Bertolt Brecht is one of the most prominent figures in 20th-century theatre. His ideas have revolutionised playwriting, production techniques and acting. Brecht identified himself as a Marxist, having an enormous impact on his plays, this being known nowadays as Epic Theatre. Brecht defined it as wherein a play should not cause the spectator to emotionally identify with the action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the actions on the stage. This is known as the “Verfremdungseffekt” or “V effekt”.
Unlike dramatists who focused on the universal elements of the human situation and fate, Brecht was interested in the attitudes and behaviour people adopted toward each other in specific historical situations and strongly contradicted Stanislavsky’s teachings. He often based his plays in a different time telling a story that had parallel themes to the social ills he was hoping to illuminate in his own time. In this essay I will explore how Brecht has used these techniques throughout his play “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” to eliminate any emotion felt by the audience.
Brecht engaged in the use of techniques that remind the viewer that the play is an illustration of reality and not reality itself, which he called the Verfremdungseffekt. I believe that In Brecht’s play ‘’The Caucasian Chalk Circle’’ Brecht has successfully used this technique. In act two -‘The Flight to the Northern Mountains’, there are two ironshirts and a Corporal searching for the governess’ baby Michael. Whilst they are travelling the Corporal yells at them “you don‘t like marching. But that won’t help you. It’ll go against you.
Sing! Singing is not a usual form of entertainment for soldiers and does not reflect real life, Brecht uses it here purposely to remind the audience that this is a play and these are actors, not the characters. The audience therefore is forced to watch it as a play and not have compassion with any of the characters or enjoy it too much. Instead they watch the social injustice from a distance and are later more uncomfortable, an uncomfortable state that forces them to go away and ponder and talk these problems. Throughout the entire play Brecht uses a singer to narrate the storyline instead of letting the characters put forth the plot.
This means that Brecht’s Marxist views are put forward into the action with this interruption which ‘awakes’ the audience back into realising that this is a play, not real life with real feeling people. There are resonant lines in songs throughout with the singer, singing ironshirts and even songs by the main character Grusha as she narrates her feelings through song yet again to alienate the audience from her, but still put forward her views on the circumstance. At the end of scene 4, Simon returns from the war to find Grusha with Michael whom he thinks is her son.
Instead of letting Grusha and Simon talk about it together, Brecht puts a physical barrier of a stream between them to keep their feelings apart, just as Brecht keeps the audience’s and the character’s feelings apart. Brecht intended this production to be staged with the minimum amount of fuss. He wanted sparse inter-changeable scenery, Minimal costumes, simple lighting and Placards for the audience to know what will happen in the scene before it begins. He also wrote the play so a small cast, where doubling of generic roles was needed, could act it. All this was meant to once again alienate the audience from the action.
Another technique that Brecht employed to achieve his “V effekt” was the idea referred to as historification. Historification is the use of substance taken from other times or places. This was one method of achieving this, but as contrasting to the more established, traditional theatrical practices, which portray historical subject matter in a contemporary fashion, Brecht maintained that the playwright should highlight the ‘pastness’ of the events by separating them from the present. This is shown in the very first and last scenes in the Caucasian chalk circle. The prologue and epilogue deal with a quarrel over a valley.
Two groups of peasants want to claim a valley that was abandoned during WWII 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 adjudicate the dispute. The fruit growers explain that they have elaborate plans to irrigate the valley and produce a remarkable amount of food. The goat-herders claim the land based on the fact that they have always lived there. The singer then agrees to tell them the story of “The Chalk Circle” set in a different time and country, a play inside a play.
In the end, the fruit farmers get the valley because they will use the land better. The peasants then hold a small party to celebrate. Overall I think that Brecht’s alienation was successful throughout the play. He has certainly prevented me as well as our class from empathizing with the characters and I found the chance singing slightly odd and alarming. To me this play has many techniques and styles that put across Brecht’s eternal aim; to affect the world and the way people see their ‘duty’ towards the world through epic theatre.