"She troubles me like a passion": Shakespearean Echoes in Pushkin's Marina Miszek

Amanda Murphy[*]


In the extensive body of scholarship concerning Shakespeare’s influence on Pushkin,[1] more studies have examined Pushkin’s employment of par­ticular motifs than his depiction of characters, which is especially strange given the poet’s stated admiration of Shakespeare’s method of characteri­zation. In a drafted letter of July 1825 to N. N. Raevsky (the younger), Pushkin writes: “Read Shakespeare; he is never afraid of compromising a character of his, he makes him speak with all the unconstraint of life because he is sure to find the language of his character for him at the right time and place.”[2] Further, as described by M. N. Bobrova, in both Pushkin and Shakespeare, “comprehension of historical events flows through the personalities of the characters and their complex psycholo­gies.”[3] In Boris Godunov, Pushkin borrows Shakespearean motifs and methods of staging[4] in creating his own unique, paradoxical, and compli­cated characters.

     Among the individual figures in Pushkin’s play, considerably less work has been dedicated to finding models for Marina than for Boris and the Pretender,[5] despite the frequently observed connections between Pushkin’s heroines and Shakespeare’s, especially in “Mistress into Maid” and Romeo and Juliet, “Egyptian Nights” and Antony and Cleopatra, Poltava and Othello, Graf Nulin and The Rape of Lucrece, and, of course, Andzhelo and Measure for Measure. Nonetheless, critical observations of parallels between Marina Mniszek and Shakespeare’s heroines have, for the most part, been limited to passing remarks. In her monograph on Pushkin and Shakespeare, Catherine O’Neil makes a bold statement on Pushkin’s appropriation of Shakespeare’s heroines, of which Marina is a notable exception: “Pushkin was drawn to the Shakespearean heroines who are brave and sometimes reckless in love, defiant of those who oppose their love, and above all constant: Juliet and Desdemona.”[6] Indeed, Marina’s calculation in romantic relations makes her an outlier among Pushkin’s heroines.[7] Moreover, her willingness to divorce sex from love represents a significant departure from Shakespeare’s heroines.

     A number of Pushkin’s letters, as well as the memoirs of his contem­poraries, indicate that the personality of Marina Mniszek and the role that she played in history utterly fascinated the poet.[8] Pushkin most ex­plicitly describes his thoughts about Marina in his draft letter of 30 January or 30 June 1829 to N. N. Raevsky (the younger):

A tragedy without love appealed to my imagination. But apart from the fact that love entered greatly into the romantic and pas­sionate character of my adventurer, I have rendered Dimitry enamored of Marina in order to better throw into relief the strange character of the latter. It is still no more than sketched out in Karamzin. But most certainly she was a strange, beautiful woman. She had only one passion and that was ambition, but to such a degree of energy, of frenzy that one can scarcely imagine. After having tasted of royalty, watch her, drunk of a chimera, prostitute herself with one adventurer after another—share now the disgusting bed of a Jew, now the tent of a Cossack, always ready to give herself to anyone who could present her with the feeble hope of a throne which no longer existed. Watch her boldly face war, destitution, shame, and at the same time negotiate with the king of Poland as one crowned head with another—and end miserably a most stormy and most extraordinary life. I have only one scene for her, but I shall return to her, if God grants me life. She troubles me like a passion.[9]

According to this account, Pushkin had invented the fountain scene[10] in order to illustrate the unusual character of Marina Mniszek. Apparently, Marina’s “unfeminine” lack of interest in romantic love and her promis­cuity for the sake of political gain attracted the poet’s attention. Though Mniszek is mentioned in only three scenes (and one deleted scene) of Boris Godunov, sources indicate that Pushkin initially intended Boris Godunov to be the first part in a historical trilogy in which she was to play a sig­nificant role.[11] Pushkin was so satisfied with his composition of the scene and his depiction of Marina in particular that he repeatedly attempted to stage this portion of the play during his lifetime and even recruited the actress A. M. Karatygina (née Kolosova) to play the role of Marina.[12] For these reasons, the fountain scene, and particularly the role Marina plays in it, deserve a close reexamination.

     From the very beginning, critics failed to share Pushkin’s fondness for his beloved scene, wherein Marina arranges a meeting with the Pretender for the purpose of returning him to his ambitious quest, from which he has been distracted by his attraction for her. Out of a desire to be loved for himself rather than his future rank, the Pretender divulges his true identity to Marina and, for the rest of the scene, tries to regain her devo­tion. In constructing the scene, Pushkin reverses the trope of the hero who becomes sidetracked by his love. Rather than encouraging his amorous instincts, Marina rejects the Pretender’s advances and insists that he leave her and continue his quest. Pushkin stages this encounter as a battle of wills, rather than a scene of seduction. If Marina had accepted the Pretender’s advances, he would have abandoned his aspirations for the throne; only her rejection releases him from his infatuation and “frees” him to return to the quest he has created for himself.

     Neither the Pretender’s apparently naïve confession to Marina, nor her cold response appealed to critics.[13] For instance, N. I. Nadezhdin re­ferred to the Pretender’s behavior as “Romantic Don Quixotism,”[14] while P. A. Katenin described the scene as “idiocy, not to mince words.”[15] In par­ticular, many argued that this scene is out of character for the Pretender, whose weakness before Marina and willingness to give up his historic quest for her love seem entirely out of place for his role as a cunning ad­venturer. In stark contrast to the Pretender, Marina feels passionately only about power and participation in a great historical quest. As often occurs in Pushkin’s created world, Marina and the Pretender operate in two mutually incomprehensible modes within the fountain scene. He is a romantic lover, who pursues the ideal love, whereas she is the cold, cal­culating heroine of a historical tragedy or chronicle play, who can think only about obtaining power and rank (though in this trait she exceeds even Shakespeare’s heroines).[16] In the beginning of the scene, they fail to understand each other, but after their verbal duel, the Pretender and Marina find a point of communication. Nevertheless, were the reader not to know that Mniszek eventually married the Pretender and took his side as the tsaritsa, the scene could leave the impression that this was their final encounter. After such an unpleasant exchange, it seems unfathom­able that these two characters could join together in marriage.[17]

     If we consider the question of what would have happened had Romeo confessed his love to Lady Macbeth, rather than to Juliet, in the fateful balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, we may be able to unlock a certain type of logic in how Pushkin adapted Shakespearean models in construct­ing the encounter between the Pretender and Marina. This study will contrast Marina with a number of Shakespeare’s heroines, applying Nina Perlina’s observation that love pursuits are rarely in conflict with political endeavors in Shakespeare’s works as they are in Pushkin’s fountain scene.[18] When they are political actors, Shakespeare’s heroes focus on either their love or their worldly ambitions. For instance, King Lear’s daughter, Goneril, whose ambition otherwise seems to know no holy bonds,[19] values the love of Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, over her political aspirations: “J’aimerais mieux perdre la bataille que s’il fallait que ma sœur nous désunit lui et moi” (VI, V, i, 175; I had rather lose the battle than that sister / Should loosen him and me; 1290).[20] Even she is not as impervious to love as Pushkin’s Marina.

     Since Shakespeare’s female characters play complex roles and resist classification according to any set scheme,[21] Marina’s similarities to Shakespeare’s heroines must be considered on a case-by-case basis, rather than by using generalizations. I will examine Marina’s similarities and differences from each of these heroines by examining a particular situa­tional parallel, which repeats in each of these texts as the heroines re­spond to the heroes’ oaths. In each text, the hero makes some sort of pledge to the heroine, whether of love, secrecy, or collusion in a certain plot. The type of vow and its reception depend greatly upon the play’s focus: politics or love. While heroes and heroines in Shakespeare usually act in accordance with the political or romantic plots in which they find themselves, Pushkin depicts a decidedly “un-Shakespearean” clash in portraying Marina and the Pretender as operating in two mutually ex­clusive modes. A close textual analysis exposes how exactly Pushkin utilizes Shakespearean devices to serve his own artistic purposes in creating a uniquely discordant scene.[22] Marina represents a new type of heroine, who, in her lack of interest in romantic love, differs significantly from each of her Shakespearean counterparts as well as her Pushkinian predecessors.

