Alexander Griboyedov Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to his masterpiece The Mischief of Being Clever and a few early comedies and dramatic fragments of which he was sole or, more often, partial author, Alexander Griboyedov wrote a few lyrics, including a translation of Psalm 151, some epigrams, and a short poem addressed to the Decembrist poet Alexander Ivanovich Odoevsky. Although Griboyedov’s first comedies and poems showed promise, a number of them are incomplete or appear as parts of works written jointly with other Russian playwrights. It was only with The Mischief of Being Clever, his sole significant work, that he achieved the status of a major writer.

Alexander Griboyedov Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Along with such famous authors as Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Ostrovsky, and Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin, Alexander Griboyedov is regarded as one of the great Russian playwrights of the nineteenth century. He is usually remembered as the author of a single comedy, The Mischief of Being Clever; his other works are generally considered to be too fragmentary and undeveloped to be regarded as masterpieces. Like his eighteenth century predecessor Denis Ivanovich Fonvizin, Griboyedov was an assimilator of Western European forms; he was able to adapt French comedy to a Russian setting. Molière’s famous play Le Misanthrope (pr. 1666; The Misanthrope, 1709) served as a model for The Mischief of Being Clever. Both comedies are distinguished for their witty style, the tightness of their plots, and their vivid characters. Griboyedov’s use of rhymed iambic lines in varying lengths probably demonstrates the impact of the famous Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov, who wrote at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Like Krylov and Fonvizin, Griboyedov made extensive use of colloquial language in The Mischief of Being Clever, and this combination of idiomatic language with taut, tightly constructed iambs made the play memorable to readers of his time. As a result, a great number of the lines have become proverbs, especially those from the speeches of the protagonist Chatsky and of Khlyostova, a pillar of Moscow society and the aunt of Chatsky’s love interest, Sofia.

Like Fonvizin, Griboyedov combined stylistic brilliance with an accurate picture of contemporary Russia. Early nineteenth century Moscow was a society in transition, based on a solidly Russian foundation, essentially rural and conservative, yet with a patina of foreign, particularly French, culture. It is because of his brilliant depiction of this conflict between the old and new in Russian life, combined with his implied criticism of the limitations of the Russian milieu and his memorable style, that Griboyedov has come to be so highly regarded by modern critics.

Alexander Griboyedov Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Harden, Evelyn. J. The Murder of Griboedov: New Materials. Birmingham, Ala.: University of Birmingham, 1979. This examination of the death of Griboyedov examines his personal and literary life. Bibliography.

Karlinsky, Simon. Russian Drama from Its Beginnings to the Age of Pushkin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. This historical overview of Russian drama provides the background in which to place Griboyedov’s work. Bibliography and index.

Mirsky, D. S. A History of Russian Literature from Its Beginnings to 1900. 1958. Reprint. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1999. This history covers Russian literature before and during the time in which Griboyedov was active.

Zinik, Zinovy. “Failing Triumphantly.” Review of The Mischief of Being Clever, by Griboyedov. Times Literary Supplement, April 2, 1993, p. 18. Reviews a production of Griboyedov’s most famous work.