Aleksandr Blok

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Aleksandr Blok Drama Analysis

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Although Aleksandr Blok was primarily a poet, he exhibited a high interest in theater. More significant, he drew most of the material for his plays from his poetry. He contributed plays that are either Symbolist in nature or highly lyrical, reflecting his chief vocation of poet. Most of his plays mirror his personal concerns and experiences, such as his love affairs or the spirit of the time. He was highly interested in Russian theater life, dealing with leading dramaturgists, even though they did not always see eye to eye when the production of his plays was involved.

The Puppet Show

The main theme of Blok’s first significant play, The Puppet Show, underscores a discrepancy between reality and illusions. Throughout the play, Blok indulges in an interplay between the Author as a character and Death, couched in Symbolist mysticism. The main denouement moves along the lines of attempts at reconciling the two. In a typical commedia dell’arte fashion, three couples in love at a masked ball represent different types of love: romantic, passionate, and magical. To the Author, who frequently interrupts the play, romantic irony concerning these love types predominates because life is different from Author’s intentions. To solve this dilemma, Blok uses the devices of a puppet show, borrowed from his book of poems by the same title. The three main puppets carrying on the action are Columbine, the Eternal Feminine, her lover Harlequin, and the buffoon Pierrot—all staples of Romantic comedy. Pierrot is also pursuing Columbine, in fact searching for “the beautiful life,” but his pursuit turns futile. When he finally approaches Columbine, clad in white like Death, the Author intercedes, complaining that the actors have taken the play out of his hands. All actors suddenly disappear, and Pierrot is left alone on the stage. Through this, Blok pokes fun at his earlier dreams and visions, especially at his passionate love for Sophia (actually, his wife Lyubov Mendeleyeva), at his hopes and disappointments in love, wife, and friends, all of which turn into puppets or cardboard. Thus Blok, through the character Author, declares that he has been fooled by false beliefs and has trusted people who turned out only to look like people. There is no question that Pierrot represents Blok himself, Columbine his wife Lyubov, and Harlequin his friend Andrey Bely, who had an illicit relationship with Lyubov. The discrepancy between real life and illusion in The Puppet Show signals the beginning of Blok’s turning away from Symbolism and gradually toward a more realistic approach to life and poetry.

The Unknown Woman

Blok’s second play, derived directly from his poetry, The Unknown Woman, deals again with his disillusionment with love. In his poetry, he turns to a woman from the lower strata of society, a prostitute, whereas in the drama, this woman is Maria, originally a shining star. The poet sees the star falling to Earth and watches it transform into Maria. He imagines that she is the beautiful lady of his dreams and follows her to a party, where she suddenly disappears. At the end the star/Maria still shines in the sky, and the Poet derives satisfaction by gazing at it. Complex psychology and surrealist imagery make The Unknown Woman difficult to accept by the general public. Yet the play is appreciated for its lyricism and even social satire. The least successful of Blok’s plays, it was not performed on the stage because the censor perceived in it allusions to the Virgin Mary. It was privately performed shortly before the revolution.

The King on the Square

Blok’s third play, The King on the Square ,...

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gives vent to his disillusionment with the 1905 Russian Revolution. The characters, unlike in his previous dramas, are not mythological but real. Yet they are not named but generalized as the King, the Poet, the Architect, the Clown of Common Sense, the Son, and the Daughter, each symbolizing their particular function in the play. The King, seated on his throne surrounded by water, along with other characters, expects the arrival of ships, which never come—a clear reference to the unfulfilled promises of the revolution. As in Blok’s other plays, the Poet is unrealistic in his hopes for a better world and in his search for an ideal of beauty. Doomed to yearning, he fails also in his pursuit of the Architect’s daughter, an embodiment of beauty. As the enraged mob, feeling betrayed, rises and destroys all the main characters, including the King, who turns out to be made of stone, the symbolical play ends on a sour and tragic note, as did the hopes of many, including Blok.

The Song of Fate

Drawing again from his poetry (Faina) and folk tradition, Blok weaves a story of a man, Herman, leaving his wife in search of greater happiness, which he finds in Faina, a carnival singer. However, after a period in which they exchange distrust and love, Faina leaves Herman in a snowstorm so that he can return to his wife. Faina’s singing and the whistling of the wind are “the song of fate,” which the Russians should follow, although it is not quite clear where it may lead. The important thing is that it is the song of the people, that is, folk tradition, that will show the way through the snowstorm. This simple and somewhat romantic plot is enriched by Blok’s ability to conjure up the world of dreams and combine it with the world of reality and by his faith in Russia despite all the setbacks. The play was written in 1908 and emended in 1918, at the time of cataclysmic events in Russia. With The Song of Fate, Blok added his voice to the call of fate in Russia.

The Rose and the Cross

Blok’s last significant play, The Rose and the Cross, is a drama in the style of the troubadours, unusual for the twentieth century. The setting is thirteenth century Provence, and the plot involves a countess, Izora, whom her husband accuses of infidelity, and her love quest for a knight she has seen in her dream. The knight turns out to be an old troubadour, and she rejects him, as well as a homely suitor, Bertrand. When the court is attacked, Bertrand defends his master and dies but not before warning Izora of her husband’s approach while she is with another man, a page. The Rose and the Cross is Blok’s most successful play, thanks mainly to an uncomplicated plot. Inspired by his interest in medieval literature and history, he uses Bertrand’s struggle to “reconcile the Rose of Joy and the Cross of Suffering,” as Blok himself stated, thus reverting to a character used often by him and representing, once again, himself in the guise of the unfortunate Bertrand.


Aleksandr Blok Poetry: World Poets Analysis