     In this article, points of comparison will include Shakespearean plays that Pushkin reportedly knew well.[23] Heroines with whom previous studies have found similarities will be carefully considered: Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth), Portia (Julius Caesar), Lady Percy (King Henry IV, Part I), Queen Elizabeth (Richard III), Isabella (Measure for Measure), and Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra).[24] For the most part, scholars have considered what Marina’s encounter with the Pretender says about him, whereas I will present a Marina-centric reading in order to determine how Pushkin uses Shakespearean devices both to construct his heroine and to purposely heighten the jarring effect of this encounter.

     In her book Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, Monika Greenleaf exe­cutes an excellent comparative analysis of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet and the fountain scene in Boris Godunov,observing that the two heroines respond in “startlingly different ways” to the question: “What’s in a name?”[25] While Juliet promises to love Romeo for his inner essence, re­gardless of his status, Marina is attracted to the Pretender for his name alone.[26] Though Greenleaf is mostly interested in the Pretender and the power of his “empty words”[27] rather than Marina’s character, her study provides a useful framework for approaching Marina’s role in the fountain scene. Contrasting these two parallel scenes clarifies the clash of expecta­tions experienced by Pushkin’s heroes and highlights how absurd it is for the Pretender, an adventurer on a historical quest, to play the role of Romeo. A daring risk-taker herself, Marina always keeps the Pretender’s ultimate goal (and her own grand aspirations) in mind.[28]

     Juliet’s and Marina’s opposite responses to their admirers’ pledges best highlight their differences as characters and the contrasts between the scenes in which they find themselves. When Romeo rejects his own name and swears his love to Juliet, she accepts his statement of devotion. She tells Romeo that his vows are unnecessary, since she worships him as an idol and will take him at his word:

Ne jure point; ou sit tu le veux, jure par
ta personne
gracieuse, toi, le dieu de
mon culte idolâtre, et je te croirai. (IV, II, ii, 338)

Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee. (1069)[29]

The Pretender, who has already declared his love to Marina and faced a terse retort—“…Veriu, / Chto liubish´ ty…” (241; … I believe / You love me…; 56)—now swears that he will conceal his true identity from the world. In contrast to Juliet, Marina, who has responded coldly to the Pre­tender’s affectionate words, harshly rebuffs his oath:

Клянешься ты! итак, должна я верить –
О, верю я! – но чем, нельзя ль узнать,
Клянешься ты? не именем ли бога,
Как набожный приимыш езуитов?
Иль честию, как витязь благородный,
Иль, может быть, единым царским словом,
Как царский сын? не так ли? Говори. (245)[30]

You swear! And I’m supposed to take your word.
Oh, yes, I do—but may I ask you, sir,
Upon what pledge? The name of God, perhaps,
As fits the Jesuits’ adopted son?
Upon your honour as a noble knight?
Or maybe on your kinglywordalone,
As royal son. Enlighten me, I pray. (60)

Greenleaf insightfully notes that Marina’s challenge highlights the fact that “there is no referential basis for Dmitry’s language.”[31] Though Marina “sarcastically echoes Juliet in reverse,” I would not agree with Greenleaf that this is because Marina understands that “a woman in­serted into an erotic discourse … has been removed from the world of action and power into the world of passion and nature, where a man is free to take holidays, but a woman is immured.”[32] On the contrary, the Pretender’s declarations seem incomprehensible to Marina because he is acting in an inappropriate literary mode; she can only play the part of a romantic love object in order to join herself with a high-ranking individual.

     Within the context of Boris Godunov, the Pretender’s naïve confes­sions of love are incongruous and misplaced, while Marina’s response fits her role as a historical actor within a political plot. Marina’s rebuttals re­turn the Pretender to his historical mission and to the fiction that he has created for himself. As Pushkin himself remarked, the fountain scene is the single mention of love in an entire play about political intrigue, where­as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet is just one of many displays of tender feelings in a family love tragedy. Neither Romeo nor Juliet has a great historical mission to accomplish. Though Greenleaf comments on Marina’s “ferocious, unfeminine pursuit of power,”[33] it is important to note that many of Shakespeare’s heroines are at least as politically ambitious as Marina, though they relate differently to their beloveds.

     Lady Macbeth is the most obvious example of a Shakespearean heroine with powerful political aspirations. Critics often note her similari­ties to Mniszek in passing, mentioning that Marina pushes the Pretender to become tsar out of her own ambition.[34] I am not, however, aware of any studies that attempt close readings of these characters. While Marina aims to become “the helpmeet of the Muscovite tsar” (241), Macbeth refers to his wife as “chère compagne de ma grandeur” (III, I, v, 375; my dearest partner of greatness; 1316), suggesting that Lady Macbeth plays the type of role that Mniszek seeks for herself. In each case, the heroine urges the hero to take part in a political plot in order to fulfill her own ambitious dreams. Nevertheless, close comparisons between the two heroines and their circumstances reveal fundamental disparities. While Lady Macbeth’s desire for power reveals the infectious nature of evil, Marina’s ambition corresponds to pure opportunism without any malicious intentions. While Lady Macbeth demands that her husband murder the king for the sake of gaining power, Marina requires the Pretender to continue his self-fashioning in order to claim the throne. The Pretender’s quest does not require him to commit an overtly cruel, bloody act.

     The nature of the love plots themselves is among the most important dissimilarities between the two situations. A. N. Nezelenov speculates that this particular tragedy may have influenced Pushkin’s intention to write a drama without love, going so far as to assert that “in Macbeth there is no love.”[35] Nonetheless, Macbeth is arguably the Shakespearean play that best illustrates the partnership and attachment between spouses. Their mutual love and marital relations are of central importance in the plot, as evidenced by Macbeth’s full disclosure of information to his wife and Lady Macbeth’s presence throughout the play. While the Pre­tender attempts to win Marina’s affection and convince her to become his wife, the Macbeths have a well-developed political partnership. Though Lady Macbeth challenges her husband’s masculinity in order to persuade him to murder King Duncan,[36] their love and marriage are not contingent upon this act. In order to ensure success in their scheme, she seeks to silence his conscience as well as her own. In contrast, only the Pretender’s success in his historic quest can make Marina accept his love and become his wife:

Но – слышит бог – пока твоя нога
Не оперлась на тронные ступени,
Пока тобой не свержен Годунов,
Любви речей не буду слушать я. (247)

But now—I swear by God—until the day
You mount the dais of the Russian throne,
Till you have extirpated Godunov,
I’ll hear from you no honeyed words of love. (62)

While the Pretender forgets his position as a historical actor and chooses the inappropriate role of the sentimental lover, in Macbeth both hero and heroine remember to fulfill their proper roles in a political plot.

     The fundamental moral dissimilarity between Marina and Lady Mac­beth becomes especially evident when we return to the theme of swearing oaths. Namely, Marina is cold, ambitious and demanding, but she is not an instrument of cruelty as is Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth has authored the carefully planned murder plot and bitterly attacks her husband for having second thoughts:

aspireras-tu à ce que tu regardes comme
l’ornement de la vie, pour vivre en lâche à tes
propres yeux, laissant, comme le pauvre chat
du proverbe, le je n’ose pas se placer sans
cesse auprès du je voudrais bien? (III, I, vii, 383)

… Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,”
Like the poor cat i’ the adage? (1318)

Rather than rejecting Macbeth’s oath, she treats his agreement to her plan of killing King Duncan as though it were a solemn vow and insists upon her husband’s full compliance in a way that reveals her exceptional cruelty:

J’ai allaité, et je sais combien il est doux  
d’aimer le petit enfant qui suce mon lait: eh
bien, au moment ou il me souriait, j’aurais
arraché ma mamelle de ses molles mâchoires,
et je luis aurais fait sauter la cervelle, si je
l’avais juré comme vous avez juré ceci. (III, I, vii, 383)

How tender’ tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this. (1318)[37]

Macbeth’s “oath” to murder Duncan, itself, is absent from the text and it is difficult to know, upon what authority (if any) Macbeth pledged allegiance to his wife’s scheme. At the same time, Marina’s haughty admonitions that the Pretender can swear neither by God’s name, nor his honor, nor the tsar’s word seem incommensurate with Lady Macbeth’s overt wicked­ness. Not only is the Pretender’s oath explicitly recorded in the play, but, more importantly, his vows to keep his true identity hidden do not carry the same weight as a promise to commit murder.

