In England and Russia, Shakespeare and Pushkin are the two great writers, the national writers. There has never been any doubt about that; nor has any change in literary fashion or in cultural attitudes done anything to alter what has always been taken for granted. In one sense this is the equivalent in literature of the tradition of kingship or of tsardom in the national politics: the icon of the country’s special version of sovereignty. It may even be the case that where no such unifying tradition existed, as it did not exist in Germany and Italy, the national writer assumes an even greater cultural and spiritual importance, as do Goethe in Germany and Dante in Italy. And it may well be of significance also that in democratic America the requirement of such an absolute cultural figurehead has never been felt or recognized. America has its own great writers, whose status remains, as it were, permanently unchallenged, but they live together in the national pantheon on honorably equal terms.
Why this should be so could well be an interesting cultural question on which the personal qualities visible in Pushkin and Shakespeare, seen as human beings rather than as great poets, could possibly have some bearing. Both of them contradict any conventional image of kingship and authority. Unlike Dante or Goethe they have the status of ordinary people. Their works do not draw attention to themselves. They are democrats before their time. More important, they have the status of cultural universality, whereas Goethe could never be anything other than the great German writer, as is Dante the great Italian. In Goethe’s own lifetime German writers were speaking of unser Shakespeare—our Shakespeare—by which term they were not claiming Germanhood for Shakespeare, but recognizing that his influence was beginning to transcend all national boundaries. Shakespeare had become a universal human possession.
In his famous speech on the fiftieth anniversary of Pushkin’s birth, Dostoevsky claimed much the same sort of thing, alleging that Pushkin’s genius both understood other peoples and stood for everybody all over the world, not just Russia and for Russians. Equally famously, the poet Alexander Blok detached Pushkin outright from the repressive tradition of Russian history and from what Blok called its “somber roll call” of gloomy despots and executioners. Among these Pushkin was “the one bright name.”
Universality then: and by implication a universality joining the pair—Pushkin and Shakespeare—by reason of the inherently dramatic nature of their work. A poet-dramatist does not live in himself, as Byron claimed, rather unconvincingly in his own case, but becomes, in Byron’s words, a “portion of that around him.” He is timeless; he belongs to new worlds and old, becoming or revealing all places and all people.
It was Coleridge who made the most illuminating distinction between types of literary genius. One draws the world into itself: the other is a Proteus who himself assumes every shape that the outside world can offer. Both Shakespeare and Pushkin clearly belonged to this latter kind. They did not stand in the center of their world, dominating and controlling it. They moved out into the ordinary world and revealed its true extraordinariness without attempting to control it or to make it into a world of their own. Both, as if involuntarily, were absorbed not only by human nature but by what is most contrary, unexpected, and unlooked for in human nature, and it is this subtle but decisive point of resemblance on which I wish to concentrate.
Dramatists, the natural Proteans of Coleridge’s distinction, are, as Coleridge himself knew very well, rarely found in their true form in an age of Romanticism. Romantic poets and writers are too much concerned with themselves, and with their own spiritual or ideological identity, living in a world of their own. Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge himself, all wrote plays in emulation of Schiller’s and Goethe’s Shakespearean pieces, or aspired to write them. If foreigners could do it, surely they, the direct heirs of children of the Bard, could do it even better. Keats in a letter held that the true crown of his poetic achievement would be to produce, if he could, “a few fine plays.” But alas, the plays that these great English poets produced have little or nothing in common with Shakespeare. Their language as dramatists can live only in the shadow of his own. They imitate him, as if helplessly. There is nothing extraordinary about their plays or about the characters in them, as there is about Hamlet and Macbeth and Othello. The Romantic poets are entirely lacking in the dramatist’s art of surprising his audience by the penetration, and still more the unexpectedness, of his observation of men and women.
To this general truth there is, two decades before Pushkin’s time, a single and interesting exception. In at least one respect the stories and plays of the German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist have an unmistakable Shakespearean touch, the rare sign of that great dramatist’s authenticity. Kleist was fascinated by the sheer contradictoriness of the human personality and its psychology. With Germanic thoroughness and persistence he explores this one point, this authentically Shakespearean feature, again and again. The inconsequential, the perverse—these features in the hero or heroine are what he makes drama from in his story “The Marquise von O.” The scrupulously chivalrous Russian officer who seemed to have behaved so admirably to the marquise is found nonetheless to have raped her when she was unconscious. The Prince von Homburg, fearless in battle, breaks down in abasement and terror when a court-martial decrees his execution for disobeying orders. Kleist’s interest in these matters has a streak of the pathological about it, but his instinct for drama is nonetheless founded in the kind of understanding that was second nature to the genius of Shakespeare, and with him seems almost unconscious. Shakespeare understands the incongruities of human behavior effortlessly—on the wing as it were—while Kleist writes in the spirit of an almost pedantic inquiry, as one who wishes to establish a principle.
