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.