     A close reexamination of the two plays reveals that Mniszek is not as controlling or darkly creative as Lady Macbeth. After receiving a letter from her husband, which tells of the witches’ prophesies, Lady Macbeth dreams up the scheme of murdering King Duncan. Though she is blood-thirsty, Lady Macbeth cannot bear to kill Duncan herself, “S’il n’eût pas ressemblé à mon père endormi, je m’en serais chargée” (III, II, ii, 389; Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done’t [1319]), and, thus, must actively persuade her resistant husband to carry out such a cold-blooded assassination:

Hâte-toi d’arriver, que je transmette à ton
oreille le courage qui m’anime, et que ma
langue valeureuse dompte tout ce qui pourrait
arrêter ta route vers ce cercle d’or dont les
destins et cette assistance surnaturelle semblent,
d'accord, vouloir te couronner. (III, I, v, 376)

… Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown’d withal. (1316)

In contrast, Pushkin’s Marina does not engineer the Pretender’s (less overtly bloody) quest, but merely insists upon his success in the plan that he has devised for himself.[38]

     The Pretender arrived at Marina’s castle in Sambor with a well-established political mission, but, rather than timidity or moral qualms, his love for Marina distracts him from his historic quest. The Pretender’s extended stay in Sambor suggests that his love for Marina is not as fleeting as scholars often assume.[39] Though he planned to remain with the Mniszeks for three days (233), the Pretender has significantly delayed the departure of his troops: “Gotovy my; no vidno, panna Mnishek / S Dimi­triem zaderzhit nas v plenu” (238; We’re ready even now, / But he and Lady Mniszech keep us captive; 54).[40] Rather than inciting the Pretender to commit murder, Marina promises her hand in exchange for his success in capturing the Muscovite throne:

Пора, пора! проснись, не медли боле;[41]
Веди полки скорее на Москву –
Очисти Кремль, садись на трон московский,
Тогда за мной шли брачного посла. (246)

It’s time, it’s time; awake!
Delay no more, make haste for Moscow now,
Unseat Boris and seize your rightful throne.
Then send a nuptial envoy here, to me. (61–62)

In light of these facts, claims that Marina is as cruel as Lady Macbeth lose some credibility. Consider, for example, Bobrova’s comment: “Marina did not cover her hands in blood (like Lady Macbeth), but her unquenchable ambition bears witness to the fact that she would not have stopped at even that.”[42] Since Marina does not incite the Pretender to commit heinous acts in the fountain scene and Pushkin never wrote the last two plays in his intended trilogy, there is no way to confirm or refute such a speculation. Though Marina shares Lady Macbeth’s thirst for power and political acumen, her unsentimental opportunism and undisguised indif­ference to romantic love are not equivalent to Lady Macbeth’s overt cruelty.

     In Shakespeare’s plays, one periodically encounters the wife or fiancée of a political figure, who stubbornly demands to know the complete truth about her beloved’s exploits, as does Marina in Boris Godunov. This is the case in plots where the heroines (such as Lady Macbeth) act as the heroes’ political partners, as well as those where the heroines play domestic roles (such as Portia in Julius Caesar and Lady Percy in King Henry IV, Part I). Marina seeks the role of political collaborator, similar to that of Lady Macbeth, by ordering the Pretender to reveal all his secrets and political plans to her:

Я требую, чтоб ты души своей
Мне тайные открыл теперь надежды,
Намеренья и даже опасенья;
Чтоб об руку с тобой могла я смело
Пуститься в жизнь – не с детской слепотой,
Не как раба желаний легких мужа,
Наложница безмолвная твоя,
Но как тебя достойная супруга,
московскогоцаря. (241)

And I demand, by right, that you unveil
Your secret hopes and highest aspirations,
And even your most fearful apprehensions,
That I might boldly, hand in hand with you,
Set out in life—not blindly, like a child,
Not as the servant of my husband’s whims,
A speechless concubine—but as your spouse,
A worthy helpmate of the Russian tsar.

Neither Marina, nor Lady Macbeth trusts her hero to keep his secret deeply hidden. Each woman implores her partner to carefully control his actions in order to remain impervious from suspicion. Before the murder, Lady Macbeth advises her husband:

Votre visage, mon cher thane, est un livre où
l’on pourrait lire d’étranges choses. Pour
cacher vos desseins dans cette circonstance,
prenez le maintien qui convient à la
circonstance; que vos yeux , vos gestes, votre
langue, donnent la bienvenue; paraissez tel
que la fleur innocente, mais que le serpent soit
caché dessous. (III, I, v, 378)

Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under’t.… (1317)

Marina, likewise, instructs the Pretender to conceal his secret carefully, if he wants to succeed at his quest to take the Muscovite throne:

Так должен уж по крайней мере ты
Достоин быть успеха своего
И свой обман отважный обеспечить
Упорною, глубокой, вечной тайной. (245)

You should at least have honoured that success
And kept your bold deception to yourself—
A deep, eternal, closely guarded secret. (60)

In each case the heroine’s actions play a crucial role in the hero’s success in his ambitious endeavor. Lady Macbeth looks to silence the “woman” inside of her so that she can be a suitable partner for (and, in reality, the director of) such a cruel murder: “Venez, venez, esprits qui excitez les pen­sées homicides; dépouillez-moi de mon sexe en cet instant, et remplissez-moi du sommet de la tête jusqu’à la plante des pieds, remplissez-moi de la plus atroce cruauté” (III, I, v, 377; Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe topful/ Of direst cruelty!”; 1316). Though Marina is not the engineer of bloody deeds, her willingness to “prostitute herself with one adventurer after another,”[43] as Pushkin describes it in the letter cited above, suggests she is, likewise, willing to part with her traditional feminine role in order to occupy a high post.

     Even when Shakespeare’s heroine plays the more standard role of the love object, she sometimes insists upon knowing her husband’s political secrets. In these cases, politics spills over into the domestic realm, since the heroines’ intuition makes them aware of their partners’ participation in political plots. Just as Marina refuses to be a “Nalozhnitsa bezmolv­naia” (241; a speechless concubine; 56), Brutus’s wife Portia claims that her husband treats her as a harlot rather than a wife if he fails to reveal his political intentions to her:

Dites-moi, Brutus, a-t-on fait pour nous cette
exception aux liens du mariage, que je ne
participerais point aux secrets qui vous
appartiennent? […] N’occupe-je donc que les
avenues de votre affection? Ah! Si je n’ai
… rien de plus, Porcia est la concubine de
Brutus, et non pas sa femme. (II, II, I, 377)

Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus,       
Is it excepted I should know no secrets
That appertain to you? …
Dwell I but in the suburbs
Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
Portia is Brutus’ harlot, not his wife. (1114)

Although she is not Brutus’s political partner, Portia apprehends that her husband faces some sort of dilemma, since he has been suffering from in­somnia. Likewise, Lady Percy demands to know what political business has prevented her husband, Hotspur, from sleeping:

Mon époux est occupe de quelque important
projet; et il faut que je le sache… ou bien il ne
m’aime pas. […] je saurai ce qui vous occupe,
Henri, je le saurai. (…) Je te casserai le petit
doigt, Henri, si tu ne me dis pas les chose
comme elles sont. (X, II, iii, 54–56)

Some heavy business hath my lord in hand,
And I must know it, else he loves me not.

