One Hundred Years of Habitude: Russian Comedy on the British and American Stage
CitationShimanovskaya, Veronica A. 2012. One Hundred Years of Habitude: Russian Comedy on the British and American Stage. Master's thesis, Harvard University, Extension School.
AbstractThis study investigates the causes and effects of the ways in which Russian comedy has been understood by British and American scholars and theatre practitioners from the time it was introduced in the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. For the purpose of this investigation two Russian playwrights were selected: Anton Chekhov and Aleksandr Griboedov. Chekhov's phenomenal influence on theater and literature is widely known. Griboedov is hardly a household name in Britain and America, although he is considered one of the founding fathers of Russian realistic drama, and his verse comedy Woe from Wit is revered as a literary and satirical masterpiece in Russia. Numerous productions of Chekhov's plays have been staged by British and American theater companies. Chekhov was so cordially accepted into the British canon that "during the `70s and `80s [of the 20th century] the number of productions was second only to Shakespeare's." One question, however, kept eluding an answer for a long while: why, despite Chekhov's claim that he was writing comedies, were they produced as tragedies or dramas? Perhaps that predominant view on Chekhov's
dramatic work not only skewed the perspective on Russian comedy in general, but also influenced assumptions about other Russian plays yet unknown to the English-speaking public.
I hypothesize that there are three major factors that contributed to the twentieth-century understanding of Russian comedy in England and the USA: a specific development within Russian comedy and Russian criticism on their native soil, namely, the high emphasis on comedy as a means of social satire in the context of a long tradition of censorship in Russia and a high degree of political motivation in Russian criticism; the differences in emotional expression between Russian speakers and Anglophones that often led to misreading and misinterpretation of characters' motives; and finally, the socio-cultural circumstances that helped to shape the first impression of Russian comedies on English-speaking audiences.
In testing my hypothesis, primary sources are analyzed, such as Chekhov's and Griboedov's notebooks and letters, and the texts of their respective plays. Critical and scholarly views on the subject are examined for the purpose of finding the reasons behind inconsistent and at times contradictory interpretations of Chekhov's and Griboedov's creative heritage. The issue of translation is also taken into consideration. The thesis demonstrates the specific set of circumstances that shaped the last century's vision of Russian comedy and explains why it is set to change.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37367521
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