Woe from Wit
Woe from Wit is Alexander Griboyedov's comedy in verse, satirizing the society of post-Napoleonic Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, or, as a high official in the play styled it, "a pasquinade on Moscow."

The play, written in 1823 in the countryside and in Tiflis, was not passed by the censorship for the stage, and only portions of it were allowed to appear in an almanac for 1825. But it was read out by the author to "all Moscow" and to "all Petersburg" and circulated in innumerable copies, so it was as good as published in 1825; it was not, however, actually published until 1833, after the author's death, with significant cuts, and was not published in full until 1861.

The play was a compulsory work in Russian literature
Russian literature
Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia or its émigrés, and to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part of what was historically Russia or the Soviet Union...

 lessons in Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 schools, and is still considered a golden classic in modern Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and other Russian-speaking countries.

The play gave rise to numerous catchphrases in the Russian language
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

, including the title itself. Many of them sound rather comic today because of their somewhat archaic language.


The play belongs to the classical school of comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

, with principal antecedents in Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

. Like Denis Fonvizin
Denis Fonvizin
Denis Ivanovich Fonvizin was a playwright of the Russian Enlightenment, whose plays are still staged today. His main works are two satirical comedies which mock contemporary Russian gentry.-Life:...

 before him and like the founders of the Russian realistic tradition after him, Griboedov lays far greater stress on the characters and their dialogue than on his plot. The comedy is loosely constructed, but in the dialogue and in the character drawing Griboedov is supreme and unique.

The dialogue is in rhymed verse, in iambic lines of variable length, a meter that was introduced into Russia by the fabulists as the equivalent of La Fontaine's vers libre and that had reached a high degree of perfection in the hands of Ivan Krylov
Ivan Krylov
Ivan Andreyevich Krylov is Russia's best known fabulist. While many of his earlier fables were loosely based on Aesop and Jean de La Fontaine, later fables were original work, often satirizing the incompetent bureaucracy that was stifling social progress in his time.-Life:Ivan Krylov was born in...

. Griboyedov's dialogue is a continuous tour de force. It always attempts and achieves the impossible: the squeezing of everyday conversation into a rebellious metrical form.

Griboyedov seemed to multiply his difficulties on purpose. He was, for instance, alone in his age to use unexpected, sonorous, punning rhymes. There is just enough toughness and angularity in his verse to constantly remind the reader of the pains undergone and the difficulties triumphantly overcome by the poet. Despite the fetters of the metrical form, Griboyedov's dialogue has the natural rhythm of conversation and is more easily colloquial than any prose. It is full of wit, variety, and character, and is a veritable store book of the best spoken Russian of a period. Almost every other line of the comedy has become part of the language, and proverbs from Griboyedov are as numerous as proverbs from Krylov. For epigram
An epigram is a brief, interesting, usually memorable and sometimes surprising statement. Derived from the epigramma "inscription" from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein "to write on inscribe", this literary device has been employed for over two millennia....

, repartee, terse and concise wit, Griboyedov has no rivals in Russian.


Griboyedov's characters, while typical of the period, are stamped in the really common clay of humanity. They all, down to the most episodic characters, have the same perfection of finish and clearness of outline.
  • Pavel Afanasyevich Famusov, the father, the head of an important department, the born conservative of all time, the cynical and placid philosopher of good digestion, the pillar of stable society;
  • Sofia Pavlovna, his daughter, the heroine neither idealized nor caricatured, with a strange, drily romantic flavour. With her fixity of purpose, her ready wit, and her deep, but reticent, passionateness, she is the principal active force in the play and the plot is advanced mainly by her actions.
  • Liza, her maid;
  • Alexey Stepanovich Molchalin, Famusov's secretary living in his house, the sneak who plays whist
    Whist is a classic English trick-taking card game which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries. It derives from the 16th century game of Trump or Ruff, via Ruff and Honours...

     with old ladies, pets their dogs, and acts the lover to his patron's daughter;
  • Alexandr Andreyevich Chatsky, the protagonist. Sometimes irrelevantly eloquent, he leads a generous, if vague, revolt against the vegetably selfish world of Famusovs and Molchalins. His exhilarating, youthful idealism, his go, his élan is of the family of Romeo
    Romeo Montague
    Romeo is one of the fictional protagonists in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is the son of old Montague and his wife, who secretly loves and marries Juliet, a member of the rival House of Capulet...

    . Tradition tells that the character is modeled after Pyotr Chaadaev
    Pyotr Chaadaev
    Pyotr or Petr Yakovlevich Chaadayev was a Russian philosopher born in Moscow.Chaadayev wrote eight "Philosophical Letters" about Russia in French between 1826-1831, which circulated in Russia as manuscript for many years...

    , an original and controversial Russian writer and philosopher, with whom Griboedov was acquainted. It is significant that, in spite of all his apparent lack of clear-cut personality, his part is the traditional touchstone for a Russian actor. Great Chatskys are as rare and as highly valued in Russia as are great Hamlet
    The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

    s in Britain.
  • Colonel Skalozub, Sergey Sergeyevich
  • The Goriches:
    • Natalia Dmitriyevna, young lady
    • Platon Mikhailovich, her husband
  • Count Tugoukhovsky
  • Countess, his wife, and six daughters
  • The Khryuminas:
    • Countess Khryumina, the grandmother
    • Countess Khryumina, the granddaughter
  • Anton Antonovich Zagoretsky
  • Old woman Khlyostova, Famusov's sister-in-law
  • Mr. N.
  • Mr. D.
  • Repetilov, the Anglomaniac orator of the coffee room and of the club, burning for freedom and stinking of liquor, the witless admirer of wit, and the bosom friend of all his acquaintances;
  • Petrushka and several speaking footmen;
  • A large number of guests of all ranks and their footmen engaged during their departure;
  • Famusov's waiters.

A number of the characters have names that go a long way toward describing their personality in Russian. Molchalin's name comes from the verb molchat, to be silent, and he is a character of few words. Tugoukhovsky's name comes from roots meaning "difficult" (tugo) and "ear" (ukho), implying that he is hard of hearing. Skalozub's name is an inversion of the Russian zuboskal, either a dim-witted man, or a man with primitive social graces (literally, "one who grins a lot"). Famusov's name is derived from Latin fama, meaning "public opinion" or "repute", which is a matter of great importance to that character.

External links

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