Sunday, September 5, 2010

Introduction to Brecht’s Major Plays

THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE
The Caucasian Chalk Circle begins with a Prologue that deals with a dispute over a valley. Two groups of peasants want to claim a valley that was abandoned during WW II when the Germans invaded. One group used to live in the valley and herded goats there. The other group is from a neighboring valley and hopes to plant fruit trees. A Delegate has been sent to arbitrate the dispute.
The fruit growers explain that they have elaborate plans to irrigate the valley and produce a tremendous amount of food. The goat-herders claim the land based on the fact that they have always lived there. In the end, the fruit farmers get the valley because they will use the land better. The peasants then hold a small party and a Singer agrees to tell them the story of the Chalk Circle.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is actually two stories that come together at the end. The first story is that of Grusha and the second story is that of Azdak. Both stories begin in a Caucasian City ruled by a Governor, who serves a Grand Duke. The Governor has just had a child, Michael, and his wife Natella is incredibly jealous of the attention that he gives to his son. The Governor’s brother, the Fat Prince, stages an insurrection on Easter Sunday. He kills the Governor and forces the Governor’s wife to flee. In her haste, she leaves behind her child. The Grand Duke and many of the soldiers flee as well.
Grusha, a kitchen maid, becomes engaged to a soldier named Simon. Soon thereafter, during the coup, she has Michael handed to her. She hides the child from the Fat Prince and his soldiers, thereby saving the child’s life. She then takes Michael with her and flees the city, heading north. After spending most of her money and risking her life for the child, she arrives at her brother’s house. He allows her to live there over the winter.
When spring arrives, Grusha’s brother forces her to marry a “dying” man from across the mountain. They hold a wedding, but during the reception the guests learn that the war is over and that the Grand Duke has raised an army and returned. The “dying” man, Jussup, realizes that he can no longer `be drafted into the war. He miraculously recovers and throws all the guests out of the house. Grusha, now stuck with a husband she did not want, is forced to become a good wife to him.
One day Simon returns and learns that she is married. He is even more upset when he sees Michael, whom he thinks is Grusha’s child. Some soldiers soon arrive and take Michael away from her, claiming that Michael belongs to the Governor’s wife. Grusha follows them back to the city.
The next story that is told is that of Azdak. The plot returns to the night of the Fat Prince’s insurrection. Azdak finds a fugitive and saves the man’s life. The man turns out to be the Grand Duke. Realizing that he could be branded a traitor, Azdak walks into town and reveals that he saved the Grand Duke’s life. The soldiers refuse to believe him and he is released. The Fat Prince soon shows up with his nephew, whom he wants to make the new judge. However, he agrees to let the soldiers decide who the next judge should be. After staging a mock trial, they choose Azdak.
He then judges four very strange cases, ruling in each case in favor of the poor person. Azdak soon gains a reputation for supporting the poor. However, after two years as a judge, the Grand Duke returns. Azdak is arrested as a “traitor” by the soldiers and is about to be killed by them. However, the Grand Duke, remembering that Azdak saved his life, reappoints Azdak to be the judge, thereby saving his life.
Azdak now takes over the case of Grusha and the child. The Governor’s wife wants Michael back because without Michael she cannot take over the former Governor’s estates. Grusha wants to keen the child, whom she has raised for the past two years. Even Simon goes to the trial and promises Grusha that he will support her.
After hearing all the arguments and learning about what Grusha has done to take care of the child, Azdak orders a Chalk Circle to be drawn. He places the child in the middle and orders the two women to pull, saying that whichever woman can pull the child out of the circle will get him. The Governor’s wife pulls whereas Grusha lets go. Azdak orders them to do it again, and again Grusha lets go. Azdak then gives Michael to Grusha and orders the Governor’s wife to leave. He confiscates Michael’s estates and makes them into public gardens. His last act is to divorce Grusha, thereby allowing her to marry Simon. During the dancing that follows, Azdak disappears forever.