Pushkin never read Kleist, but he most certainly absorbed Shakespeare, even though he could only accomplish this through the medium of a French translation by Letourneur. He seems to have grasped intuitively the simplicity and naturalness with which Shakespeare understood human behavior, never giving the impression of having a theory about it. When Pushkin embarked on his verse novel Evgeny Onegin, he had no idea how it would end. The conclusion surprised him, and yet he knew he had the right one. “My Tatiana has gone and got married!” he exclaimed in a letter to a friend. “I should never have thought it of her.” His characters reveal themselves by doing what their author does not know they will do, and it is thus that they become characters.
In his admirably forthright book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, the critic Harold Bloom put forward the claim that it was Shakespeare who actually invented what we now mean by “character.” Character means what our friends or enemies might be like if they were much more interesting and memorable than they are. Shakespeare’s Falstaff is all of us, but he is all of us on a much grander scale. According to Bloom, he is Shakespeare’s primary character, the great archetype who contains every kind of contradiction within himself. No wonder both Kleist and Dostoevsky, and more indirectly Pushkin himself, borrowed so heavily from him.
But Bloom, I am sure, would be the first to admit that his theory is only an approximation, for Shakespeare had precedents. Plutarch on his contrasting Greek and Roman couples, Suetonius on the Roman emperors—these show great interest in the motives and varieties of human behavior, to say nothing of so rich a source of speculation as the Medea of Euripides, or Chaucer’s gallery of pilgrims, each peculiar in his own mode of being.
Bloom is right nonetheless to suggest that Shakespeare is the first writer to display the vagaries, even the sheer pointlessness, of human beings in dramatic action. Other little matters are always cropping up. Yes, a battle must be won, a father must be avenged, the king who stands in the way of our ambition got rid of, but in an ordinary life, and for a thinking human being, there are so many other distractions and diversions to become concerned with.
Character turns out to consist in the usual human inability, as much in the world of Virginia Woolf as in that of Shakespeare, to concentrate on one thing at a time. One’s wife or husband, say, is sleeping badly, he, or she, is showing symptoms of infidelity, and perhaps there is a drinking problem as well. At a moment of doubt and horror for Hamlet the group of strolling players arrives at the castle, and what a relief it is for him to see them! For all his restless determination to make his fortune through his influence over Prince Hal, Falstaff has yearnings too for the quiet life. “I would ’twere bedtime, Hal,” is what he thinks before the battle—“and all well.”
This is very different from the type of drama in which the distractions that attend on human personality, like wasps buzzing round a honeypot, are artificially excluded in the interests of pure choice, pure motivation. In the classic plays of Racine and Corneille character exists to decide between the demands of love and honor, of duty and desire. How much simpler is this neoclassic ideal, and from a straightforward dramatic viewpoint how much more satisfying! The English neoclassic critics John Dennis and Thomas Rymer berated Shakespeare for not showing clearly and simply the moral crisis of his play. The only lesson to be drawn from Othello, declared Rymer scornfully in 1692, is that young wives should take better care of their linen. Civil war, Shakespeare’s history plays emphasize for our edification, is a bad thing for the state; but in fact we go to the play to see Falstaff and his companions, and to participate in the colorful life they are leading.
Russian critics were to blame Pushkin for the sense of flatness and anticlimax they found in his play about Russia’s Time of Troubles, Boris Godunov. What lessons about politics and history was it supposed to show? But Pushkin seems to have had the instinct to withdraw from the problems of his subject into a species of Shakespearean neutrality. That’s the way things are; that’s the way things go. At the end of the play the crowd receives in horrified silence the news that Boris’s widow and young son are dead—dead no doubt by violent means—but when the boyars command them to hail the new tsar, the pretender Dimitri, they obediently do so. They know what is expected of them. The censor objected to this ending, and required of Pushkin that the people should remain silent when told to hail the new tsar, a silence—narod besmolstvuet—which ironically became a Russian proverb. Pushkin didn’t mind the change at all: he saw that where history was con-cerned both endings did much the same job.
