Caucasian Chalk Circle:Scene 5: The Story of the Judge
Summary of Scene 5: The Story of the Judge
The action goes back two years to the time of the coup when Governor Abashvili was beheaded by the Fat Prince. On that Easter Sunday the village clerk named Azdak finds a refugee in the woods and hides him in his hut, thinking he is a poor man. The man is hungry and eats some cheese offered to him. Azdak demands to see his hands and realizes the man is a landowner. He begins to insult him. The man is wealthy and promises to pay 100,000 piasters for spending the night. The policeman Shauva knocks on Azdak’s door and tells him to hand over the “rabbit” (p.62). Azdak begins arguing with Shauva, then slams the door and makes him leave. Azdak sees the refugee is surprised that he didn’t turn him in and explains, “I couldn’t hand over even a bedbug to that beast of a policeman” (p. 63). The refugee stays the night and leaves in the morning.
When Azdak realizes that he has hidden the Grand Duke himself in his hut, he finds Shauva and asks to be arrested. He goes into the city with Shauva and tells everyone that he has helped the Grand Duke escape and should be executed for treason. He asks to see the Judge, and they show the Judge’s body hanging. The carpet weavers in Nukha rebelled when the Governor was killed and decided that the Fat Prince’s rule was no better than the Governor’s. They hanged the Judge in protest, but the rebellion was quickly quelled. Azdak tells about a similar revolution in Persia where he comes from where all the officials were hanged, and then he sings a song about the cruelty of war. He makes Shauva the policeman sing it with him, who is holding Azdak with a rope. The Ironshirts think Azdak is one of the carpet weaver rebels, but he denies it. The Ironshirts believe he is crazy. They drag him to the gallows as a joke and then let him go while laughing.
Just then the Fat Prince enters with his nephew, whom he would like to appoint as the new Judge to replace the one who is hanging (usually represented by a dummy hanging onstage). He decides to create good will for his new regime by letting the Ironshirts choose the new Judge, certain they will pick his nephew. Azdak suggests that the nephew be tested with a mock trial. He, Azdak, will pretend to be the Grand Duke. Shauva speaks up for Azdak, saying he is harmless. When they do a mock trial in which the nephew pretends to be the Judge and Azdak pretends to be the Grand Duke, Azdak says it wasn’t his fault the war went badly, it was the Princes who are to blame. The Fat Prince is listening to this criticism, and the Ironshirts are enjoying Azdak’s fearless and comic performance in which he speaks the truth. The Fat Prince is angry and demands Azdak be hanged, but the Ironshirts make Azdak the new Judge, saying, “The Judge was always a rascal. Now the rascal shall be the Judge” (p. 72). The Singer says that Azdak remained the Judge for the next two years.
Four cases are brought before Azdak. Shauva is now the Public Prosecutor, and he sweeps the floor and runs errands for Azdak. Azdak begins the proceedings in which he will judge two cases at the same time, saying, “I accept,” stretching out his hand for bribe money. Only the accused blackmailer in one of the cases pays him cash.
The first case is between an invalid and a doctor. The invalid says the doctor caused his stroke because he paid for the doctor’s education and then had a stroke when he heard that the doctor was practicing for free. He wants his investment back. The other case is that of a blackmailer who demanded money from a landowner who had raped his own niece. However, the blackmailer will not tell the name of the landowner. Azdak rules that the invalid has to pay 1000 piasters as a fine, and that the doctor must treat him for no charge if he suffers another stroke. The blackmailer has to pay the court half of his blackmailing fees to keep the landowner's name quiet.
The next case is brought by an innkeeper who charges that his stableman raped his daughter-in-law, Ludovica. He caught the stableman in the act, he says. Azdak hints he would like a bribe from the innkeeper; he asks for the innkeeper’s little roan horse. The innkeeper refuses. Azdak tells Shauwa to drop a knife, and then asks Ludovica to pick it up. Ludovica’s hips sway suggestively, and then Azdak rules that the rape is proven. Ludovica obviously committed the crime with her fat bottom. Azdak fines the innkeeper the roan horse and takes Ludovica to the stables to investigate the scene of the crime for himself.
Granny, an old peasant woman next tells Azdak that several miracles have occurred at her house. She was given a cow, a ham flew into her house through the window, and the landlord waived her rent. Three farmers claim, on the other hand, that Granny's brother-in-law Irakli stole the cow, the ham, and threatened the landlord until he waived the rent money. Azdak fines the farmers for not believing in miracles and drinks a bottle of wine with Granny and her brother-in-law, Irakli.
When the Grand Duke returns to power, after two years, Azdak is afraid justice will catch up with him. He tells Shauwa he has been ruling for the poor, and the rich want to kill him. Natella, the former Governor's wife, comes to court to demand her son Michael back, and Azdak bows to her.
Commentary on Scene 5: The Story of the Judge
There is method in Azdak’s seeming madness and nonsensical judgments. He takes from the rich landowners and rules in favor of the poor. The Singer and the musicians sing, “No more did the Lower Orders/ Tremble in their shoes” (p. 77). Azdak fines the rich invalid, the blackmailer, the innkeeper, and the farmers who have money.
Azdak is the archetype of the wise fool. He gets away with telling the truth because of his brilliant wit. Yet he is also humble and quite human, a man of ordinary appetites, not pretending to be high and mighty or especially moral. He is so upset he accidentally committed treason by letting the Grand Duke escape he confesses his guilt, but he is so funny when he does it, and so outrageous when he accuses the Princes in front of the Fat Prince, that he is rewarded by the Ironshirts, who like the joke. Azdak is temporarily immune from being punished by those in power, as traditionally a King’s jester could speak the truth without consequences. Azdak uses this opportunity to help others. He makes fun of the whole corruption of the court by taking bribes openly from the rich. His flagrant mockery of the court system by traveling around like a circus, with the Ironshirts and Shauva dragging the gallows behind, as he hears cases, is celebrated in the legend sung by the musicians: “He took from Wealthy Peter/ To pay to Penniless Paul/ Sealed his illegal judgments/ With a waxen tear” (p. 77).
In the case of Granny, the peasant woman who only has enough to eat because the bandit Irakli sends her “miracles,” Azdak treats her and the bandit with great courtesy, and even calls Granny “Mother Grusinia, the woebegone” (p. 79), seeing her as the symbol of the country’s distress.
Azdak is the outsider, originally from Persia. He is the town clerk, so he is more learned than the peasants, and he knows the law enough to turn it on its head, symbolized by his using the Book of Statutes to sit upon. How has this miraculous event of true justice happened in a country torn by civil war? “The thug and the blasphemer/ Lounge by the altar-stone:/ Now, now, now Azdak/ Sits on the Judgment throne” (p. 73). Though short-lived, the time foretells the revolutions of the future when the people will come into their own, and the masters will be thrown down, according to Brecht’s Marxist myth-making in this tale.
This scene has shown what happened in the country during the civil war that lasted two years with the Fat Prince ruling. The next scene brings us up to the present with the Grand Duke returned to power and Grusha and Natella both claiming Michael as their son. Azdak seems to be intimidated by Natella Abashvili, so there is suspense about what he will decide. He understands he is no longer protected with the old regime returned to power, and his judging game seems to be up.