JUNGLE OF CITIES
Jungle of Cities is a play about a fight between two men, George Garga and Shlink. It takes place in the form of a boxing match, with each scene representing one round. Shlink is a wealthy lumber merchant at the start of the play and Garga is only a clerk in a book lending library.
The play opens with Shlink arriving at Maynes’ lending library where Garga works. He is accompanied by accomplices, notably Skinny, The Worm, and The Baboon. He tries to buy Garga’s opinion on a book, but Garga refuses to sell it. As a result, Shlink declares war on him and starts to destroy the bookshop. Maynes arrives and soon fires Garga. After Garga leaves, Shlink pays for the damage and departs.
Several weeks later Garga shows up in Shlink’s office at the lumber yard. Shlink has decided to equalize the fight by giving Garga the lumber yard and making himself Garga’s servant. Garga accepts the challenge and immediately makes the business sell the same lot of lumber twice, thereby cheating one of the buyers. He fires all of Shlink’s staff and then pours ink onto the transaction ledger in order to ruin the business. Lastly, he invites a Salvation Army Officer into the room and promises to donate the entire building to him if the Officer will allow them to spit in his face. Shlink then goes over to the officer and spits at him.
Shlink goes to live in a Chinese Hotel owned by The Worm. Garga’s sister Marie moves in with him, having fallen in love. Garga’s girlfriend Jane is also there, working as a whore for The Baboon. Soon thereafter Garga decides to go away to Tahiti, leaving his family without anyone to provide them with money. Shlink arrives Garga’s house and offers to work for them and provide them with money if they give him a place to stay. They readily agree to his proposal.
Although they all think that Garga has gone to Tahiti, it turns out that he never left Chicago. He soon goes to the hotel where Shlink is staying. When he learns that Marie is living there, he is upset that Shlink has taken over both his sister and his family. Garga starts to try to make Shlink marry Marie, but she becomes afraid and runs to Manky, who happily agrees to take her. Garga also makes Shlink give him all of his remaining money.
Marie returns to Shlink and tells him that Manky only had sex with her, but that there was no love. She is wretched at having lost her purity in such a mean fashion. Shlink gives her some money to help her.
Meanwhile, Garga has returned home and married his former girlfriend Jane after stealing her away from The Baboon. His family is living very nicely on the money that Shlink gave him, While celebrating the marriage dinner Shlink arrives with a letter informing him that he will have to go to jail for three years for making a  fraudulent lumber deal. Garga decides to go to jail instead even though it will destroy his family. When his mother hears this, she leaves the family. Garga writes a letter that accuses Shlink of raping his sister and violating his wife. He puts the letter into his pocket and tells his father that he will give the police the letter on the day that they release him from prison.
Three years later Garga gives the police the letter. Shlink is forced to flee from his new lumber yard that he has built during those years. Garga takes some men and visits the Chinese hotel in order to show them what has become of his sister and wife. Both Marie and Jane are now prostitutes in the hotel, and Jane refuses to even consider returning with Garga. Shlink manages to return to the hotel after setting fire to his lumber yard. He tells Garga that the fight is not yet over and that they need to flee immediately.
Three weeks later they end up in a tent used by railroad workers in the outskirts of Chicago. Garga realizes that the fight has been about trying to touch another person by hating them. It is a metaphysical form of contact. However, he decides that the fight has gone on too long. Garga proclaims himself the victor and leaves. Marie arrives and watches as Shlink dies in the tent. She defends his dead body from an angry mob that has arrived to lynch him.
Back in Chicago, Garga sells off the burnt down lumber yard. He sells it to Manky and makes Manky accept Marie and his father in the bargain. Garga pockets the money, having decided to go to New York. He remarks that the chaos of the fight was the best time he ever had.
