The Government Inspector
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The Government Inspector, also known as The Inspector General (Russian: Ревизор, tr. Revizor, literally: "Inspector"), is a satirical play by the Russian-Ukrainian dramatist and novelist, Nikolai Gogol. Originally published in 1836, the play was revised for an 1842 edition. Based upon an anecdote allegedly recounted to Gogol by Pushkin, the play is a comedy of errors, satirizing human greed, stupidity, and the extensive political corruption of Imperial Russia.
The dream-like scenes of the play, often mirroring each other, whirl in the endless vertigo of self-deception around the main character, Khlestakov, who personifies irresponsibility, light-mindedness, absence of measure. "He is full of meaningless movement and meaningless fermentation incarnate, on a foundation of placidly ambitious inferiority" (D. S. Mirsky). The publication of the play led to a great outcry in the reactionary press. It took the personal intervention of Tsar Nicholas I to have the play staged, with Mikhail Shchepkin taking the role of the Mayor.
According to D. S. Mirsky, The Government Inspector "is not only supreme in character and dialogue – it is one of the few Russian plays constructed with unerring art from beginning to end. The great originality of its plan consisted in the absence of all love interest and of sympathetic characters. The latter feature was deeply resented by Gogol's enemies, and as a satire the play gained immensely from it. There is not a wrong word or intonation from beginning to end, and the comic tension is of a quality that even Gogol did not always have at his beck and call." In 2014, the play was ranked by The Telegraph as one of the 15 greatest ever written.
Early in his career Gogol was best known for his short stories, which gained him the admiration of the Russian literary circle, including Alexander Pushkin. After establishing a reputation, Gogol began working on several plays. His first attempt to write a satirical play about imperial bureaucracy in 1832 was abandoned out of fear of censorship. In 1835, he sought inspiration for a new satirical play from Pushkin.
Do me a favour; send me some subject, comical or not, but an authentically Russian anecdote. My hand is itching to write a comedy... Give me a subject and I'll knock off a comedy in five acts – I promise, funnier than hell. For God's sake, do it. My mind and stomach are both famished.— Letter from Gogol to Pushkin, October 7, 1835
Pushkin had a storied background and was once mistaken for a government inspector in 1833. His notes alluded to an anecdote distinctly similar to what would become the basic story elements for The Government Inspector.
Krispin arrives in the Province ... to a fair – he is taken for [illegible] ... . The governor is an honest fool – the governor's wife flirts with him – Krispin woos the daughter.— Pushkin, Full collected works, volume 8, book 1
The corrupt officials of a small Russian town, headed by the Mayor, react with panic to the news that an incognito inspector (the incognito one) will soon be arriving in their town to investigate them. The flurry of activity to cover up their considerable misdeeds is interrupted by the report that a suspicious person had arrived two weeks previously from Saint Petersburg and is staying at the inn. That person, however, is not an inspector; it is Khlestakov, a foppish civil servant with a wild imagination.
Having learned that Khlestakov has been charging his considerable hotel bill to the Crown, the Mayor and his crooked cronies are immediately certain that this upper-class twit is the dreaded inspector. For quite some time, however, Khlestakov does not even realize that he has been mistaken for someone else. Meanwhile, he enjoys the officials' terrified deference and moves in as a guest in the Mayor's house. He also demands and receives massive "loans" from the Mayor and all of his associates. He also flirts outrageously with the Mayor's wife and daughter.
Sick and tired of the Mayor's ludicrous demands for bribes, the town's Jewish and Old Believer merchants arrive, begging Khlestakov to have him dismissed from his post. Stunned at the Mayor's rapacious corruption, Khlestakov states that he deserves to be exiled in chains to Siberia. Then, however, he still requests more "loans" from the merchants, promising to comply with their request.
Terrified that he is now undone, the Mayor pleads with Khlestakov not to have him arrested, only to learn that the latter has become engaged to his daughter. At which point Khlestakov announces that he is returning to St. Petersburg, having been persuaded by his valet Osip that it is too dangerous to continue the charade any longer.