I’ll know your business, Harry, that I will.
In faith, I’ll break thy little finger, Harry,
An if thou wilt not tell me all things true. (857–58)[44]

The domesticity of these two heroines should not be mistaken for weak­ness; they state their demands just as strongly as Marina, going so far as to consider their husbands’ secrecy as a violation of their marriage vows.

     While these quotations suggest close similarities between Marina, Lady Percy, and Portia, the contexts within which the heroines are placed reveal striking dissimilarities between them. In both cases, Shakespeare’s heroine, the hero’s wife, inquires out of interest for her beloved’s health. Marina, in contrast, demands to know the Pretender’s secrets in response to his declaration of love. In this way, Marina makes her agreement to marry the Pretender contingent upon knowing his political secrets, a move which protects her from the position of Shakespeare’s heroines. In addi­tion, both of Shakespeare’s heroes argue that women are untrustworthy and, therefore, refuse to tell their wives about their political activities. Portia reveals that she understands the doubts of her husband, Brutus: “Pensez-vous que je ne sois pas plus forte que sexe, fille comme je le suis d’un tel père et femme d’un tel époux?” (II, II, i, 378; Think you I am no stronger than my sex, / Being so father’d and so husbanded?; 111). Hotspur explains that he cannot reveal his secrets to Lady Percy for this same reason:

Je sais que vous êtes une femme sensée, mais enfin
pas plus que ne peut l’être la femme du Henri Percy.
Vous êtes constant, mais cependant vous êtes une
femme: quant au secret, je ne crois pas qu’il y en ait
une plus discrète, car je suis parfaitement convaincu
que tu ne révèleras pas ce que tu ne sais pas; et voila
jusqu’où ira ma confiance en toi, ma douce Kate. (X, II, iii, 56–57)

I know you wise, but yet no farther wise
Than Harry Percy’s wife; constant you are,
But yet a woman, and for secrecy,
No lady closer, for I well believe
Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know,
And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate. (858)

These two cases are among the few when politics enters into conflict with love interests. In both situations, the heroes refuse to divulge any details of their political ploys to their domestic heroines. Unlike Shakespeare’s heroes, however, the Pretender confesses all to Marina, solidifying her role as his political partner. Rather than searching for the truth, as do Shake­speare’s domestic heroines, Marina seeks a guarantee that the Pretender will be successful in his quest for power.

     In her close comparison of the Pretender and Richard III, Alyssa Dinega discovers a parallel between Marina’s declaration that the Pre­tender has nothing to swear upon and Queen Elizabeth’s invective against Richard III for defiling all that is holy.[45] Richard vows that he will end his evil deeds and become a benevolent king and a worthy husband if Queen Elizabeth allows him to marry her young daughter. After Richard’s sys­tematic murder of many of her relatives, unsurprisingly, Elizabeth is dis­inclined to believe his oaths. Dinega provides an excellent summary of Elizabeth’s harsh reproaches: “[E]verything by which he swears—‘my George,’ ‘my garter,’ ‘my crown,’ ‘myself,’ ‘the world,’ ‘my father’s death,’ ‘God,’ and ‘the time to come’ (XII, IV, iv, 343–44), are all dishonored and profaned by his actions.”[46] Although the Pretender’s crimes do not com­pare to Richard’s,[47] Marina echoes three of Elizabeth’s rebukes in accusing the Pretender of being unable to swear by the name of God, his noble honor, or the royal word. In contrast to Richard, the Pretender’s vow to Marina serves to reassure her that he will return to battle and be successful in his quest. Thus, Marina’s challenge to the Pretender tells him that he must continue his “crimes” in order to take the throne, if he wants her to believe his oaths. Though Dinega focuses her discussion on the heroes, a careful reassessment of the heroines and the contexts of these particular scenes reveals Pushkin’s mindful departure from Shake­speare’s model.

     Given Pushkin’s familiarity with Richard III, we may question his reasons for creating textual parallels in these contextually incompatible scenes, in which the heroes enter into verbal duels with female interlocu­tors. The Pretender must convince the object of his love of his purpose, while Richard is challenged by Queen Elizabeth, rather than the young princess he hopes to marry. Whereas one can understand why a middle-aged woman would coldly respond to her daughter’s evil suitor, one might expect a woman acting on her own behalf to be more susceptible to decla­rations of love. Marina disturbs our expectations as readers by proving ut­terly impervious to the Pretender’s passionate outbursts. The comparison with Richard’s carefully calculated plotting highlights the utter naïveté of the Pretender’s impulsive confession to Marina. Each swears an oath as one of his many strategies to win over his interlocutor. In contrast to Richard, Marina had agreed to fulfill his desire (to marry him) before the beginning of their conversation, but he has jeopardized this arrangement by failing to control his emotions and disclosing his true identity to Marina.

     These duels are strenuous for both heroes, though the Pretender’s neg­ative reaction is stronger than Richard’s. In the end, it is unclear whether or not Elizabeth agrees to Richard’s request; she merely retreats, claiming that she will discuss Richard’s intensions with her daughter. Richard’s aside after her departure, “O femme imbécile, légère, changeante et prompte à pardonner!” (XII, IV, iv, 346) (Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!; 746), reveals his exasperation with their conversation and suggests that he believes his suit will be accepted. Although the Pre­tender manages, through his verbal acrobatics, to win Marina over and convince her to marry him in the end, the duel with her nearly destroys him:

Нет – легче мне сражаться с Годуновым
Или хитрить с придворным езуитом,
Чем с женщиной – черт с ними; мочи нет.
И путает, и вьется, и ползет,
Скользит из рук, шипит, грозит и жалит.
Змея! змея! – Недаром я дрожал.
Она меня чуть-чуть не погубила. (247)

Far easier to battle with Boris,
Or plot at court with cunning Jesuits,
Than with a woman. Damn ’em, they’re beyond me.
She twists and turns and slithers all about,
Eludes my grasp, and hisses threats… then stings.
A snake! a snake! No wonder I was trembling.
She almost did me in.… (62)

After his uncalculated, naïve confession, the Pretender’s oaths to Marina account for only one of his many strategies in their drawn-out verbal duel. While Richard struggles to persuade Elizabeth to allow him to marry her daughter in spite of all his evil deeds, in the fountain scene, the Pretender manages to lose Marina’s allegiance due to his own fit of passion.

     Henry Gifford, Caryl Emerson, and J. Douglas Clayton have observed that the “duel” between Angelo and Isabella in Measure for Measure is similar to the fountain scene.[48] Though more interested in the hero than the heroine, Gifford provides the most detailed description of these resem­blances. He notes that in each scene, the lover waits alone, shocks the woman with his “outbursts of revelation” and lack of “self-mastery,” and responds to the woman’s threats to expose him by replying that no one would believe her.[49] If we focus on the position of the hero, rather than the heroine, as does Gifford, then the scenes seem all the more similar.[50] For our purposes, this correspondence is important because Angelo’s meeting with Isabella is among the few Shakespearean scenes in which love inter­ests enter into direct conflict with political goals.

     Notwithstanding the parallels between the fountain scene and Angelo and Isabella’s encounter, the contexts of these meetings and the charac­ters in them are quite dissimilar. The chaste novice Isabella begs Angelo to spare her brother, who has been sentenced to death. Angelo is smitten with Isabella, though he wields all the authority and the decision rests in his hands. Angelo’s declarations of love are completely out of place in this confrontation, as Isabella makes clear to him. Despite his professed feelings for Isabella, Angelo, far from incapacitated by love, uses his posi­tion to coerce Isabella into his bed. Isabella recognizes that Angelo is un­trustworthy and rejects his vow to save her brother if she submits to his scheme:[51]


Croyez-moi, sur mon honneur:                  Believe me, on mine honor,
mes paroles expriment ma pensée.           My words express my purpose.


