The Caucasian Chalk Circle

by Bertolt Brecht

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The Caucasian Chalk Circle Summary

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play by Bertolt Brecht. It features a play-within-a-play as two rival soviet communes vie for a tract of land. 

  • Two soviet communes stage a play to help decide which one of them will inherit a tract of land.
  • The play-within-the-play involves a custody dispute: Grusha has raised Michael since she found him abandoned. Michael's birth-mother, Natella, hopes to use Michael to claim her late husband's lands.
  • The magistrate claims that Michael's true mother will be able to pull Michael out of a chalk circle. Grusha refuses to pull Michael for fear of hurting him, and she is declared his mother.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht is a play derived from a Chinese story. It focuses on Grusha, who runs away from her home due to a political uprising. She saves and flees with the deceased governor’s child. Two years later, the previous regime is returned to power. The governor’s widow wants a share of her dead husband’s estate—however, the legal beneficiary is the child that Grusha saved. Soldiers, under the widow’s orders, arrest Grusha and present her in court.

The story focuses on the two women who are fighting for the same child. To determine who the real mother is, the judge places the child at the center of a chalked circle and asks the women to try removing the child from the circle. The person who succeeds in taking the child is the real mother. Grusha, who does not attempt to remove the child, wins the case. The judge’s reasoning is that she was afraid of hurting the child and, therefore, opted not to do anything.

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