After Khlestakov and Osip depart on a coach driven by the village's fastest horses, the Mayor's friends all arrive to congratulate him. Certain that he now has the upper hand, he summons the merchants, boasting of his daughter's engagement and vowing to squeeze them for every kopeck they are worth. However, the Postmaster suddenly arrives carrying an intercepted letter which reveals Khlestakov's true identity – and his mocking opinion of them all.
The Mayor, after years of bamboozling banter Governors and shaking down criminals of every description, is enraged to have been this humiliated. He screams at his cronies, stating that they, not himself, are to blame. At this moment, the famous fourth-wall breaking phrase is uttered by the Mayor to the audience: "What are you laughing about? You are laughing about yourselves!". While the cronies continue arguing, a message arrives from the real Government Inspector, who is demanding to see the Mayor immediately.
In 1926, the expressionistic production of the comedy by Vsevolod Meyerhold "returned to this play its true surrealistic, dreamlike essence after a century of simplistically reducing it to mere photographic realism". Erast Garin interpreted Khlestakov as "an infernal, mysterious personage capable of constantly changing his appearance". Leonid Grossman recalls that Garin's Khlestakov was "a character from Hoffmann's tale, slender, clad in black with a stiff mannered gait, strange spectacles, a sinister old-fashioned tall hat, a rug and a cane, apparently tormented by some private vision".
Meyerhold wrote about the play: "What is most amazing about The Government Inspector is that although it contains all the elements of... plays written before it, although it was constructed according to various established dramatic premises, there can be no doubt – at least for me – that far from being the culmination of a tradition, it is the start of a new one. Although Gogol employs a number of familiar devices in the play, we suddenly realize that his treatment of them is new... The question arises of the nature of Gogol's comedy, which I would venture to describe as not so much 'comedy of the absurd' but rather as 'comedy of the absurd situation.'"
In the finale of Meyerhold's production, the actors were replaced with dolls, a device that Andrei Bely compared to the stroke "of the double Cretan axe that chops off heads," but a stroke entirely justified in this case since "the archaic, coarse grotesque is more subtle than subtle."
Films based on The Government Inspector include:
- Eine Stadt steht kopf, or A City Upside Down (1932), a German film directed by Gustaf Gründgens
- Revizor (1933), a Czech film directed by Martin Frič, starring Vlasta Burian
- The Inspector General (1949), a Hollywood musical comedy starring Danny Kaye. The film bears only passing resemblance to the original play. Kaye's version sets the story in Napoleon's empire, instead of Russia, and the main character presented to be the ersatz inspector general is not a haughty young government bureaucrat, but a down-and-out illiterate, run out of a gypsy's travelling medicine show for not being greedy and deceptive enough. This effectively destroys much of the foundation of Gogol's work by changing the relationship between the false inspector general and members of the town's upper class. This film was neither a critical nor box office success.
- Afsar (1950), a Bollywood musical comedy directed by Chetan Anand
- Revizor (1952), USSR, directed by Vladimir Petrov.
- Ammaldar ("the Government Inspector") (1953), a Marathi film directed by P. L. Deshpande, set in the state of Maharashtra in India.
- Tamu Agung ("The Exalted Guest") (1955), an Indonesian film directed by Usmar Ismail, is a loose adaptation of Gogol's play. The story is set in a small village in the island of Java, shortly after the nation's independence. While not strictly a musical like its Hollywood counterpart, there are several musical numbers in the film.
- Anni ruggenti (Roaring Years) (1962), an Italian film directed by Luigi Zampa, starring Nino Manfredi. In the film, the story is transposed to a small town in South Italy, during the years of Fascism.
- Calzonzin Inspector (1974), a Mexican film directed and co-written by Alfonso Arau, using the political cartoonist/writer Rius's characters.
- Reviisori (1975), a Finnish straight adaptation.
- Incognito from St. Petersburg (1977), a Russian film by Leonid Gaidai
- De Boezemvriend ("The Bosom Friend") (1982), a Dutch film starring André van Duin. A musical comedy which is not so much an adaptation of Gogol's work, but a remake of The Inspector General. An itinerant dentist in the French-occupied Netherlands is taken for a French tax inspector.