Ah! il faut que vous ayez bien peu             Ha! little honor to be much believ’d,
pour être crue. O dessein pernicieux!       And most pernicious purpose! Seeming, seeming! (564)
Hypocrisie, hypocrisie! (VIII, II, iv, 317).

Although Isabella believes that she can only rescue her brother by sur­rendering herself to Angelo, she chooses to resist.

     In contrast to the pious Isabella, and even the chaste Muscovite Ksenia Godunova, who is trapped within the terem, Marina has arranged a private, night meeting with her future husband.[52] She plans to marry the Pretender for a rank he has yet to attain and, therefore, must ensure his success. Like Isabella, Marina challenges the Pretender’s oath by God’s name, honor, and the Tsar’s word, since she doubts that he is sin­cere in his intentions (in this case) to conceal his secret and battle his way to Moscow. Although both Marina and Isabella petition a man who is in control, the power structures in these two scenes differ significantly. The Pretender’s all-consuming love for Marina, besides rendering him utterly uninspired to fulfill his historic mission, has granted her absolute power over him. Marina sets up the meeting with the Pretender in order to wield her influence over him. Unlike Isabella’s meeting with Angelo, in the foun­tain scene, Marina “wins” by convincing the Pretender to leave with his troops the next morning. Whereas Angelo’s oath to Isabella was false, the Pretender’s vow to successfully complete his quest proves true. Though the Pretender’s confessions to Marina are completely unsuccessful, he is eventually able to triumph in the verbal duel by threatening her chance of attaining power and, equally important, to hide his true feelings for her. She is empowered by the knowledge that he can now ascend to the throne.

     Finally, M. N. Bobrova was the first to discuss similarities between Boris Godunov and Antony and Cleopatra, in an analysis that focuses, in particular, on the complex psychologies of the characters.[53] As observed by M. P. Alekseev, Pushkin wrote his first Cleopatra poem in 1824, which strongly supports the claim that Pushkin read Antony and Cleopatra before writing Boris Godunov.[54] Nina Perlina argues that Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra would have caught Pushkin’s attention while he was writing the fountain scene because this particular play relates politi­cal intrigue to love.[55] Though love and politics are closely interwoven in each, they are related in different ways. In Antony and Cleopatra, two great leaders become overwhelmed by love and neglect their political duties (their tragic flaw), while, in the fountain scene, only one of the two aspiring historical figures is willing to abandon his great mission for love. Pushkin’s knowledge of Antony and Cleopatra makes this subtle distinc­tion useful for interpreting the fountain scene.

     Over time, critics have found Cleopatra to be one of Shakespeare’s most problematic characters. Many scholars, including Bobrova, have viewed her as a creature of vice and have questioned her love for Mark Antony.[56] Other studies, including Perlina’s, focus on Cleopatra’s overpow­ering feelings for Antony. According to Perlina, Cleopatra is a clever poli­tician who has a thirst for power, but who also is capable of experiencing passionate love equal to that of Juliet.[57] In support of Perlina’s argument, Cleopatra repeatedly voices her concern that Antony does not love her enough. Throughout the play, she looks for ways to more fully possess Antony and to prevent him from leaving her side. When Antony swears that he loves only her, Cleopatra’s reply reveals her significant differences from Marina:

Quand tu ébranlerais de tes sermens le trône
même des dieux
, comment pourrais – je croire
que ton cœur es a moi, que tu es sincère, toi,
qui as trahie Fulvie? Quelle passion
extravagante a pu me laisser séduire par ces
sermens de lèvres aussitôt violes que
prononcés? (III, I, iii, 36)

Why should I think you can be mine, and true
(Though you in swearing shake the throned gods),
Who have been false to Fulvia? Riotous madness,
To be entangled with those mouth-made vows,
Which break themselves in swearing! (1351).

Though both Antony and Cleopatra are political actors, their primary focus is on love, as revealed by Antony’s oath. Cleopatra’s rebuttal reveals her jealousy and desire for assurance that Antony is truly hers, rather than her interest in any political intrigue.

     In contrast to Antony, the Pretender’s oath to preserve his secret and, therefore, to fulfill his historic mission reveals his understanding that Marina is most interested in his political aspirations. Marina challenges the Pretender’s vow because she considers him an unworthy impostor, but has no doubt about his love.[58] In contrast to the jealous Cleopatra, Marina feels no threat from other women; she tells the Pretender: “Slova ne nuzhny. Veriu, / Chto liubish´ ty…” (241; No tender words are needed. I believe / You love me…; 56). Whereas Cleopatra tries to convince Antony to stay with her in spite of his political duties, Marina rejects the Pretender’s declarations of love and persuades him to leave for Moscow:

… Стыдись; не забывай
Высокого, святого назначенья:
Тебе твой сан дороже должен быть
Всех радостей, всех обольщений жизни,
Его ни с чем не можешь ты равнять. (242)

… For shame! Oh, never, Prince, forget
The high and sacred purpose of your cause:
Your majesty and rank are far more precious
Than all the joys and pleasures of this life;
Beside your destiny, all else must pale. (57)

Marina’s challenges to the Pretender’s oath reflect her driving ambition; in order to risk joining her fate with his she must have a guarantee of his triumph. Though the heroines similarly overwhelm their heroes, the hero­ines’ responses to their partners’ vows reveal the fundamental differences between them. While Marina makes her love contingent upon the Pre­tender’s ascension to the throne, the draw of Cleopatra’s affections limit Antony’s ability to be an effective political actor. The one true textual parallel between Marina and Cleopatra is their means of attracting men: Marina captured the Pretender in her net (237), whereas Cleopatra caught Antony like a fish on a hook (III, II, v, 69).

     While Perlina claims that the laconic fountain scene “leaves references to Antony and Cleopatra behind the scenes and between the lines,”[59] I would argue that this particular Shakespearean play outlines the dangers that blinding passions present to historical actors and, therefore, is the­matically linked to the fountain scene. As Antony loses his status as a great warrior for fleeing from a sea battle to follow Cleopatra, the Pre­tender is distracted from his quest for the throne by his love for Marina. While Bobrova observes that Antony “loses all his qualities as a strategist” and chooses to battle by sea rather than land because he has been blinded by his love for Cleopatra,[60] a close reading of Antony’s words reveals that his affection for Cleopatra has eclipsed all his worldly cares. He is willing to give up all his ambitions just to be by Cleopatra’s side. To Antony, it does not matter what happens to the world, or in what conditions he is forced to live:

Que Rome se fonde dans le Tibre, que le vaste portique
de l’empire s’écroule! C’est ici mon univers. Les
royaumes ne sont qu’argile. (III, I, I, 21)

Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the rang’d empire fall! Here is my space.
Kingdoms are clay.… (1348)

Love for Cleopatra has full command over Antony; she enjoys a godlike authority over him. Her complete power over Antony’s soul renders him utterly powerless as a warrior and thwarts his historical purpose. He knows no loyalties or goals that outweigh his desire for her companionship:

O fatale Egyptienne, tu savais trop bien que mon cœur
était inséparablement attaché à ton vaisseau, et qu’en
fuyant, tu m’entrainais avec toi. Tu connaissais ton
empire absolu sur mon âme, et tu savais qu’un signal
de tes yeux m’eut fait désobéir aux dieux mêmes. (III, iii, ix, 125)

Egypt, thou knew’st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by th’ strings,
And thou shouldst [tow] me after. O’er my spirit
[Thy] full supremacy thou knew’st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me. (1370)[61]

Antony’s feelings of devotion, spurred on by Cleopatra’s jealousy and desire to fully possess him, cause him to dishonor himself as a warrior and to suffer defeat in battle. Antony’s downfall can be attributed to two fac­tors: Cleopatra’s self-focused possessiveness and his own inability to balance his erotic and political drives.[62]

