Aleksandr Petrovich Sumarokov Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Aleksandr Petrovich Sumarokov is by common consent the first full-fledged representative of Russian classicism. Consciously assuming the role of Russia’s Jean Racine, Molière, Jean de La Fontaine, and Nicolas Boileau all in one, Sumarokov wrote prolifically in all the literary genres fashionable for French neoclassicism: tragedies, comedies, pastorals, lyrics, odes, satires, fables, epistles, elegies, heroides, sonnets, songs, ballads, rondos, madrigals, epigrams, and inscriptions. A complete ten-volume collection of his works was first published in Moscow, Polnoe sobranie vsekh sochineniy v stikhakh i proze (1781-1787). A more recent collection of his works in verse, Izbrannye proizvedeniya, was published in Leningrad by the Library of the Poet in 1953. A second edition was published by the Library of the Poet in 1957.

Most of Sumarokov’s literary work is in verse, with the exception of his comedies, which in themselves represent a break from the true classical tradition inasmuch as tragedy was the genre most highly valued by the classicists. The higher, more solemn verse forms Sumarokov wrote in the “lofty style,” using Alexandrine meter adapted to Russian in a close imitation of French neoclassical poetry. In contrast, Sumarokov’s numerous fables have a more open Russian form without a fixed stanza or rhyme scheme, in the manner of the free verse of La Fontaine’s fables. Sumarokov’s songs show still greater variety of...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Aleksandr Petrovich Sumarokov was not only a prolific and innovative writer but also one of Russia’s first theoreticians of literature. His “Epistle on the Art of Poetry,” which espoused a “doctrine of genres,” secured a permanent place for Sumarokov among the pages of Russian literary criticism. In 1759, Sumarokov founded a literary periodical Trudolyubivoya pchela (industrious bee), in which he published articles on the history of Russia, philosophy, political economy, and the Russian language. Although Sumarokov’s works are somewhat imitative in nature, lacking great innovative genius, his contribution to eighteenth century Russian letters was enormous, and he is remembered for the distinctness of his pictures of local life, his pride in Russian history, his humanitarian ideas, and his intensity of feeling, which permeates most of his works.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Brown, William Edward. A History of Eighteenth Century Russian Literature. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1980. Brown examines Sumarokov within his broader discussion of eighteenth century Russian literature.

Levitt, Marcus C. “The Illegal Staging of Sumarokov’s Sinav i Truvor in 1770 and the Problem of Authorial Status in Eighteenth Century Russia.” Slavic and East European Journal 43, no. 2 (Summer, 1999): 299-323. The author examines the illegal staging of one of Sumarokov’s plays, focusing on the author’s defense strategies.

Levitt, Marcus C. “Russianized Hamlet: Text and Contexts.” Slavic and East European Journal 38, no. 2 (Summer, 1994): 319. Levitt examines the meaning and context of Sumarokov’s Gamlet, which was considerably changed, as well as the source materials that Sumarokov probably used in developing his play.

Nebel, Henry M., Jr. Selected Aesthetic Works of Sumarokov and Karamazin. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982. Nebel critiques and presents translations of some of Sumarokov’s works as well as some of those of Nikolay Mikhaylovich Karamzin, historian and novelist who reformed the literary language.

Sheidley, William E. “Hamlets and Hierarchy.” Peace Review 11, no. 2 (June, 1999): 243-249. Sheidley examines the portrayal of official hierarchies as injust, inadequate, or incoherent in literature, especially Sumarokov’s version of Hamlet. Sumarokov’s portrayal of the fall of a selfish and corrupt ruler shows his belief in a monarchy that concerns itself with the welfare of its subjects.