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN
The play opens in Dalarna, a province of Sweden, in 1624 during the Thirty Year’s War. The Swedish army is recruiting for a campaign in Poland. Mother Courage runs a canteen wagon that follows the army and sells the soldiers drink and items of clothing. A Recruiting Officer and a Sergeant are trying to find troops for the Swedish Army. They see Eilif, one of Mother Courage’s sons, and try to recruit him. When Mother Courage prevents them, the Sergeant feigns interest in one of her belts. While she negotiates with him, the Recruiting Officer pulls Eilif away from her and signs him up for the army.
Mother Courage follows the army into Poland, accompanied by her younger son Swiss Cheese and her mute daughter Kattrin. She enters the Commander’s tent and tries to sell the Cook a capon for dinner. The Cook haggles with her over the price. Suddenly she overhears her son’s voice talking with the Commander. Eilif is being honored for having killed some peasants and stolen their cattle. She manages to sell her bird to the Cook for a high sum and then sees her son again. Eilif embraces her, but she boxes him and tells him that the next time he encounters peasants he should surrender when they surround him (instead of fighting and killing them all).
Three years later Mother Courage is still with the regiment. The Catholic Army attacks and wins, forcing her to switch flags. Swiss Cheese, who has become the payroll master for the army, foolishly hides the money box in her wagon. The Chaplain of the Protestant regiment joins Mother Courage and pretends to be a Catholic. After several days he and Mother Courage leave to conduct business. Swiss Cheese decides that he should hide the money box somewhere else, but when he does so Catholic spies watch him carefully. They arrest him and bring him back to Mother Courage, who has returned to her wagon and discovered that Swiss Cheese has left. She realizes that his life is in danger and pretends not to know him.
They take Swiss Cheese away to interrogate him. Yvette Pottier, a prostitute in the army, arrives with a Colonel in tow. Mother Courage gets Yvette to buy her wagon for a large sum of money. She then sends Yvette to the Catholics in the hopes that she can bribe one of the soldiers to release Swiss Cheese. However, she bargains too long and Yvette returns to the wagon and tells her that Swiss Cheese is dead, with eleven bullet holes in him. The soldiers bring his body to Mother Courage, who must again deny knowing the man.
She then goes to complain to a sergeant about the way the troops ruined her goods and charged her a fine for nothing. While in the tent waiting to complain, a soldier arrives who has been cheated out of his reward. He tells her that his sergeant kept the reward money and spent it on whores and alcohol. Mother Courage explains to him that unless his anger is “long”, he might as well capitulate and realize that his spirit has already been broken and that there is nothing he can do about it. She succeeds in convincing him to give up his anger, but realizes that her own complaint is just as worthless. She leaves without complaining.
Mother Courage is in a small town where the war is being fought. Several peasants need bandages but she refuses to give them any. The Chaplain, who is still with her, forcefully enters her wagon and rips up some good shirts for bandages.
The Commander of the regiment eventually gets killed and the soldiers spend the day drinking instead of attending his funeral. The Chaplain tells Mother Courage that the war will not end and that she should add more supplies while they are still cheap. As a result, she sends Kattrin into the town to buy supplies. Kattrin returns with lots of goods, but with a nasty scar on her face where she was hurt on the way home. Mother Courage patches up her daughter but tells the Chaplain that it is doubtful Kattrin will ever be able to marry now.
Unfortunately for Mother Courage, peace does in fact arrive, meaning that she is financially ruined. She is, however, happy that she will get to see Eilif again. The Cook from earlier in the play arrives and he gets into an argument with the Chaplain, where both men vie for Mother Courage’s favor. The Cook suggests-that Mother Courage should sell her goods before the prices drop too much due to the peace. Yvette Pottier shows up again and she and Mother Courage go to sell the goods.
Eilif is brought onstage in chains. He tells the Chaplain and the Cook that he killed some peasants again in order to take their cattle, but since it was during peacetime, he got arrested. He does not get to see his mother, and the Chaplain accompanies him to be executed. Mother Courage arrives back soon thereafter with the news that the war has actually started again, but that they did not know it. The Cook does not tell her that Eilif has been executed.
