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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1253

The mayor of the town, Anton Antonovich, receives a disquieting letter. A friend writes that an inspector is coming to visit the province and particularly his district. The inspector will probably travel incognito. The friend advises the mayor to clean up the town and hide evidence of any bribes that...

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The mayor of the town, Anton Antonovich, receives a disquieting letter. A friend writes that an inspector is coming to visit the province and particularly his district. The inspector will probably travel incognito. The friend advises the mayor to clean up the town and hide evidence of any bribes that might discredit him. The mayor in haste calls a meeting of the local dignitaries and instructs them how to make a good impression on the official from the capital.

Zemlyanika, the hospital manager, is advised to put clean nightcaps on the patients and take away their strong tobacco for a time. The manager is thoughtful; he always proceeds on the theory that if a patient is going to die, he will die anyway. He decides, however, to clean up both the patients and the hospital and to put up a sign in Latin over each bed to tell the patient’s malady.

Lyapkin-Tyapkin, the judge, spends most of his time hunting. He keeps a whip and other sporting equipment in his courtroom, and in the vestibule the porter keeps a flock of geese. His assessor always smells of liquor. Ammos protests that the assessor was injured as a baby and has smelled of brandy ever since. Anton suggests that he eat garlic to cover the smell. Hlopov, the head of the school, is advised to cover up the more obvious foibles of his teachers. The one with a fat face, for instance, always makes horrible grimaces when a visitor comes and pulls his beard under his necktie, and the history teacher jumps on his desk when he describes the Macedonian wars.

Piqued by a recital of their weaknesses, the others turn on the mayor and remind him that he takes monetary bribes and only recently had the wife of a noncommissioned officer flogged. During the wrangle the postmaster comes in to see if they have any news of the inspector’s arrival. The mayor advises the postmaster to open all letters in an attempt to discover who the inspector might be and when he will arrive. The advice is superfluous, for the postmaster always reads all the letters anyway.

Two squires of the town, Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, rush in with exciting news. A mysterious stranger, obviously a high-born gentleman, is at that moment lodging in the local inn, and he has been there a fortnight. His servant let it out that his master is from St. Petersburg. Sure that the stranger is the inspector, the company trembles to think what he might already have learned. They scatter to repair any damage they can.

At the inn Osip lies on his master’s bed and ruminates on the peculiarities of gentlefolk. His gentleman is always gambling, always broke, always selling his clothes to get funds. They are stuck in this wretched inn because there is no money to pay their bill. At this point, Ivan Alexandrovich Khlestakov bursts in, loudly calling for supper.

When the waiter is summoned, he insolently refuses to serve Khlestakov until the guest pays his bill. After a long argument, some watery soup and a tough hen are brought, and Khlestakov dines poorly. As the dishes are being removed amid a tussle between Osip and the waiter for the remains of the supper, visitors are announced.

Nervous and apologetic, the mayor stands before Khlestakov’s august person. Khlestakov thinks, however, that he is to be put in jail. For a time the conversation is at cross-purposes, but Khlestakov has the nimbler wit and allows the mayor to do most of the talking. When he begins to suspect what the mayor is trying to say, he coolly accepts two hundred rubles to pay his bill, an invitation to stay at the mayor’s house, and a nomination as the guest of honor at an official dinner at the hospital.

Anna and Maria are arguing about clothes, as usual, when Dobchinsky rushes in to announce the arrival of the inspector and his fine condescension in coming to stay at their house. Dobchinsky thinks that he is being honest when he assures them their guest is a general. Thrilled at the idea of entertaining a general, the two ladies begin to primp and preen. When the men come in, the mayor tries to impress Khlestakov, thought to be the inspector, by saying that he never plays cards. Khlestakov, playing his role, approves; he especially abhors gambling. Osip snickers at his master’s remark, but fortunately he is not noticed. To impress the household Khlestakov then informs them that he is an author; besides writing for the papers he composes poetry and novels. When he refers casually to his high political connections, his hearers are agog, particularly the ladies. Meanwhile Khlestakov is steadily drinking wine. At last he falls into a drunken sleep in his chair.

With Osip remaining conscious, the mayor tries to pump the servant as to his master’s habits and tastes, while the ladies try to find out something about Khlestakov’s love life. Since Anton keeps giving him money, Osip obliges by telling many details of his master’s place in high society.

Khlestakov is put to bed to sleep off the wine. When he awakens, the dignitaries of the town wait on him one by one. Lyapkin-Tyapkin, the judge, introduces himself and asks for the inspector’s orders. Khlestakov carelessly promises to speak well of the judge to his friends and just as carelessly borrows money from his suppliant. The postmaster is impressed with Khlestakov’s friendliness and is glad to lend him three hundred rubles. Luka and Artemy are glad to lend the inspector three or four hundred rubles, but Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky together can raise only sixty-five rubles.

When the petitioners leave, Osip begs his master to leave while the pickings are still good. Khlestakov, agreeing that immediate departure might be prudent, sends the servant to make arrangements. Osip wangles the best coach the town can offer. In the meantime several shopkeepers also come in to protest against the mayor, who is making them pay tribute. From them Khlestakov borrows five hundred rubles.

When Maria comes in, Khlestakov is so elated at his successes that he speaks lovingly to her and finally kisses her on the shoulder. The daughter scurries away as her mother comes in, and Khlestakov ogles the older lady, too. The daughter comes back, full of curiosity, and in his confusion Khlestakov proposes marriage to Maria, who accepts him graciously. After writing a letter to a friend, in which he details his humorous adventures, Khlestakov leaves town. He promises, however, to return the next day.

In the morning the mayor and his wife receive the envious congratulations of friends. The ladies, green with envy, assure Maria that she will be a belle in St. Petersburg society. The parents, much taken with the idea, decide that their new son-in-law will insist on taking the whole family to live in the capital. The mayor is sure that he will be made a general at least. At that moment the postmaster arrives with Khlestakov’s letter. When he reads the frank description of the pretended inspector’s love-making and his franker opinion of the muddle-headed town officials, the fact of the hoax gradually dawns on the company. As the crestfallen crowd counts up the losses, a gendarme comes in with an official announcement. An inspector from St. Petersburg has just arrived and desires them all to wait upon him immediately. He is staying at the inn.

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