a synopsis of the play by Alexander Pushkin

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 87.

Purchase Boris Godunov

IVAN, THE TERRIBLE, was followed on the Russian throne by his weak-minded son, Feodor. This necessitated the establishment of a Regency to which the already powerful noble, Boris Godunov, was appointed. Not satisfied with being the virtual ruler of Russia, Boris contrived the death of Feodor's younger brother, Dimitri, and in due time, actually succeeded in making himself Czar of Russia.

For several years Boris sat more or less securely on the Russian throne. But gradually whispers of the true fate of Dimitri began to be noised about, and at last reached the ears of an ambitious young monk named Gregory. This young man immediately realized that the murdered Dimitri would have been practically the same age as himself. He knew, too, that the Poles were only waiting for an excuse to cross the Russian frontier in an aggressive war. So he decided to risk his life and fortune on a bold impersonation of the slain Prince and a claim to the Russian throne, knowing full well that Boris Godunov would not dare produce proofs of the boy's death.

Biding his time, he managed to escape from the monastery. Successfully eluding pursuit, he crossed the frontier and presented himself and his claims to the leaders of the Polish nobility, who, as he had foreseen, received him with open arms. So it came about that in a short space of time, the Pretender, Gregory, at the head of a large and powerful Polish army, invaded Russia intent on establishing his fraudulent claim to the Russian throne.

Meanwhile a whole series of disasters had been plaguing Boris Godunov. Famine and pestilence had stripped the land. His throne, never too secure, had been made less so by the incessant plotting of the nobles against him. Worst of all, advancing age and the continuous struggles had weakened Boris, both in mind and will. When the news was brought to him that the Pretender was actually on Russian soil and advancing toward the Russian capital, a vision of the murdered Prince arose before him and he realized that the time of retribution was at hand.

For an old man so weakened in mind and body, the supposed reappearance of the slain boy was too great a shock. There in the council chamber in the presence of his nobles he swooned and, conscience-stricken and contrite, died while the army of the Pretender was still far from the Russian capital.

The play was written in 1825, but for political reasons was refused production.

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