Pushkin also felt that a playwright must not be self-conscious. He must work by instinct, and, as he said, “possess his subject unconsciously, just as he possesses language without bothering about grammar.” Could he have read Shakespeare’s own poetry he would have delighted in the way the older playwright treats us in King Lear to a wonderful but quite irrelevant description of the busy scene at Dover Cliff—the herb-gatherers, the sailors walking on the beach, the ships that from the clifftop seem as small as toys. Marvelous! A revelation of the careless complicated world outside tragedy, going about its business.
Great painters, as Auden wrote in his poem “Musée des Beaux Arts,” reveal the same kind of truth. When the boy Icarus, who has been attempting to fly, falls into the sea, no one has time to pay any attention:
…The sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Pushkin, like Shakespeare, knew that tragedy remains incomplete if the other world of daily contingency and ordinary event is not present and participating. Both knew that we are born and live in the very midst of incongruity; in George Santayana’s words, born to be tragic in our fate, lyric in our feelings, but comic in our behavior.
One of the clearest examples of how Pushkin grasped and used this profound truth about Shakespeare’s art is the way he portrays, very much as Shakespeare himself did, that legendary figure so familiar already in European literature, Don Juan. For Pushkin’s precursors, Tirso de Molina, Molière, Mozart, and Da Ponte, Don Juan is a man with but one obsession: to seduce as many women as he possibly can. His character may be striking, but it is necessarily rather dull; and he ends up by going down into the hell that very properly awaits him. But in Pushkin’s brief dramatic masterpiece The Stone Guest, a very different Don Juan appears. Although he is prepared to seduce any new girl he can get hold of, he remains tenderly attached to all of them, or to the memory of them, and they—openly or secretly—feel the same about him. He recalls their natures, and their charms, with a nostalgia that may be hypocritical but that certainly seems touching and spontaneous. This Don Juan with an unexpectedly tender heart has the former Shakespearean, and now the new Pushkinian, secret of being fully open to our speculation. He may be insufferably pleased with himself, or he may be genuinely open and vulnerable to the helplessness of love—perhaps indeed he is both, and can live, as indeed most of us can, in two or more emotional worlds.
What is certain is that we find him at the play’s climax in a helpless state, helpless before Donna Anna, who possesses a quality of spirit which has deprived him of his worldly adroitness. He, the seducer, has become the seduced. Pushkin’s Don Juan finds in this last love the promise of an unexpected peace and fulfillment. For a man of his nature, or apparent nature, this is itself wholly incongruous and, if Pushkin had not contrived to make it so touching, verging on the absurd. His fate, which should be that of a man who meets inevitable ruin with style and courage, appears instead to have brought him to the verge of a terminal domesticity. He begs from Donna Anna “one cool, peaceful kiss” (Odin, kholodny, mirny) and there is no more erotic moment than this in the play, indeed in the whole of Pushkin’s work. It is a sudden, effective, and very authentic turn of events, but it also gives an indication of the art which Pushkin has instinctively inherited from his great predecessor: the art of making his hero surprising and unpredictable by taking away from him at a crucial moment qualities an audience might have been led to expect, and giving him quite different ones.
Notwithstanding the touching and surprising nature of Don Juan’s last seduction, the theme of destiny in The Stone Guest remains all-compelling, and is emphasized by the title itself. “The Stone Guest,” the dead Komandor, is the inescapable agent of fate, even though before the final climax of his arrival it might seem for a moment to be fate of an unexpected kind: the commonplace fate of wedlock and domesticity rather than a spectacular death and a descent into hell.
In Pushkin’s little play the Stone Guest is not the father of Donna Anna, as he is in all the other versions of the story, but her husband. She has been widowed by Don Juan, although we gather that the quarrel and the duel in which her husband was killed were not of Don Juan’s own making. As an invited guest the dead man has come to view his successor, and before his last fateful encounter with Donna Anna, Don Juan entertains the mischievous idea, communicated by him to Leporello, that the guest should be invited to stand like a porter outside the door of his former residence, while Don Juan makes love to his widow within. Such frivolous ideas are driven out of his head in the tense scene in which he approaches Donna Anna and gambles all on her being willing to receive the man who has killed her husband.
