Monday, April 13, 2015

A Tale of Two Plays - Part I

For some reason today, I found myself wishing to discuss the merits of a Russian word with the 19th century playwright, Alexander Griboyedov. Our imaginary conversation might wander around to the word in such a fashion: Griboyedov could triumphantly wave his latest manuscript in my face, and I might respond, pretending to be surprised, "How totally клёво, Sasha!"

(Kлёво (klyovo) is a slang term which basically means, "cool!" It would not be considered the best of manners to use the word with a person one does not know well. The term was likely derived from a word denoting the bite of a fish on a hook.)

At this juncture, I should explain that I would have been hoping to get a rise out of Sasha, in anticipation of the appearance of a characteristic crinkle on his forehead, and a crease at the corner of his mouth that would signal his impatience with my impertinence. In short, I would be waiting for him to contradict me with a freshly-spawned witticism emerging from his formidable internal lexicon.

However, since the likelihood of myself holding a conversation with Griboyedov in the 21st century is not high, I must be satisfied with the teasing out of a historical enigma, merely for my own entertainment and/or gratification.

During the 19th century, two plays were written by liberal aristocrats which forever altered the landscape of Russian literature and vocabulary; their influence and impact is discussed by philologists, historians, and literati to this day. The author of one of these plays was Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin. The author of the other was Alexander Sergeevich Griboyedov.

The first of the two plays to appear in written manuscript form (although it was not welcomed by Imperial censors, therefore its publishing was delayed) was Griboyedov's Woe from Wit. Ivan Goncharov, the 19th century literary critic described the play like this, "The salt, the epigrams, the satire; the colloquial verse one feels will never die, any more than the sharp, biting, lively Russian intelligence which is sprinkled throughout and which Griboyedov locked up, as a wizard might some spirit in his castle, where it bursts into peals of malicious laughter."

Act A, Woe from Wit (Original)

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(for erin) when i ask, where have the redpolls gone, and why the silence at my seed station your eyes, unbidden twin candles startle ...

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