- Revizor (1996), a Russian version with Nikita Mikhalkov playing the Mayor.
In 1958 the British comedian Tony Hancock appeared as Khlestakov in a live BBC Television version (which survives).
Inspecting Carol (1991) by American playwright Daniel J. Sullivan is a loose adaptation in which a man auditioning for a role in A Christmas Carol at a small theatre is mistaken for an informer for the National Endowment for the Arts.
The UN Inspector (2005) by David Farr is a "freely adapted" version written for London's National Theatre called, which transposed the action to a modern-day ex-Soviet republic. Farr's adaptation has been translated into French by Nathalie Rivere de Carles and was performed in France in 2008.
In 2006, Greene Shoots Theatre performed an ensemble-style adaptation at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Directed by Steph Gunary (née Kirton), the acting used physical theatre, mime, and chorus work that underpinned the physical comedy. The application of Commedia dell'arte-style characterisation both heightened the grotesque and sharpened the satire.
In 2008, Jeffrey Hatcher adapted the play for a summer run at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. A slightly revised version of that adaptation played at Milwaukee Repertory Theater in September 2009.
Currently at the Yermolovoi Theater in Moscow there is a staging by Sergei Zimliansky without words. The show is advertised as a comedy, in which music, costumes, dance, and movement by the actors tells the story in the absence of words.
The play was also revived by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for a UK Tour in 2016 directed by Roxana Silbert. It toured New Wolsey Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Nottingham Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman and Sheffield Crucible. This production was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award in Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre in the 2017 ceremony.
- Der Revisor (1907), by Karel Weis(s); probably an operetta.
- The Inspector General (1928) by Eugene (Jeno) Zádor; revised version first performed on 11 June 1971 by the Westcoast Opera Company at El Camino College in Los Angeles.
- Il Revisore (1940), by Amilcare Zanella; premiered in Trieste
- Der Revisor (1957), by Werner Egk (1901–1983); first performed at the Schlosstheater Schwetzingen at the Schwetzingen Festival
- Dolazi revisor (1965), by Krešimir Fribec
- Chlestakows Wiederkehr (2008), by Giselher Klebe; first performed at the Landestheater Detmold
- The Inspector (2011), music by John Musto, libretto by Mark Campbell, set in 1930's Italy, first performed at Wolftrap.
Incidental music by Russian Jewish composer Mikhail Gnessin.
Canadian Dance Company Kidd Pivot produced and toured with a dance-theatre performance Revisor based on the Gogol story (2019).
The following plays utilize a dramaturgical structure similar to The Government Inspector:
- "Nikolay Gogol". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
- Ehre, Milton (1980). Notes for the Theater of Nikolay Gogol. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-30066-8.
- D. S. Mirsky. A History of Russian Literature. Northwestern University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8101-1679-0. p. 161. (Public Domain).
- "Best plays of all time". The Daily Telegraph. 2014-04-28. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2020-04-14.
- Karlinsky, Simon. Anton Chekhov's Life and Thought. Northwestern University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8101-1460-7. p. 370.
- Listengarten, Julia. Russian Tragifarce: Its Cultural and Political Roots. Susquehanna University Press, 2000. ISBN 1-57591-033-0. p. 37.
- [Ibid.|Ibidem]. p. 27.
- Fusso, Susanne. Essays on Gogol: Logos and the Russian Word. Northwestern University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8101-1191-8. p. 55.
- Johnson, Jeffry L. "Sovscope 70". Sovscope. Retrieved 15 May 2008.
- Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation.
- "The UN inspector / L'inspecteur des Nations Unies - PUM 2012". W3.pum.univ-tlse2.fr. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
- "Greeneshoots Theatre Company". Greeneshootstheatre.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
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- Text of the play in Russian
- David Farr, The UN Inspector / L'inspecteur des Nations Unies, trad. & ed. Nathalie Rivere de Carles, Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2008 N° ISBN 978-2-85816-990-0