather than to the real mother, who deserted him when her own life was in danger.

In Azdak Brecht created a complicated character, full of contradictions. Although he practices law in a selfish and amoral manner, the outcome is advantageous for the poor. Azdak is depicted as a disappointed revolutionary who, in Brecht’s words, “adopts the role of a scoundrelly rogue much as the wise men in Shakespeare play fools.”