She does receive him, which means that she herself will share his fate. Once again it is the only version of the story in which Donna Anna herself risks going down to hell in the embrace of the man whom she has come—scandalously in a conventional sense—to love. So at least it might appear: so the dead husband, the Stone Guest, seems to have concluded. The final grasp of his stone hand in Don Juan’s might signify the condemnation of his rival and successor not to a theological hell but to an eternity of marriage, which for any previous Don Juan would indeed be purgatory, if not perdition itself. We must remember that domesticity and marriage, Pushkin’s own fate, was also his fate in a more absolute sense; it led him directly to the duel in which he was killed eight years later. In that sense at least the writing of The Stone Guest turned out to be both personal and prophetic.
Pushkin, then, has succeeded in the remarkable feat not only of demythologizing the figure of Don Juan but of giving him the incongruity and the human vulnerability of an ordinary person—one of us, as it were. And Pushkin achieves this without making his Don Juan forfeit any of the conventional brio and panache of his prototype, whereas Byron, in his long, rambling, and humorous-picaresque poem, makes his Don Juan a convenient puppet. Byron’s seducer, so far as he is involved in action and story, is an amiable but passive victim whom any strong-minded or enterprising woman can, and does, herself seduce.
The Don Juan of legend and story has never been jealous before. Nor, to begin with, has our Shakespearean Don Juan, Pushkin’s Don Juan. He has left that emotion to ordinary mortals like Don Carlos, who has briefly superseded Don Juan in the affections of his former lover, the actress Laura. When Don Juan goes to visit Laura, Don Carlos, who is with her, at once attacks him, mad with rage, and is killed. With his old flame, Don Juan is on terms of complete comradeship and understanding. He had come to visit her to renew their old acquaintance, and to make love to her if the moment is propitious. He regrets killing Don Carlos, just as he regretted killing the Komandor, but if fools mad with jealousy positively hurl themselves onto the point of his rapier, what can he do?
What he does do is make love to Laura over the dead body of his rival, but Pushkin contrives to suggest that this is not out of callousness, or from a morbid wish to enjoy life and love all the more in the presence of death. It is a matter dictated by simple convenience; and Laura, as earthy and practical as she is promiscuous, sees it in the same light.
But where Donna Anna is concerned it is quite another question. Don Juan finds himself helplessly jealous of her former husband, the dead Komandor. Thus he has become the most vulnerable of men; and yet in the midst of all this tempest of new emotion he shows just the same mix-up of responses that Shakespeare knew so well how to portray: in Hamlet, in Macbeth, in Falstaff. He is able to see the humor in his own situation. As a subtle defense against his own jealousy he professes to find the status of the Komandor irresistibly comic. Unassailably huge and impressive as he now is as a stone statue, the Komandor in life was in fact quite a little man. “Were he here, even standing on tip-toe, he would not be able to reach his own nose.”
These “Little Tragedies,” as Pushkin called The Stone Guest and its three companion pieces, could be acted brilliantly on stage, despite their shortness, but Pushkin designed them to be read, and one can vividly imagine—as so often with this poet as with Shakespeare himself—Don Juan’s gesture as he himself reaches up with good-natured amusement to touch the nose of the statue. (We might recall, too, the significance of noses as a time-honored part of sexual innuendo in almost any country.)*
Falstaff himself might have produced the witticism. And it is of Falstaff, and more particularly of what Harold Bloom has to say about his role as a comprehensive vessel of human character and characteristics, that Pushkin’s Don Juan can easily remind us. Don Juan too is alternately irreverent and thoughtful, melancholy and excitable, tender in feeling and yet full of shameless guile. Leporello is terrified by the statue, but Don Juan tells him to stop fussing—the Komandor was a sensible chap who would know better than to feel jealous after he was dead. The comment has a double irony, for it is Don Juan himself who will soon feel jealous of the dead man, for whom Donna Anna is still in mourning. If the dead husband can really grieve for her, can it be that she misses him too?
Pushkin’s little play is as crammed with the complexity of living as are Shakespeare’s big plays. Like Hamlet, it is made up of conflicting emotions, concealed hopes and fears, sudden spurts of comedy and surprise, possibilities that may or may not materialize. It is full of what Dostoevsky, another admirer of Shakespeare’s characters, was to call shivaya zhizn—“living life”—the life of infinite query and possibility with which Shakespeare endowed his great figures. Dostoevsky’s most memorable creations—Prince Myshkin, Stavrogin, and Svidrigailov—are themselves inspired by Shakespearean originals, and Dostoevsky admired Pushkin’s genius for understanding and dramatizing in his own terse little plays the same Shakespearean essence of complex living drama.
