*Provincial Russia. At the heart of Gogol’s satire is the inefficiency and corruption in Russia’s rural provinces, due in large part to the central government’s inability to maintain control from a distance. Setting the play in an unnamed rural village allows Gogol to illustrate this point by providing an intimate portrait of these two opposing forces, the central bureaucracy and its minor rural officials.
Antonovich’s house. With the exception of act 2, the play is set entirely in one room of Anton Antonovich’s house. Gogol’s notes direct the play’s actors to “pay particular attention to the last scene. The last speech should produce upon all a sudden electric shock.” The frantic meetings held in this room, culminate in act 5 with the explosive news that the real inspector has arrived.
Inn. The second act is set in a small room in the town’s inn, where Hlestakov and his servant Osip quarrel with the proprietor, trying to get him to extend them further credit. The small, untidy room provides a catalyst for the sustained confusion of identities at the center of the plot. Hlestakov’s impoverished circumstances should indicate that he is little more than a petty con man. In his paranoia, however, Antonovich sees only a cleverly conceived disguise. The more ridiculous Hlestakov’s behavior, set against the squalor of the room, the more convinced Antonovich becomes that he is the inspector.