     Though Bobrova and others claim that the Pretender’s desires to give up his ambitions for Marina are only temporary,[63] his extended stay in Sambor, mentioned above, suggests that Marina poses a greater threat to his political mission. In fact, Antony’s declarations that he cares only about Cleopatra find direct textual parallels in Boris Godunov:

Что Годунов? во власти ли Бориса
Твоя любовь, одно мое блаженство?
Нет, нет. Теперь гляжу я равнодушно
На трон его, на царственную власть.
Твоя любовь... что без нее мне жизнь,
И славы блеск, и русская держава?
В глухой степи, в землянке бедной – ты,
Ты заменишь мне царскую корону,
Твоя любовь.… (242)

Why speak of Godunov? Has he the power
To rule your love, my only joy and bliss?
I now regard his throne and royal might
With passionless indifference and contempt.
What matters glory or the Russian crown,
Or life itself—if I’m denied your love?
The poorest hut in distant steppes … and you,
Yes, you alone, would constitute my kingdom;
Your love.… (57)

Here as well, love for Marina has taken full power over the Pretender; he has ceased to care about politics or his historical ambitions. Like Antony, the Pretender has become indifferent about where he lives; his space is beside Marina, be it in the abandoned steppe or in a meager hut. Whereas Cleopatra enabled Antony’s downfall by succumbing to her own emotions, Marina recognizes the dangers of the Pretender’s passions and returns him on his path to conquer the Muscovite throne. Cleopatra and Antony both speak to each other in the language of love, but Marina’s clash of expectations with the Pretender transforms him from a sentimental lover back into a historical actor. In doing so, Marina protects the Pretender from Antony’s pitfall.[64]

     In conclusion, contrasting Marina’s responses to the Pretender’s oath with the replies of her Shakespearean counterparts has revealed the Shakespearean building blocks Pushkin utilized both to create her charac­ter and to heighten the jarring effect of her encounter with the Pretender. Pairs in Shakespeare usually confine themselves to the realms of either romance or politics, as determined by the play’s plot. In cases when Shakespeare’s lovers are political actors, as in Antony and Cleopatra, both members of the pair choose to focus on either their love or their worldly aspirations. Shakespearean heroines are rarely as unreceptive to declara­tions of love as Pushkin’s Marina, with the exception of Isabella in Meas­ure for Measure. In this case, the heroine rightly deduces that Angelo’s behavior reveals only his interest in exploiting his political position in order to fulfill his passionate desires. In the fountain scene, Pushkin care­fully selects and combines Shakespearean devices in order to highlight the complex characters of his protagonists, forming characters that are “un-Shakespearean” in their behavior.

     Just as in the meetings between Tatiana and Eugene, in the fountain scene, Pushkin represents his Marina and the Pretender as operating in two mutually incomprehensible modes: the calculating historical heroine and the sentimental lover. The clash between the two represents a double violation of our expectations as readers. Rather than acting as plot instru­ments, both characters behave in ways that interrupt the plot and frus­trate their interlocutors. In the context of the play as a whole, a historical adventurer should not confess his secrets as a naïve lover would. Within the scene itself, a woman should not be so impervious to her betrothed’s sincere declarations of love. Considered through the lens of Shakespeare’s power-hungry heroines, Marina’s undisguised opportunism and indiffer­ence to love become all the more puzzling. Though a thorough examination of Shakespearean devices reveal how Pushkin constructed his scene, the fascinating question of why exactly Pushkin chose to depict the clash be­tween a naïve hero and a cold, unfeeling heroine remains to be answered.


Faculty Fellow, Colby College


Download: Murphy, Amanda. "'She troubles me like a passion': Shakespearean Echoes in Pushkin's Marina Mniszek." Pushkin Review 14 (2011): 119-45.

[*] I am extremely grateful to David Bethea, Alexander Dolinin, Andrew Reynolds, Karen Evans-Romaine, and the two anonymous readers from The Pushkin Review for their helpful comments and suggestions at various stages of this project.

[1] Studies of Pushkin’s Shakespearism include, but are not limited to, the following: Sergei Timofeev, Vliianie Shekspira na russkuiu dramu (Moscow: A. A. Kartseva, 1887); A. N. Nezelenov, “Pushkin i Shekspir,” in Boris Godunov Pushkina, ed. A. Polinkovskii (Odessa: Nauka, 1913), 59–67; M. P. Alekseev, “Pushkin i Shekspir,” in Pushkin: Sravnitel´no-istoricheskie issledovaniia. Izbrannye trudy, ed. G. V. Ste­panov and V. N. Baskakov (Leningrad: Nauka, 1984), 253–92; M. N. Bobrova, “K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” Literatura v shkole 2 (1939): 69–80; Henry Gifford, “Shakespearean Elements in Boris Godunov,Slavonic and East European Review 26 (66) (1947): 152–60; Tatiana Wolff, “Shakespeare’s Influence on Pushkin’s Dramatic Work,”Shakespeare Survey 5 (1952): 95–105; Catherine O’Neil, With Shakespeare’s Eyes: Pushkin’s Creative Appropriation of Shakespeare (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003); Iu. D. Levin, “Nekotorye voprosy shekspir­izma Pushkina,” Pushkin: Issledovaniia i materialy 7 (1974): 58–85; Iu. D. Levin, Shekspir i russkaia literatura XIX veka (Leningrad: Nauka, 1988); J. T. Shaw, “Romeo and Juliet, Local Color and Mniszek’s Sonnet in Boris Godunov,” Slavic and East European Journal 35: 1 (1991): 1–35; Alyssa Dinega, “Ambiguity as Agent in Pushkin’s and Shakespeare’s Historic Tragedies,Slavic Review 55: 3 (1996): 525–51; Mark Sokolyansky, “Boris Godunov: Russian Macbeth or a Chron­icle Play?” in The Globalization of Shakespeare in the Nineteenth Century (Lewis­ton, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2003), 199–215; Nina Perlina, Boris Godunov i Antonii i Kleopatra: Byvaiut strannye sblizheniia,” Russkaia literatura 2 (2005): 109–25; Lidiia Lotman, “Literaturnyi fon tragedii Borisa Godunova,” in Pushkin: Boris Godunov, ed. D. M. Bethea (Moscow: Novoe izdatel´stvo, 2008), 168–91. Time and again, critics have commented on how Pushkin adapted Shakespeare’s technique. Never was he accused of pure imitation, as was the case with Pushkin’s Byronism.

[2] J. Thomas Shaw, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin (Bloomington: Indiana Uni­versity Press; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963), 236–38. All of Pushkin’s letters are cited from this volume. In “Table Talk,” Pushkin describes Shakespeare’s characters as “living beings, compacted of many passions and many vices; circumstances unfold to the spectators their varied, many-sided person­alities. See Tatiana Wolff, trans., Pushkin on Literature (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1986), 464. See also G. O. Vinokur, Sobranie trudov: Kommen­tarii k Borisu Godunovu A. S. Pushkina (Moscow: Labirint, 1999), 321; V. P. Gorodetskii, “Dramaturgiia,” in Pushkin: Itogi i problemy izucheniia (Moscow: Nauka, 1966), 453; Gorodetskii, Dramaturgiia Pushkina (Leningrad: Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1949), 8.

[3] Bobrova, “K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 74. Translations here and elsewhere are my own, unless otherwise noted.

[4] Pushkin first mentioned Shakespeare in a letter from Odessa dating from March or May 1824 and continued to express an interest in the methods of Shakespear­ean drama. See “On Tragedy,” written during the composition of Boris Godunov, and “On National Theater and M. P. Pogodin’s Marfa Posadnitsa,” written in the fall of 1830,in A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh (Lenin­grad: Nauka, 1977–79), 7:27–28, 146–52. See also Pushkin’s draft prefaces to Boris Godunov, written between 1829 and 1830: A. S. Pushkin, “Nabroski predi­sloviia k Borisu Godunovu,” in Bethea, ed., Pushkin: Boris Godunov, ed. D. M. Bethea (Moscow: Novoe izdatel´stvo, 2008), 94–97. For more on the interests of Pushkin and his contemporaries in developing Russian drama, see Lotman, “Liter­aturnyi fon,” 170–81.