How far the secret of that drama had been forgotten or misunderstood by English dramatists themselves can be seen from works, now quite forgotten, that Pushkin knew about or had read in translation. There is an obvious irony in the fact that the intense admiration for Shakespeare felt and proclaimed by Coleridge and Hazlitt, Lamb and De Quincey, produced no effective results in the dramatic work of the Romantic period. The more they came to understand Shakespeare in theory, the less they were able to be inspired by him in practice. Pushkin was familiar with Byron’s plays in French translation, but the model he was most familiar with was the Dramatic Scenes of Barry Cornwall, the pseudonym of Brian Proctor, a friend of Keats and Leigh Hunt. First published in 1819, they had a considerable vogue and a good deal of influence. They were translated into both German and French, and on the day that he died in a duel Pushkin was negotiating with a friend in St. Petersburg for a translation of them into Russian for his magazine The Contemporary.
Although they offered Pushkin a model of sorts for his own “Little Tragedies,” Proctor’s pieces themselves seem more than a little absurd today. Yet they include a dramatic debate between Raphael and Michelangelo which may have given Pushkin a hint for his own fascinating contrast between Mozart and Salieri. Proctor also wrote a piece called “Juan,” which contrives to turn the Don Juan legend into an absurd though highly melodramatic farce. Proctor’s Don Juan secretly murders the old husband of the woman he loves, marries her, and then stabs her to death on suspicion of an affair with another man, who, as she informs him with her last breath, is in fact her own brother. (A Jacobean heroine by Webster or Ford might have been all the more suspicious—incest on top of infidelity—but a playwright of Proctor’s time would have maintained a suitable propriety, even in melodrama.)
Pushkin, who had a strong sense of humor, would certainly have been amused, but he may well have been struck too by the notion of a married Don Juan, susceptible to all the ordinary human pangs of obsession and jealousy. With his sense also of Shakespearean freedom in the development of a character, Pushkin must have seen that something could be made of the idea, comically absurd and crude as Proctor’s version of a married Don Juan might be. That, after all, was how the Shakespearean Hamlet, based on equally crude early dramatic prototypes, had itself come into being.
Pushkin’s Don Juan is just such a development on a miniature scale, a man who personifies, as Kleist’s dramas had also done in their schematic way, the contradictoriness of human character. Had Shakespeare himself written a play on the Don Juan story it is hard to believe that he would not have brought the hero a new and unexpected sort of life just as Pushkin did, and together with him the minor characters of the drama: Laura the cheerfully sexy and amoral actress, her new and priggish lover Don Carlos, above all the Commander’s wife Donna Anna. They are created by Pushkin with deft economy in all the immediacy of life, as only a great and natural master of the dramatic could do it. Just as Shakespeare would have done, Pushkin conceals Juan’s true feelings at the climax of the action and its denouement, leaving these to be guessed at or inferred by his readers. Was Juan a gambler and a cynic when he invited the dead Komandor to watch him call at his house and tempt the virtue of his widow? Or is he genuinely touched into loving her by Donna Anna’s pathos and dig-nity, the great apparent difference between her and all the other women he has known?
Don Juan confesses to Leporello that the purity and virtue of Donna Anna have made him feel “as happy as a child,” although this happy child will soon be consumed with the adult torments of sexual jealousy, jealousy over a husband now dead. To overcome that jealousy he swaggers and boasts that the dead Komandor is powerless to prevent him from having his way. Death must have deprived the Komandor of the living emotions now boiling up in the breast of Don Juan, and soon to be visible too, on the face and in the words of the widowed Donna Anna.
The irony of the denouement is that Juan’s gamble seems about to come off. He has fallen in love with virtue, and it looks as if this virtuous woman will be moved by the love he feels for her. She will be moved to save him. But she is well aware of the difficulty of knowing the truth about the inner man. “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face,” observes King Duncan; and the seemingly loyal and trustworthy soldier Macbeth soon gives proof of this. Donna Anna comes even more simply to the point. “So this is Don Juan,” she says wonderingly as he begins to woo her. “Who knows you?” But perhaps she will be the first one who does. She is already caught in a subtle appeal to her vanity, but also to her natural tenderness of heart. Perhaps she will be the one to know him, the first person to understand and thus to have power over this notorious man.
