Caucasian Chalk Circle:Scene Two: The Noble Child
Summary of Scene Two: The Noble Child
The Singer from the Prologue begins the story of the Chalk Circle: “Once upon a time.” The city of Nukha in Grusinia (Georgia) is ruled by the Governor Georgi Abashvili, married to Natella with a baby son named Michael. On Easter Sunday, the Governor and his family are on their way to church, and the soldiers are holding back the crowds who want to see the baby. The beggars and petitioners also line up to ask the Governor’s help but are pushed away so the royal family can enter the church. At the entrance Prince Kazbeki, nicknamed the Fat Prince, greets his brother the Governor and says that baby Michael already looks like a future Governor.
The baby Michael has two doctors hovering over him, fussing and arguing about how to care for the precious child. The family goes into the church, but a messenger arrives with important news for the Governor from the capital city. The Governor tells his Adjutant Shalva he doesn’t want to hear the messenger now.
A palace maid, Grusha Vashnadze, enters carrying a stuffed goose for the Easter dinner. Simon Chachava, a soldier posted at the church begins to flirt with her. He admits he often hides behind a bush and watches Grusha washing linen. He has seen her dip her bare legs in the river. Grusha scolds him and runs off, angry.
While the Governor is in church, the Fat Prince enters and signs to the Ironshirts (a fierce unit of soldiers or special forces). They go into the palace and soon have taken over the palace and the town. The Governor and his family return to the palace from church. The Governor does not realize there is a trap set for him. He wants to speak with the architects who are building a new section of the palace. The architects come, but standing outside the palace gate, they see that the Fat Prince has taken over. They discuss between themselves how the Princes met last night in the capital city. The Princes are against the Grand Duke and his Governors. Realizing they are in the midst of civil war, the architects run away.
The Ironshirts lead the Governor out of the palace in chains. The Singer, who breaks in with commentary, sings, “Oh, blindness of the great!” (p. 15). People begin pouring out of the palace. All the servants and even the doctors run away.
Simon enters, searching for Grusha. He tells her that he is helping the Governor's wife escape. He will be loyal to the old family. Grusha tells him he is being stubborn to obey orders instead of turning coat with the other soldiers. Simon begins asking Grusha a series of courtship questions. She understands his intent and says yes, she will marry him before he finishes because she is being called into the palace. He ignores what she says and continues his formal courtship explaining that he will deliver the Governor’s wife to safety and then will go off to the war, remaining loyal to the old Duke. He asks her to wait for him. She says she will and sings a song promising that when he returns, “no boots will lie before the door” (p. 19).
Simon gives Grusha a silver cross that was his mother’s to wear as an engagement present. He then leaves to protect the Governor's wife. The Governor's wife, Natella, enters with boxes of her clothes and the baby Michael. She cannot decide which dresses she needs and makes the nurse hold Michael while she runs around in confusion. She feels she needs more help to pack and tells the nurse to put the baby on the ground. Shalva, the Adjutant, makes Natella leave immediately. He announces that the Judge of the Supreme Court has been hanged. In order to see to the dresses, Natella forgets her child Michael. The nurse hands Michael to Grusha. They see the city on fire. The Cook tells Grusha to get rid of the child; it is dangerous. The Ironshirts want the child, not the mother. Grusha covers the child on the ground so it is hidden and runs into the palace to get her things.
The Fat Prince enters with his drunken soldiers, who carry the Governor's head and nail it over the door. He does not see the hidden child but remarks that he wants it hunted down through the whole country. When the soldiers leave, Grusha goes to the baby and sits with it all night until dawn, trying to think what to do with it. By morning, their bond is thus forged. She takes Michael away with her. The Singer comments, “Terrible is the temptation to do good!” (p. 25).
Commentary on Scene Two: The Noble Child
The setting is roughly medieval Georgia, called Grusinia then. The city of Nukha is now in present day Muslim Azerbaijan and its name is Shaki. Georgia once controlled Nukha, and at that time it was Christian, as in the play. Georgia is a crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, of both Christian and Muslim influence. It was annexed by Russia in the nineteenth century, then became part of the Soviet Union. Georgia gained its independence in 1991 and is now a democracy. Brecht is not trying to be historically accurate in the details, but rather, in principle, showing the forces of history in motion.
It is significant that it is Easter Sunday, the celebration of the Resurrection. Instead, it ironically means the Governor’s death. The Singer comments to him: “You will not move into a new palace, but into a little hole in the ground” (p. 16). There is little sympathy for the Governor. He shoves away the beggars as he goes to church, an act of hypocrisy. He builds an addition to the palace, an act of insensitive hubris, or pride that goes before a fall. Natella, his wife, says that they will clear the slum houses to make way for the improvements. The Governor is stupidly arrogant by not wanting to hear the messenger who has just come from the capital city with news of the impending coup.
Natella is more heartless than her husband, for she does not care for him or the child. She is jealous of the child (the Governor changes the palace for the son, not for her) and is obsessed with her clothes, unable to comprehend the danger, as she has lived a life of privilege. She treats the servants badly. The quality of family life among the nobility is reflected in the fact that Natella abandons her child, and the Governor is killed by his own brother, the Fat Prince. Michael, the noble child, is first fussed over by two doctors who seem concerned with every sneeze, yet when he is suddenly, through no fault of his own, politically dangerous, he is considered worthless, even by the servants. They leave him to die. He is no child but a pawn in a game of power.
Grusha is the main character in the first half of the play. She is a servant but has more human feeling and courage than anyone else and is thus a heroine. She is unable to abandon a child, even if it isn’t hers and means danger to herself. She represents the good, but Brecht explains elsewhere that in a bad world good people are abused. The Cook scolds her to leave the child: “You’re just the kind of fool who always gets put upon” (p. 23). Grusha is thus in for a hard time, and hence the Singer’s comment that it is a terrible temptation to do good. A cruel world does not reward good. To refuse, however, makes one less than human, and thus, her dilemma.
The Singer comments, “When the houses of the great collapse/ Many little people are slain” (p. 16). Knowing this, the people of Grusinia that Grusha meets during her escape, will mostly be unsympathetic or too cowardly to help her because they will be afraid. Grusha will have to use her wits, because everything is against her if she takes the child. She appears to sit by the baby all night to consider the situation, but it works against her, for a baby is seductive, and by morning they are bonded. Instead of making us identify with Grusha and her tribulation, Brecht plants a seed of doubt about her at the end of the scene, comparing her to a thief in the way she sneaks the child away. This is one possible explanation for her behavior, for Michael is the heir and could be taken for ransom or some other criminal reason. She does turn out to be the good character, but Brecht does not sentimentalize goodness; instead, he makes it a heroic and difficult act.
In this scene we see the Singer and musicians taking a part similar to the Chorus in an ancient Greek play, commenting directly to or about what the characters are doing. Brecht admired Greek tragedy and rewrote some of the famous plays, such as Sophocles’ Antigone. Brecht gives the scenes an ancient feel by having the characters speak poetically, using folk proverbs or folk songs to make their points. The courting scenes between Grusha and Simon are charming because indirect and understated. They speak through proverbs, as do many of the common folk. Simon tries to convince Grusha he will not be in danger: “In Tiflis they say: how can stabbing harm the knife?” (p. 17).