Born, Moscow, 1799
Died, St. Petersburg, 1837

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 86.

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IN A sense Alexander Pushkin is the beginning of real Russian drama. With his first play, Boris Godunov (written in 1825), he broke, or perhaps we should say, established, several precedents. First of all, his plot was chosen from a somewhat legendary incident of Russian history. His characters were real Russians, thinking, speaking, living as Russians. Instead of following French or German examples, as writers for the stage had done heretofore, he experimented with romantic tragedy after the style of Shakespeare. As a reading play, Boris Godunov is, in spots, superb; as an acting play it leaves much to be desired, and as a matter of fact did not reach production. Its influence on later dramatic writers was considerable, however.

Alexander Pushkin on his father's side was descended from one of the oldest families of the Russian gentry. His mother was the grand-daughter of Peter the Great's Abyssinian Engineer-General. The young Alexander's first poems appeared when he was but fifteen, and by the time he left school he was regarded as a rival by the acknowledged literary leaders of the day.

After Pushkin left school, he lived a riotous life in St. Petersburg as a member of the most brilliant and dissipated crowd in the capital. Seditious utterances in certain of his writings caused his banishment from St. Petersburg, and finally what was almost an incarceration on his mother's estate. When somewhat later he was pardoned and permitted to return to the capital, he found that under the pretense of favoring him the Czar was in reality curtailing both his personal and literary liberty. When later on he was appointed to a court position simply so that the Czar could invite his beautiful wife to the court balls, Pushkin's bitterness knew no bounds. He was powerless to change the situation, however, and in 1837 challenged one of his wife's admirers to a duel which resulted in the writer's death.

Pushkin's greatest contemporary successes with the general public were his two poems, The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray, and the drama, Boris Godunov. Viewed from a critical angle, however, his real masterpieces are the poem, The Bronze Horseman, and the drama, The Stone Guest, which concerns itself with the closing love intrigue and tragic ending of the Spanish Don Juan.

It has been left for later generations of Russians to appreciate Pushkin's true worth. It is significant that he was practically the only writer of pre-Revolutionary Russia who escaped the general condemnation of the Bolsheviks of everything that smacked of aristocratic culture.

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  • Boris Godunov - A synopsis of the play by Pushkin.
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