Эссе: Sumarokov's Hamlet. A Misjudged Russian Tragedy of the Eighteenth Century

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... Like many prominent figures of the Russian neo-Classical school, Alexander Petrovich Sumarokov (1718-77) was for a long time unjustly neglected by succeeding generations. His eccentricities, which in the heyday of Romanticism would have been greeted as visible signs of genius, were exaggerated by his many rivals, particularly Lomonosov and Trediakovsky. Even Baron Grimm helped to make Sumarokov appear ridiculous to posterity. In the Correspondance Littйraire he described with enjoyment how the Empress Catherine, after Sumarokov had in 1770 quarrelled with the Governor of Moscow, graciously rebuked the irascible dramatist who in any other kingdom (France, for example) would no doubt have been cast into jail for his presumption.1 Pushkin called him "the jealous, haughty, cold Sumarokov, devoid of force and ardour, of mediocre wit",2 and thus showed little gratitude to an author whose historical tragedy Dimitri the Usurper (1771) in some ways foreshadows Pushkin's own Boris Godunov.3 Within the last fifty years, Sumarokov has begun to receive due recognition as founder of the modern Russian stage, and as a dramatist who, while no original genius, combined an exceptional talent for versification with a considerable grasp of the practice of stagecraft. The late Jules Patouillet, in his study La Lettre de Voltaire а Soumarokov,4 gave a most judicious survey of his career. More recently, Professor G. A. Gukovsky has expressed the eminently fair opinion that "his long continued activity in refining and purifying the Russian tongue and bringing it to normal syntactical clarity, and also his work in creating lucid and natural spoken Russian, exercised an exceedingly beneficent influence on the entire development of the Russian literary language before Pushkin"....