“Isn’t the stabbing dangerous for the knife?” – Simon (1)
Another of Brecht’s most exuberant plays, and written while in wartime exile, ‘Tha Caucasian Chalk Circle’ looks constructively to the future, applying a parable of contested motherhood to lands emerging from Nazi occupation. And while the backdrop of regime change (materialised unforgettably by the former Governor’s head re-entering stage left on a drunken soldier’s lance) is dramatically dark, when peopled with quarrelling doctors, inhuman aristocrats and separated lovers, it’s played as Breughelian adventure. That said, this being Brecht, it takes strength from upending romantic expectations. Even when fantastical, he can attain a realism precisely through disregarding stock responses based on the knee-jerks of normative psychology – when the Governor’s Wife ignores the threat of capture and death to make sure she packs her finest finery for the flight, it roots deeper than comedy.
“You have perpetrated an unpardonable error in the practice of your profession: you are acquitted. Next cases!” – Azdak (4)
Most notably, despite the play’s episodic pace, stock characters are rejected in favour of mixed personalities – kind cowards, over-formal sweethearts and – dominating the stage from his entrance – Azdak, the corrupt, charismatic judge whose elevation to power embodies a celebratory Saturnalian spirit. Brecht used and reused through the trial-as-dramatic form – from austere to ad hoc, but in making the judge themself a trickster, this is by far his funniest (he routinely works acceptance of bribes into his opening remarks, prefers to conduct two cases at once, and enquires as to lawyer’s fees because “I listen in quite a different way when I know you’re good”).
“Take note of what men of old concluded: That what there is shall go to those that are good for it.”