Where have I been? I’ve been watching movies and working on some of my projects, that’s where. February turned out to be a very good month for my creativity. Unfortunately it meant a little less time for reading. Nevertheless I did read a few great books that will eventually make their way to my blog. But today I think I need to talk about something way overdue – Pushkin’s dramas! Behold.
You, know, I spent every year in grades five to nine studying Russian history beginning with the establishment Kievan Rus up to the dismantling of USSR, and I do not remember a thing! What a shame, but proves how much attention I paid in class. Thankfully I have Pushkin to remind me of a very famous incident in history of medieval Russia – that is the story of False Dmitriy.
The story goes that Ivan the Terrible’s son Dmitriy died at the age of nine from a stabbing wound, initiating a turmoilous time of uncertainty in the line of royal succession. It was believed that a prominent member of the court Boris Godunov arranged for an assassination of the young prince, but no direct evidence was ever found. In fact now many historians believe that a tragic accident during playtime was the reason for Dmitriy’s untimely death rather than foul play. Nevertheless, Godunov was appointed to be the new tsar, but his reign was later challenged by a strange young man who claimed to be the surviving Dmitry. Yes, it was all very princess Anastasia, but set in medieval times.
I was surprised to see Godunov portrayed in this case in a very sympathetic light. Initially he even seems reluctant to take the crown, but his people beg him to take charge in these uncertain times and ascend the throne. There is a very comical episode inserted right here: a woman tries to make her child stop crying while attending a public meeting, but upon hearing everyone cry out for Godunov’s guidance she starts shaking the baby and reproaching it for being quiet when tears are needed! I literally snorted tea out of my nose at that point! Note to self: never to sip beverages when reading Pushkin.
In the end I felt quite bad for the tsar and his heir, because the entire family falls prey to courtly intrigues. It seems that no one really believes “Dmitriy’s” claim to the throne, but takes advantage of his appearance to wreck havoc, capture power, or aid foreign invasion. One of my favourite parts of the poem is the dialogue between the Pretender and his Polish fiancee Marina. “Dmitriy” becomes suspicious that Marina is just another gold digger who wants to be a queen, so he reveals his true identity to her. Initially the girl is appalled by the idea of marrying a man of little fortune, but then decides that playing along his plans would still bring her the desired results. “Dmitriy” is torn between rejecting his scheming fiancee and letting her have her way. The whole situation is described brilliantly.
The Miserly Knight
This is a quick drama about an old Baron whose one passion in life is to fill the chests in his cellar with carefully saved gold. Baron’s son Albert is the complete opposite of his father. Young and careless, he enjoys a frivolous lifestyle of partying and gambling. These excesses bring him to near ruin, but Albert knows that his father would not help him to pay off the debt. Instead he decides to appeal to the Duke in hopes the old Baron would be forced to share his treasures.
I can see this drama being very theatrical. It requires minimum set up, but has the required conflict and a punchy resolution. The end is quite effective, all the way to the closing lines. A very nice little play.
Mozart and Salieri
There is a legend that Mozart was poisoned by a jealous rival, and this is a drama based on that legend. I have little to say about this play, since it is so episodic, but I must mention that it is a very sad little masterpiece. Mozart and his friend and esteemed colleague Salieri discuss the great composer’s latest creations, and that is when Salieri starts to feel like his talents are much inferior to that of Mozart. Jealousy begins to take over him and he resolves to poison his friend. During the fateful dinner, as Mozart plays his newly-written Requiem, Salieri slips the deadly substance into the drink and has a violent inner monologue with himself over what he is about to do. I enjoyed this drama a whole lot!
The Stone Guest
This is a story of marital loyalty and divine punishment. The famous lover Don Juan is determined to seduce the beautiful Donna Anna, the recent widow of Commander de Salva. He approaches her as she visits the grave of her dead husband and uses his charms and passionate words to win her heart. Reluctantly Donna Anna agrees to see him later. Full of arrogance Don Juan boasts to the Commander’s statue about his conquest and boldly invites him to visit Donna Anna at the appointed hour too. To his shock he sees the statue move slightly. What happens next? Well, you just have to pick up the story and find out, because it’s something readers needs to experience for themselves.
A Feast in Time of Plague
A great feast is held for the chosen few, while many die from a terrible plague raging outside. The gusts all have different attitudes toward death: some make a toast to the deceased, some sing sad songs, some demand for a merriment. A priest enters the place and chastises the host and his guests for disrespecting the dead. The priest is sent away and the feast resumes.
This drama reminds me of one of my favourite short stories by Edgar Allan Poe “The Masque of the Red Death”, which has many parallels in both style and setting. Both were written pretty close to each other, Poe’s being published in 1842 and Pushkin’s in 1830.
And there you have it. I only have fairytales to talk about, and that happens to be my favourite part of Pushkin’s repertoire. Soon!