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The Uncensored Boris Godunov

The Case for Pushkin's Original Comedy

Chester Dunning with Caryl Emerson, Sergei Fomichev, Lidiia Lotman, and Antony Wood

Publication Year: 2006

Includes the original Russian text and, for the first time, an English translation of that version.

“Antony Wood’s translation is fluent and idiomatic; analyses by Dunning et al. are incisive; and the ‘case’ they make is skillfully argued. . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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Preface to the First Edition

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pp. xi-xiii

The purpose of this book is to rescue the original version of Alexander Pushkin's historical drama Boris Godunov from obscurity. Long ignored by specialists and virtually unknown to general readers, Pushkin's Comedy about Tsar Boris and Grishka Otrepiev was composed in 1824-25 while the "dangerously radical" poet was living in exile on his family's estate...

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Prefaces to the Paperback Edition

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pp. xv-xxiii

I am grateful for the opportunity to add some prefatory remarks to the paperback edition of our book, which differs from the original in several modest ways: The paperback edition contains four minor (single word) corrections in our chapters, a one-word correction in the play, and a few minor layout corrections in two scenes...

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pp. xxv

The authors also wish to acknowledge with gratitude the generous subvention grants from the University Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences of Princeton University and The Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies at the University...

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pp. 3-24

Alexander Pushkin considered Boris Godunov his finest work. Upon completing it at Mikhailovskoe in November 1825, he wrote glowingly to his friends about the experience: he felt his talent had matured, he could create. By the time the play was approved for publication in 1830, however, this initial enthusiasm had faded. During that year Pushkin drafted...

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1. The Problem of Boris Godunov: A Review of Interpretations and the So-Called Canonical Text

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pp. 25-50

Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837) wrote Boris Godunov in 1824-25, while living in exile on his father's estate under constant surveillance by tsarist authorities. With plenty of time on his hands, the angry young poet – by then widely acclaimed as one of Russia's greatest writers – created an extremely ambitious and provocative historical drama set in...

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2. The Exiled Poet-Historian and the Creation of His Comedy

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pp. 51-93

Apropos of Pushkin's Boris Godunov, Stephanie Sandler once commented that "no one who has written about this play has been able to read it with the kind of sustained attention it demands."1 Perhaps that is because so few studies of Pushkin's troublesome drama have taken an historical approach to the task of understanding it. Only by studying the...

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3. The Tragic Fate of Pushkin's Comedy

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pp. 94-135

Pushkin finished writing his Comedy on November 7, 1825, and was extremely proud of it. The exiled poet-historian sincerely hoped that his play would revolutionize Russian drama and demonstrate his continuing commitment to enlightened values. He was especially anxious to put an end to lingering rumors that he had somehow "sold out" to tsarist...

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4. The World of Laughter in Pushkin's Comedy

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pp. 136-156

Pushkin was inspired to begin work on his Comedy about Tsar Boris and Grishka Otrepiev by reading volumes 10 and 11 of Nicholas Karamzin's History of the Russian State. In one of Pushkin's working notebooks (the "Second Masonic Notebook"), in an entry dated November 1824, is a synopsis of events taken from Karamzin's History, concerned primarily...

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5. Tragedy, Comedy, Carnival, and History on Stage

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pp. 157-191

Between 1825 and 1830, inconsistently but suggestively, Pushkin referred to his Boris Godunov as a comedy, a tragedy, and a "Romantic tragedy."3 The front cover of the 1831 edition did not help to clarify matters: Boris Godunov, sochinenie [composition]. How significant for Pushkin were these shifts of label? Or for that matter, dramatic genre in general?4 At the...

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6. The Ebb and Flow of Influence: Muffling the Comedic in the Move toward Print

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pp. 192-232

Nowhere was Pushkin's behavior as provocative as in the realm of theater. This provocation attached both to his unruly, outspoken person in the theater stalls and to his aesthetic judgments. By 1817, the year Pushkin finished the Lycée, performance arts in the capitals functioned "not only as a theater, but as a club"; the theater was a forum to quarrel, hiss...

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Concluding Remarks: Boris Godunov and the Russian Literary Canon

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pp. 233-236

In the preceding chapters, we put forth a case for the 1825 Komediia as the canonical text of Boris Godunov. Our primary motivation has been respect for what we believe to be Pushkin's intent. But there is also our judgment that the original text is a better, more effective, historically more accurate play. Since the "canonical" Boris coalesced carelessly...

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Translator's Preface

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pp. 239-244

This translation is designed to be read aloud. I have aimed at discreetly modern diction and idiom, not too pointedly of the present day, and avoided archaisms except in the language of ecclesiastics. I see Pushkin's project as an exercise in realism. This seems to have been the impact made on those who heard his first readings of the Komediia in...

Komediia o tsare Borise i o Grishke Otrep'eve

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pp. 246

Comedy about Tsar Boris and Grishka Otrepiev

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pp. 247-453

Notes to Pushkin's Comedy

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pp. 454-510


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pp. 511-534


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pp. 535-550

E-ISBN-13: 9780299207632
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299207649

Publication Year: 2006