The play begins with a prologue which deals with a dispute over a farmland. The dispute is between two groups – the fruit growing commune and the goat herding commune – each claims ownership of the farmland. The land is given to the fruit growing commune who have more elaborate plans to realize the farm’s full potential, despite the fact that the land originally belonged to the goat herding commune. After the peaceful resolution of the dispute, the peasants celebrate and Arkadi, a singer, agrees to tell them a Chinese story about the ‘chalk circle’ in order to justify the ruling.
The story begins on Easter Sunday, when Georgi Abashwili, the governor, is killed by his brother – the Fat Prince, in a coup. The Fat Prince takes over the leadership of the city as everyone, including the governor’s wife, Natella, flees the city. Grusha, who is the governor’s maid, escapes with the Governor’s son, Michael, after his mother leaves him behind.
Grusha heads to the north where her brother lives but she encounters many obstacles along the way as she tries to hide young Michael from the Fat Prince’s soldiers who want to kill him. She, for instance, pays two piasters for Michael’s milk, hits a soldier with a piece of firewood and risks both hers and Michael’s life to cross a bridge that is about to collapse.
When Grusha reaches the north, she seeks refuge in her brother’s house. Lavrenti, her brother, later forces her into a marriage with a ‘dying man’ called Jussup. Their marriage ceremony is conducted by a drunken monk. Soon after, the guests learn that the war is over. The ‘dying man’, who had feigned sickness to avoid going to war, miraculously recovers and Grusha is stuck with a husband she did not want. Grusha’s real love, Simon Shashava, who had been taking part in the war, returns and finds Grusha already married.
Soon after, the soldiers discover Grusha and forcefully take Michael away from her and return him to the city claiming that she belongs to the governor’s wife. Grusha follows Michael to the city. Natella also comes back to the city to claim custody of Michael so that she can inherit Georgi’s estate. The dispute over who should get Michael goes before the city judge, Azdak, who decides that a chalk circle be drawn on the floor and the child be placed in the middle. The two women are then ordered to pull him out of the circle and whoever manages would get him. Natella pulls so hard that she manages to get Michael out of the circle whereas Grusha refuses to pull hard for fear that they might tear the child apart. The judge then rules in favour of Grusha and orders Natella to leave. In the end, Grusha is also divorced from Jussup by the same judge.
Act Summaries in The Caucasian Chalk Circle