[5] Alekseev, “Pushkin i Shekspir,” 253–92; and O’Neil, With Shakespeare’s Eyes, 30–32, provide excellent overviews of studies of this type, of which there are very many. In addition to the comparative works listed above, various scholars examine Pushkin’s adoption of various motifs, including S. Bondi, “Dramaturgiia Push­kina,” in O Pushkine: Stat´i i issledovaniia (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia litera­tura, 1978), 201–06; Caryl Emerson, Boris Godunov: Transpositions on a Russian Theme (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 51; Monika Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion: Fragment, Elegy, Orient, Irony (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), 172–73, 194; J. Douglas Clayton, Dimitry’s Shade: A Reading of Alexander Pushkin’s “Boris Godunov” (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 42; Vinokur, Sobranie trudov, 308.

[6] O’Neil, With Shakespeare’s Eyes, 146.

[7] See, for instance, Caryl Emerson, “Tragedy, Comedy, Carnival: History on Stage,” in The Uncensored Boris Godunov: The Case for Pushkin’s Original Comedy, ed. Chester Dunning et al. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), 185; and V. N. Turbin, “Kharaktery samozvantsev v tvorchestve Pushkina,” in Nezadolgo do Vodoleia: Sbornik statei (Moscow: Radiks, 1994), 71.

[8] Bogusław Mucha, “Samozwańcza carowa Maryna Mniszchówna w ocenie Aleksandra Puszkina (Komentarz historyczny do Borysa Godunowa),” Slavia Orientalis 37: 4 (1988): 536, claims that though Pushkin only manages to reveal Marina’s “illness of political ambition” in Boris Godunov, the contents of the poet’s library suggest that his interest in Marina and the Time of Troubles continued well after he finished writing the play: Pavel Muchanov’s Rukopisy hetmana Zholkievskogo (1835), Nikolai Ustrialov’s Skazaniia sovremennikov o Dimitrii Samozvantse, and Arthur Potocki’s Fragments de l’histoire de Pologne. Marina Mnishek (1830). See B. L. Modzalevskii, “Biblioteka A. S. Pushkina,” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki 9–10 (1910): 61–62, 110.

[9] Shaw, Letters, 365–66.

[10] F. Bulgarin (?), “Zamechaniia na Komediu o tsare Borise i Grishke Otrep´eve,” in Boris Godunov: Tragediia, ed. S. A. Fomichev (St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 1996), 486, reprinted from A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Len­ingrad: AN SSSR, 1935), 7: 412–14, includes the fountain scene in his list of those that are not included in Karamzin’s History.

[11] See S. P. Sheveryrev, “Rasskazy o Pushkine,” in Pushkin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, ed. V. E. Vatsuro (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1974), 2: 40; Lotman, “Literaturnyi fon,” 180; Chester Dunning, “The Exiled Poet-Historian and the Creation of His Comedy,” in Dunning et al., eds., The Uncen­sored Boris Godunov, 77–79.

[12] See a detailed description in Lidiia Lotman, “Problem stsenichnosti ‘Borisa Godunova,’” in Bethea, ed., Pushkin: Boris Godunov, 198–99. See also A. M. Kara­tygina “Moe znakomstvo s A. S. Pushkinym,” in Vatsuro, ed., Pushkin v vospomi­naniiakh sovremennikov, 1: 202.

[13] Lidiia Lotman, “Raniaia retseptsiia Borisa Godunova,” in Bethea, ed., Pushkin: Boris Godunov, 211–12, summarizes criticism of the fountain scene.

[14] N. I. Nadezhdin, “Boris Godunov: Sochinenie Aleksandra Pushkina. Beseda starykh znakomtsev,” in Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike 1831–1833, ed. V. E. Vatsuro and S. A. Fomichev(St. Petersburg: Gos. Pushkinskii teatral´nyi tsentr, 2003), 80.

[15] I. Z. Serman, “Pushkin i russkaia istoricheskaia drama 1830-kh godov,” Push­kin: Issledovaniia i materialy 6 (Leningrad, 1969): 119,cites Katenin’s letter of 1 February 1831 to a friend (this letter was unknown to Pushkin) in Pomoshch´ golodaiushchim (Moscow, 1892), 254–55. Katenin continues: “If Pushkin thought that it would have been impossible for her not to know the whole truth or for [Grisha] Otrepev to trick her, then the scene should have been written in a com­pletely different, more clever way: Marina should have drawn the truth out of him, while the Pretender should have hidden it. She would have held it over his head and made him promise to marry her. That would have been closer to history and to human nature. That which Pushkin wrote is incredible [ni na chto ne pokhozhe].”

[16] See Clayton, Dimitry’s Shade, 117; and Mucha, “Samozwańcza carowa Maryna Mniszchówna,” 533.

[17] See Emerson, “Tragedy, Comedy, Carnival,” 185; Clayton, Dimitry’s Shade, 32.

[18] See Perlina, Boris Godunov i Antonii i Kleopatra,” esp. 114.

[19] David Mann makes the argument that Goneril and Regan are more extreme forms of Lady Macbeth, calling the former “unchanging, unnatural monsters.” Mann, Shakespeare’s Women (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 157.

[20] All Shakespeare quotations are cited from F. Guizot and P. Traducteur, eds., Œuvres complètes de Shakespeare, trans. P. Letourneur (Paris: Chez Ladvocat, 1821), since most scholars agree that Pushkin read Shakespeare’s works in the French prose translation from this particular edition (see Alekseev, “Pushkin i Shekspir,” 255–56, 262; and Lotman, “Literaturnyi fon,” 178–79). Citations are in the following format: volume, act, scene, page. English translations of Shake­speare’s plays are from G. Blakemore Evans, ed., The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). All Russian quotations from Boris Godunov are cited from A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, vol. 5(Leningrad: Nauka, 1977–79). All English quotations of Pushkin’s play are cited from Alexander Pushkin, Boris Godunov and Other Dramatic Works, trans. James E. Falen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[21] One indication of the complexity of Shakespearean heroines is the number of monographs dedicated to this topic. The first of such studies is Anna Jameson, Shakespeare’s Heroines (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1879), which attempts to divide Shakespeare’s heroines into four types: characters of intellect, passion, affection, and history, though August Schlegel asserted that it is impossible to arrange Shakespeare’s characters into classes (22–23). Other studies include Frank Harris, The Women of Shakespeare (New York: M. Kennerly, 1912); Agnes Mackenzie, The Women in Shakespeare’s Plays (London: W. Heinemann, 1924); George Gerwig, Shakespeare’s Ideals of Womanhood (East Aurora, NY: Roy­croft, 1929); Sarojin Shintri, Women in Shakespeare (Dharwad: Karnatak Univer­sity, 1977); Judith Cook, The Women of Shakespeare (London: Harrap, 1980); Carolyn Lenz et. al., eds., The Woman’s Part (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980); Angela Pitt, Shakespeare’s Women (London: David & Charles, 1981); Irene Dash, Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare’s Plays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981); Carol Neely, Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); Sarup Singh, The Double Standard in Shakespeare and Related Essays (Delhi: Konark, 1988); Courtni C. Wright, The Women of Shakespeare’s Plays (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1993); Dympna Callaghan et al., The Weyward Sisters: Shakespeare and Feminist Politics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Penny Gay, As She Likes It: Shake­speare’s Unruly Women (London: Routledge, 1994); Irene G. Dash, Women’s Worlds in Shakespeare’s Plays (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997); M. L. Stapleton, Fated Sky: The Femina Furens in Shakespeare (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2000); Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Phyllis Rackin, Shakespeare and Women (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Mann, Shakespeare’s Women.