The Cook remains with the wagon for two years until he receives a letter that his mother has died and left him a small inn to take care of. He tries to get Mother Courage to accompany him, but since he refuses to take Kattrin along,. she turns him down. While he is eating in a parsonage, she dumps his stuff on the ground and drives off with Kattrin.
Two years later Mother Courage is near the town of Halle, in. which she is buying goods for her wagon. Kattrin remains with the wagon near a farmhouse. Some soldiers arrive from the Catholic army and seize the peasants in the farmhouse along with Kattrin. They force one of the peasants to lead them silently into town. The remaining peasants go up on the roof and realize that the army is going to slaughter the townspeople. They kneel to pray, and Kattrin stays behind them and listens. During the prayer she suddenly goes and gets a drum out of the wagon and climbs up on the roof. She starts beating the drum and pulls the ladder up with her to prevent them from stopping her.
Her noise brings back the soldiers. They first try to bribe her down by offering to protect her- mother. Next they threaten to shoot her. She refuses to stop beating the drum even when they get a gun and aim at her. Kattrin beats louder and harder until they shoot her down. However, the noise that she made successfully wakes up the town and allows it to defend its walls and to use its cannon.
The next day Mother Courage pays the peasants to bury her daughter. She then says that she must get back into business. Hearing a regiment pass by, she harnesses herself to the front of the wagon and pulls the wagon offstage.
THE THREE PENNY OPERA
The play opens in the beggar shop owned by Peachum. Peachum has taken control of all the beggars in London and runs a shop that outfits the beggars and provides them with a location to beg in. A young man comes in and asks for a job. Peachum makes the man pay him first and then shows the man the five states of human misery before giving the man a costume to wear.
When Mrs. Peachum arrives he asks her about his daughter Polly. She tells him that Polly has been seeing a gentleman lately. When she describes the man, Peachum realizes that it is none other than Mac the Knife, London’s most powerful criminal. He runs upstairs and sees that Polly did not come home that night.
Meanwhile, Polly and Macheath have just broken into a stable where they are getting married. The rest of Mac’s gang arrives and they bring in wedding presents. Everything has been stolen, including the stable. Soon the parson arrives and they sit down to eat. Polly provides them with some entertainment by singing a song. After she is done Tiger Brown the Sheriff arrives, but instead of arresting them all he greets Macheath as an old friend. Mac explains that he and Tiger Brown served together in the war and that he has paid Brown kickbacks on every job ever since. After Brown leaves the men present Polly and Macheath a large bed to sleep in and then leave them alone.
Polly returns home to find her parents furious with her for marrying Macheath. She tries to defend the marriage, but they decide to take on Macheath and destroy him. Mr. Peachum tells his wife that he will go to Tiger Brown and make him arrest Macheath. Meanwhile, Mrs. Peachum agrees to go and bribe the whores whom Macheath goes to every week. She is hoping that the whores will turn in Macheath.
Polly goes with her father and watches as Brown agrees to arrest Macheath. She then goes back to the stable where Mac is staying and tries to warn him. He does not believe her until she produces the charges that are being levied against him. Instead of being emotional, Mac focuses on his business. He hands the business over to Polly and tells her what to do. Soon thereafter his gang arrives and Mac informs them that Polly will be their boss while he goes away. Matthew tries to challenge Polly’s authority, but she threatens to kill him if he opens his mouth again; the other thieves applaud her and accept her leadership.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Peachum approaches Low-Dive Jenny, a prostitute, and convinces her to turn in Macheath should he be foolish enough to show up at the brothel.
