The Caucasian Chalk Circle

The Caucasian Chalk Circle Summary and Analysis of Act One

Act One

The Singer from the Prologue begins the story of the Chalk Circle. It begins in a city ruled by the Governor Georgi Abashwili who is married to Natella and who has a son named Michael. The Governor and his family are going to church, but so many people have arrived to see Michael that the soldiers are forced to shove the common people away from the church doors. Before entering the church, the Governor is greeted by his brother Prince Kazbeki, otherwise known as the Fat Prince. The Fat Prince remarks that Michael already looks like a future Governor.

Michael is attended by two doctors who fuss over the child and are desperate to keep him in good health. Everyone enters the church except for the Governor and a messenger who has just arrived. The messenger has important news for the Governor, but the Governor refuses to hear it, telling the messenger to wait until later.

Grusha Vashnadze, the main character of the first half of the play, enters with a stuffed goose under her arm. She is greeted by Simon Shashava, a soldier who has guard duty outside the church. The two of them flirt for a while and Simon reveals that he often hides behind a bush and watches Grusha washing the linen so he can see her dip her legs in the river. After learning this, Grusha is embarrassed and runs off.

The Fat Prince appears and makes a sign to some Ironshirts (soldiers). They disappear and within minutes the entire city is surrounded. The Governor and his family soon appear coming out of the church. He returns to his home in order to speak with some architects who are to build a new section onto his palace. The architects arrive, but they soon realize that the Fat Prince has committed a coup. They run away before they are captured.

The Governor is soon led onstage in chains. The Singer, who narrates the events to follow, comments that the Governor does not need an architect, but rather "a carpenter will do." The servants soon rush out of the house as well and start to run away. Even the two doctors who attend to Michael rush out and run away.

Simon returns and searches for Grusha until he sees her. He informs her that he will remain loyal to the old regime and that he will protect the Governor's wife as she flees the city. Grusha tells him he is being "pigheaded" by obeying orders instead of mutinying with the other soldiers. Simon then turns to Grusha and asks her several questions that indicate he is interested in marrying her. She replies to all of them and then anticipates his last question, telling him that her answer is yes. He ignores her answer and quickly tells her about himself before asking her for her hand. She again accepts.

Simon gives Grusha a silver cross to wear as a sign of their engagement. He then leaves to go protect the Governor's wife and Grusha leaves as well. The Governor's wife arrives with numerous boxes of her things and her child Michael. She makes another woman hold Michael while she runs around and packs her clothes. She realizes that she needs help so she makes the other woman put Michael on the ground in order to help her pack. The Adjutant arrives and forces her to leave immediately. In her haste to save her dresses, she leaves her child Michael behind. One of her servant woman sees Michael and hands him to Grusha. She is told by several other people that it would be safer to simply leave the child. The Cook goes so far as to tell her, "if he had the plague he couldn't be more dangerous."

Grusha watches as everyone runs away. She then hides the child under a blanket and waits to see what happens. The Fat Prince arrives with his soldiers, who carry the Governor's head on a lance. They nail the head over a doorway. The Fat Prince remarks that it is too bad he was unable to kill Michael. After the soldiers leave, Grusha goes to sit down next to the child. She sits with the child all through the night until dawn. By that point she is "seduced" by Michael and so she takes him away. Brecht ends the Act by having the singer comment, "As if it was stolen goods she picked it up. / As if she was a thief she crept away."


The Caucasian Chalk Circle opens on Easter Sunday, a time for the Resurrection of Christ. This is important because instead of a resurrection, there is an insurrection. The Governor will get killed by his brother. The fact that it is Easter Sunday is thus the first of the many religious themes present in the play. For example, the fact that the Fat Prince is the Governor's brother brings to mind the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Brecht will continue to undermine religion throughout the play in both subtle and obvious ways; notice that the act of entering the church is juxtaposed with the image of the soldiers pushing the common people out of the way, thus undermining the religious aspects of going to church.

It is important to note that the Fat Prince greets his brother. This is so unusual the the Governor remarks on it, "But did you hear Brother Kazbeki wish me a happy Easter?" Soon thereafter the Fat Prince usurps power and takes over the city. The relationship between the brothers is thus foreshadowed by the Governor's comment, in which he expresses surprise at being greeted by his brother.

Another important moment is when Natella, the Governor's wife, tells her Adjutant how jealous of Michael she really is. She is desperate for attention from her husband. "But Georgi, of course, will only build for his little Michael. Never for me! Michael is all! All for Michael!" This jealousy of her child is important since she abandons him later in the Act.

Brecht's sarcasm towards religion is reintroduced when the Governor is led onstage in chains. The Singer remarks, "And now you don't need an architect, a carpenter will do." This alludes to the fact that Jesus was a carpenter; the Governor needs Jesus to intervene and save him on this Easter Sunday. This will of course not happen.

Throughout the play are dispersed the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. The first one appears when Simon and Grusha agree to become engaged. The engagement is sealed when Simon gives her his silver chain. This represents the act of Confirmation, and it is the first of the seven Catholic sacraments that will appear in the play. The others that will follow are Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction (the Anointing of the Sick), Holy Orders, and Matrimony (not in that order). For information on the sacraments, see The Seven Sacraments.

Brecht has a tendency to make one character the "good" character. This character represents the type of person that we should all strive to be. However, because of the cruelty of the world, the "good" character is often abused or taken advantage of. Brecht's play, The Good Woman of Setzuan deals with this theme as its main topic. In The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Grusha represents this "good" character. She places value on human life unlike the other people who advise her to give up Michael. The Cook goes so far as to say, "if he had the plague he couldn't be more dangerous." She replies with, "He hasn't got the plague. He looks at me! He's human!" Brecht is quick to point out that this kindness is taken advantage of. The old woman comments, "You're a fool - the kind that always gets put upon."

The Act appears to end with Grusha's act of charity when she picks up Michael and takes him with her. Instead, Brecht points out to the audience that they should not be seduced by how good Grusha appears to be. In reality, she is a thief who has stolen a child. "As if it was stolen goods she picked it up. / As if she was a thief she crept away." Brecht destroys the audience's image of Grusha for a particular reason: he does not want the audience to be seduced by her the way she is seduced by the child. Instead, he wants the audience to use logic much the way logic is used in the prologue. The audience must decide for itself whether Grusha is a thief and should be punished or whether she is a hero who should be rewarded with keeping the child. This sets up a direct analogy to the valley in the prologue; Grusha represents the peasants on the left who wish to steal the valley and put it to better use.