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‘Epic Theatre’ is a term used to define a form of theatre that utilises various eccentric devices to produce plays that aim to evoke thought over feeling. “It turns the spectator into an observer, but arouses his/her capacity for action, and forces him to make decisions... the spectator stands outside and studies” (Brecht, B. 1647). The main goal of Epic Theatre, as Brecht described it, is to employ didactic and other techniques as well as entertaining theatre to promote political awareness.


This analysis will aim to effectively analyse the statement, ‘Epic Theatre is the Union of the Lecture Hall and the Circus’ and prove this by analysing certain techniques, such as didactic, alienation and translation, utilised in a play Brecht adapted from an ancient Chinese parable written in 100 A.D. by Klabund, entitled the ‘Circle of Chalk’. Brecht adapted this story and changed the setting to Soviet Georgia prior to the end of the Second World War and entitled it the ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’. This study will focus on the second scene of the play.


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The Singer, or Narrator, from the first scene begins the story of the Chalk Circle. It begins in the fictional country of Grusinia, ruled by the Governor Georgi Abashvili who is married to Natella and has a son named Michael. Soon the Governor is murdered and the Governor’s brother, the Fat Prince usurps power and takes over the city. Simon Chachava, a soldier, searches out Grusha Vachnadze, the central character of the first half of the play. He informs her that he will protect the Governors wife as she flees the city. Simon then rather strangely asks Grusha for her hand in marriage. She accepts and receives a silver cross to wear as a sign of their engagement before he leaves. Soon after, the Governors wife arrives with her child Michael. In her haste to flee the city, and to save her dresses, she leaves her child Michael behind. One of her servant women sees Michael and hands him to Grusha.


Write your Caucasian Chalk Circle - “Epic Theatre is the Union of the Lecture Hall and the Circus” research paper


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As stated earlier, Brechtian theatre aims to evoke thought over emotion, thus giving the audience something to consider, or a learning message. These messages are known as didactics. The didactic of a play is a theatre technique that attempts to convey a message to the audience, whilst entertaining the viewers as well as teaching them. One of the main didactics running throughout ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ is the message of sacrifice.


An example of this technique is situated at the end of the second scene. Grusha is handed the now abandoned Michael and chooses to sacrifice her safety by taking the child with her to save its life. The message being sent allows the audience to decide for themselves whether Grusha is a thief and should be punished or whether she is a heroine who should be rewarded for her sacrifice. Brecht wanted the audience to realise that a selfless sacrifice will more than likely be rewarded at some point in time, which is evident at the end of the play. An example of such sacrifice in this scene are provided below, outlining Grusha’s thoughts on whether she should sacrifice her welfare for the well-being of the child.


The Singer loudly


Terrible is the temptation to do good!


For a long time she sat with the child.


Evening came, night came, dawn came.


Too long she sat, too long she watched


The soft breathing, the little fists


Till towards morning the temptation grew too strong.


She rose, she leaned over, she sighed, she lifted the child


She carried it off.


(The Caucasian Chalk Circle, B. Brecht, 184 p.5)


This excerpt reinforces the statement that Epic Theatre resembles the Union of the Lecture Hall and the Circus by making sure the audience is aware of the facts, as they would be in the Lecture Hall in order to receive the didactic of sacrifice.


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Brecht’s most fundamental theatrical modernisation was that his plays would occasionally ‘alienate’ the audience from characters � hence the name alienation. This was because he felt that the audience needed to be aware of the fact that they were simply watching a representation of reality, and not reality itself. This distancing technique was utilised to ensure spectators didn’t become too attached to the characters.


An example of this technique is in Scene Two, ‘The Noble Child’. This scene ends with Grushas act of sacrifice when she is handed Michael and takes him with her in order to save him from certain death. Usually, this scene would take a quite emotional or dramatic turn. Instead, Brecht also points out to the audience that they should not be seduced by how well meaning Grusha appears to be. Through Brecht’s writing, it is led to believe that he did not want people to believe that Grusha is the heroine as of yet. He required the audience be presented with the facts. In his writing, he presents to the audience another side of the case, telling us that in reality, she is a thief who has stolen a child.


The Singer





Like booty she took it for herself


Like a thief she sneaked away


(The Caucasian Chalk Circle, B. Brecht, 184 p.5)


Alienating playwriting as such reinforces that Epic Theatre resembles the Union of the Lecture Hall and the Circus by making sure the audience is alienated from the usual ‘circus’ in order to receive the didactic of sacrifice. This particular excerpt is a prime example of alienation as it sways the audience’s initial perception. Brecht destroys the audience’s image of Grusha for a particular reason he does not want the audience to be beguiled by her in the same way she has become seduced by the child’s innocence.


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Another technique used by Brecht is known as translation. This technique, the meaning of which is rather blatant, is utilised for the sole purpose of helping the audience better understand the goings-on of the play by allowing events to be deciphered and interpreted through use of songs, poems, narration, placards, slides, etc. (Class notes, 00)


All through ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ a certain character, known only as the Singer,


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Subsequent to the assessment of Bertolt Brecht’s playwriting techniques, the above analysis has established the statement that Epic Theatre is undeniably the union of the lecture hall and the circus. By exploring the utilisation of didactic, alienation and translation techniques in Scene Two of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, it is evident that this piece of epic theatre joins the enjoyment of the circus with the lessons of a lecture hall, and, by extension, Epic Theatre itself is an intriguing mix of enjoyment and above all, education.





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