But such a fate awaits her only beyond the grave. She will indeed, as we may infer, know her Don Juan, but only in purgatory. Her dead husband will appear to view his living successor, and the touch of his stone hand could almost have an ironic appearance of congratulation, consigning the lovers to their life of humdrum domesticity rather than to hell. That would indeed be an unexpected fate for the greatest seducer of all time; for just as Pushkin’s is the only version of the story in which Donna Anna is the widow and not the daughter of the Komandor, so it is the only version in which the pair descend into hell together, as if, like Dante’s tragic lovers, consigned for all eternity to each other’s arms. Pushkin may well have taken a hint from Byron, for early on in his long rambling poem the narrator jokes that he can’t decide whether to consign Don Juan to hell or to the perpetuity of marriage.
In fact Byron violates, perhaps deliberately, the essential element in all stories of Don Juan—that of the inexorability of fate—whereas Pushkin emphasizes it. The closure of his little tragedy is perfect: the Don and his new lady are doomed to a traditional hell which nonetheless suggests the inescapability of marriage; while all Byron can do is to consign his hero to an increasingly meaningless and monotonous series of love affairs in which he is not even the initiator but only the passive instrument for each woman’s sexual demands. A passive Juan whose story has no feasible closure is a contradiction which Byron, who had virtually abandoned the poem before his death, could never have resolved.
Pushkin of course greatly admired Byron, and in his younger days he had imitated the Oriental romances that had made Byron famous; but he had come to feel good-natured contempt for the Byronic style of drama, and in letters to his friends he put his finger on what was most false about that drama’s contemporary vogue. Sir Walter Scott and the craze for historical romance were largely to blame. In dramatizing history, romance attempted to make the characters too much suited to their historic roles. Pushkin perceived that the freedom of incongruity was what gave their life to Shakespeare’s characters. They never behave as the plot or the audience might expect. Shakespeare, writes Pushkin, was never afraid to “compromise his characters” by making them act out of keeping with the parts they played. A man in our modern drama who acts the part of a conspirator must always, so Pushkin writes, be made to act like one: even if he merely orders a drink, he must do it “conspiratorially.” Byron’s Loredano in The Two Foscari, who hates the grandees, dutifully never stops hating for a moment; whereas Shakespeare’s Shylock is continually stepping outside his dramatic-historic role as the malignant Jewish miser, and thus becomes a free and potent spirit in the play.
In The Stone Guest too, the characters behave unexpectedly and outside their stereotypical roles, just as they would do if Shakespeare had written the play. Even in translation, Pushkin must have enjoyed and been struck by the fact that Shakespeare’s soldiers or peasants—kings and queens too—seldom speak in a manner appropriate to their station. In Henry IV the unfortunate conscript Feeble comments on his fate with a prince’s heroism; the sergeant in Macbeth who brings news of the Scottish victory does so in language more appropriate to a finished courtier than to a rough soldier; while the conversation of Cleopatra and her ladies is more suited to the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap than to the Queen’s palace in Alexandria. All these discrepancies give their secret of vitality and freedom to Shakespeare’s plays; and it was this that Pushkin had the critical subtlety to understand, and the creative skill to profit from.
The Stone Guest affords us the best example of the way Pushkin grasped and absorbed the legacy of Shakespeare, while retaining, as no English writer of the period could do, the novelty and the freedom of his style and language. Their relationship is one of the most fruitful and remarkable in the history of world literature. There is even an odd kind of comradeship about the contrast in their origins. Pushkin, the great-great-grandson of an African boy who became first servant and then friend and military colleague to the great Tsar of Russia; Shakespeare born in the humdrum rural center of England, the child of generations of solid yeomen who looked no further than their fat stock and their farm produce. Pushkin and Shakespeare became, nonetheless, two singular bright stars whose unexpected conjunction can bring us today so much enlightenment and pleasure.
May 11, 2000
Yale University Press is publishing in May the first translation in twenty-five years of Pushkin’s four “Little Tragedies” in their Russian Literature and Thought Series (edited by Gary Saul Morson). Pushkin’s plays, including The Stone Guest, are admirably rendered by Nancy K. Anderson into a blank verse equivalent of the original; and she appends an essay on each of the plays. Her essay on The Stone Guest is particularly interesting and suggestive. ↩