Brett Cooke & Chester Dunning

Remarkably enough, even as we celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Russia’s greatest Russian, as many things are said in praise of Alexander Pushkin, one may still ask whether we give him sufficient credit. A case in point is the underappreciated boldness, defiance, and audacity he displayed in writing Boris Godunov while he was a political prisoner subjected to surveillance and harassment by tsarist officials. Many readers have, of course, observed the formal daring of Pushkin’s “historical tragedy.” Although the young poet had never put his hand to drama before, let alone a large scale one on an issue of great national interest, he undertook radical innovations in dramatic form, language and versification, in his handling of the narod (the common people), and in his inquiry into the nature of history. Yet Pushkin’s play also entailed very real political risk. The potential danger of his undertaking may explain why Pushkin cited Boris Godunov as his favorite work, which in turn would help us understand why he exposed himself to professional and personal danger in so many respects while writing it (11: 40).


Cooke, Brett & Chester Dunning. "Tempting Fate: Defiance and Subversion in the Writing of Boris Godunov." Pushkin Review 3 (2000): 43-63.