[22] As O’Neil points out, the main questions do not concern what motifs and devices were borrowed, but why the author chooses to incorporate them and how he employs them in his new system (With Shakespeare’s Eyes, 23–24).

[23] See O’Neil, With Shakespeare’s Eyes, 30–32, for a detailed discussion.

[24] These comparisons challenge O’Neil’s assertion that Pushkin’s threatening women do not resemble Shakespeare’s Cleopatra: “Nor did he seem tempted by other popular ‘strong-woman’ villains in Shakespeare: Lady Macbeth, Queen Mar­garet, Gertrude, Goneril or Regan” (With Shakespeare’s Eyes, 146).

[25] Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 196, refers to the fountain scene as a parody of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. See also David Bethea, Realiz­ing Metaphors (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998),103; and Shaw, “Romeo and Juliet,” 10–11.

[26] See Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 196–203. While Romeo insists that he will be whoever Juliet wishes him to be, the Pretender wants Marina to love him as the person he reveals to her. Marina, for her part, loves the Pretender for his name alone. Greenleaf sums up this point nicely in describing Marina’s final words in the scene: “Name yourself tsar, and then I’ll let you speak of love” (ibid., 203). For a comparison of these particular scenes, see Shakespeare (IV, II, ii, 334–39) and Pushkin (242–43).

[27] Greenleaf points out that the scene is “used to flesh out the character of [the] young adventurer” (Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 197). He does not wish to be “loved for a single impersonation, rather than for his improvisational freedom to name and from names—his samozvanstvo”(202).

[28] Caryl Emerson asserts that Marina’s love for risk is what attracts her to the Pretender in the first place. See Emerson, “The Ebb and Flow of Influence,” in Dunning et al., eds., The Uncensored Boris Godunov, 212.

[29] In each oath, I will highlight the authority by which the hero swears.

[30] I will return to this particular quotation several times.

[31] Greenleaf, Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 202.

[32] Ibid., 202, 200.

[33] Ibid., 199–200.

[34] See, for example, Bobrova, “K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 75–76; Dinega, “Ambiguity as Agent,” 530; Bethea, Realizing Metaphors, 103.

[35] Nezelenov, “Pushkin i Shekspir,” 66.

[36] Mann, Shakespeare’s Women, 157–58, argues that Lady Macbeth’s taunts of her husband are all sexual and challenge his manhood; she acts as much like his mother as his wife: “Nowhere in Shakespeare’s works are the dynamics of mar­riage given so much attention.” Mackenzie points out the way in which Lady Mac­beth shames her husband into murder (The Women in Shakespeare’s Plays, 325).

[37] Mann calls Lady Macbeth “the nurturing mother who destroys—hence the image of the infant with the boneless gums” (Shakespeare’s Women, 157–58).

[38] In Demetrius, Schiller conceives of his Marina as a Lady Macbeth figure, who devises the naïve Pretender’s plot, going so far as to convince him that he is the real tsarevich.

[39] For instance, Bobrova states that the Pretender “is ready to trade his ambitious dreams for a deeply human feeling (though maybe only for a day or hour)” (“K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 77).

[40] In the omitted scene, “Marina’s Dressing Room,” we learn that Dmitry has stayed with the Mniszeks for a month, suggesting that he has remained with them longer than he ought to.

[41] O’Neil, With Shakespeare’s Eyes, 54–55, cites this particular passage in discuss­ing the Pretender’s association with sleep, linking him with heroes of Russian byliny, describing his brand of heroism as “quite a different concept than the wake­fulness associated with statesmanship and activity found in Shakespeare.”

[42] Bobrova, “K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 75.

[43] Shaw, Letters, 366.

[44] Mackenzie draws this parallel between Lady Percy and Portia, but contends that Portia is the more effective of the two (The Women in Shakespeare’s Plays, 97–98, 178–80).

[45] Dinega, “Ambiguity as Agent,” 549.

[46] Ibid., 538.

[47] Dinega writes about how Richard III is innately and purely evil, whereas the Pretender is strangely empty, a “diabolical vessel.” The boyars commit more vio­lence than he does (ibid., 530, 534, 547).

[48] See Emerson, “The Ebb and Flow of Influence,” 212; Clayton, Dimitry’s Shade, 42; and Gifford, “Shakespearean Elements in Boris Godunov,” 154–55.

[49] Gifford, “Shakespearean Elements in Boris Godunov,” 154–55. Unfortunately, Gifford does not provide any textual citations.

[50] Angelo’s reaction to Isabella’s appearance is quite like the Pretender’s state in the beginning of the fountain scene:

Angelo:                                                                         The Pretender:

O ciel! pourquoi tout mon sang se presse-t-il ainsi vers mon cœur, le rend inutile a lui-même, et prive les autres organes du ressort qui leur est nécessaire? Ainsi la foule insensée se presse autour … d’un homme qui s’évanouit; ils viennent tous pour le secourir, et ils ne font que lui intercepter l’air qui le ranimerait.… (VIII, II, iv, 210)

Но что ж теперь теснит мое дыханье?
Что значит сей неодолимый трепет?
Иль это дрожь желаний напряженных?
Она!.. Вся кровь во мне остановилась (240).

O heavens!
Why does my blood thus muster to my heart,
Making both it unable for itself,
What is it now that so constricts my breath?

And why these constant tremors in my heart?
Is this the rush of mad, intense desire? […]
She’s here!… Oh God! … My beating heart has stopped (55).

And dispossessing all my other parts
Of necessary fitness?
So play the foolish throngs with one that swounds,

Come all to help him, and so stop the air
By which he should revive.… (563).


[51] And rightly so, given that Angelo decides to follow through with the execution, even after he believes that he has slept with Isabella.

[52] Emerson, “The Ebb and Flow of Influence,” 212, contrasts Marina with her Mus­covite counterpart, Ksenia Godunova.

[53] Bobrova, “K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 75–78, offers helpful psychological insights towards understanding these characters. She maintains: “the monstrous ambition of Marina Mniszek is completely natural and verisimilar … but this trait, while dominating, does not completely define her” (75). Regarding the Pretender, Bobrova explains that the fountain scene reveals Pushkin’s talent as a psychol­ogist; he shows that the Pretender is a multi-faceted character by revealing the gamut of his feelings, from naïve passion to passionate hatred (77).

[54] Alekseev, “Pushkin i Shekspir,” 255, argues that Pushkin’s representation of Cleopatra was closer to Shakespeare’s than to Plutarch’s.

[55] Perlina, Boris Godunov i Antonii i Kleopatra,” 114.

[56] Bobrova asserts that Cleopatra commits suicide out of pride, rather than love, describing her as “deceptive, cowardly, low, sensuous, cruel, and cynical.…” According to Bobrova, Cleopatra remains “one of the treasures of world literature,” because Shakespeare imbued her with so much charm, despite her many vices (“K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 76). Gerwig contends: “Mark Antony’s was really a great nature, one capable under the proper conditions of rendering the world a great service. But Cleopatra drags him along with her into the ruins of honor and of manhood” (Shakespeare’s Ideals of Womanhood, 153).

[57] Perlina, Boris Godunov i Antonii i Kleopatra,” 122, 124.

[58] Bobrova states this point nicely: “Marina is calculating, heartless, proud, cun­ning, intelligent … she pours the poison of insult into the veins of the Pretender’s passion and returns his militant fervor” (“K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 75–76).

[59] Perlina, Boris Godunov i Antonii i Kleopatra,” 124.

[60] Bobrova, “K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 76.

[61] Though in the Letourneur translation this is Scene IX, in current editions this occurs in Scene XI.

[62] Scholars have typically focused on the former, rather than the latter, and have blamed Cleopatra for Antony’s downfall.

[63] Bobrova, “K voprosu o vliianii Shekspira,” 77.

[64] Though given the tragic fate that she and the Pretender face in Muscovy, it arguably may have been better for them both, had Marina allowed him to abandon his quest.


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