The evening in the brothel one of Mac’s men is trying to convince the whores that Macheath would not be so foolish as to show up. However, no sooner does he say this than Mac arrives and sits down. Jenny takes Mac’s palm and reads it, warning him that a woman will betray him. He thinks she means Polly. Jenny soon sneaks out while Mac is talking with the whores and gets the police and Mrs. Peachum. Constable Smith. enters and tries to arrest Mac, who knocks the man down and jumps out the window. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Peachum is standing there with the other police officers. They take him away. Jenny wakes up Macheath’s man who has fallen asleep while reading and missed the entire scene.
Now in prison, Mac is afraid that Tiger Brown will learn that he has been playing around with Brown’s daughter Lucy. She soon arrives and is horrified to see him in jail. To complicate matters further, Polly arrives and also claims Mac as her husband. Both women argue; Lucy indicates that she is pregnant and therefore has a better claim to Mac, but Polly is “legally” married to him and she has papers to prove it. Mac chooses to support Lucy instead of Polly because he is more afraid of Tiger Brown. Mrs. Peachum then arrives and drags Polly away. Lucy, happy to finally be alone with Mac again, hands him his hat and cane and leaves. When Constable Smith returns he tries to get the cane, but Mac is faster than he is and manages to escape. Brown enters the cell and is relieved to see it empty. However, Peachum also arrives and threatens to disrupt the coronation if Brown does not find Macheath and arrest him again immediately.
That night Peachum outfits his beggars with signs and clothes in an effort to ruin the coronation parade the next morning. The whores arrive, led by Jenny, and ask for their reward for turning in Macheath. Peachum refuses to pay them on the grounds that Mac escaped already. Jenny, in a fit of rage, tells them that Mac is a far better man than any of them. She then accidentally reveals that Mac had gone straight to her place and comforted her, and that he is now with another whore named Suky Tawdry. Peachum is elated by this information and promises to give the whores the reward money. He sends one of his beggars to get the police.
Tiger Brown arrives only a few minutes later. Brown has decided that rather than arrest Macheath it would be far easier for him to arrest Peachum and all the beggars, thereby preventing them from ruining the coronation. Peachum merely ignores Brown’s threats and points out that there are far more beggars than there are police. He asks Brown point-blank how if would look if several hundred men were clubbed down on the day of the procession. Unable to arrest Peachum, Brown realizes that he is caught in a bind. Peachum then demands that Brown arrest Macheath and gives him the address where Macheath is staying. Peachum lastly send the beggars to the jail rather then that coronation.
Polly goes to visit Lucy in an effort to find out where Mac is. It turns out that neither of them knows his whereabouts, causing Polly to laugh and state that Mac has stood them both up. They soon hear a noise in the hallway and realize that Mac has been rearrested. Mrs. Peachum shows up with widow’s clothing and makes Polly change into it.
The next morning, the same day the coronation procession is set for, Macheath is brought out of his cell and locked into a public cell. He is going to be hung at six in the morning, and has only an hour to live. He offers Smith one thousand pounds in cash if Smith will let him escape, but Smith refuses to make any promises. Jake and Matthew arrive and Mac asks them for money; they say that it will be hard to get anything so early in the morning but leave promising to find something. Polly also arrives and tells Mac that his business is going well but that she has no money on her. Brown finally enters the cell as well and he and Macheath settle their accounts (recall that Mac pays Brown kickbacks for helping him). Having failed to get the money, Smith refuses to help Macheath.
Soon thereafter all of the characters return and stand next to the cage. Jake and Matthew apologize for not getting the money in time and tell Mac that all the other crooks are stealing elsewhere. Even the whores have showed up to watch him die. Mac gives a last speech in which he claims all the small crooks are being pushed aside by corporate interests. Peachum then stands up and gives the final speech, arguing that since this is an opera and not real life, they will save Macheath. Brown enters in the form of a mounted messenger and brings a special order from the Queen. She has decided to pardon Macheath and to also elevate him to a hereditary knighthood. Mac rejoices his good luck while Peachum remarks that such a thing would never happen in real life.

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