Brian James Baer
Alexander Pushkin went about, quite deliberately, to write an historical drama without the conventional romantic sub-plot. He remarked in 1829 in reference to his Boris Godunov: “A tragedy without love has appealed to my imagination.” In this, he was probably following the advice of Voltaire who railed against “love intrigues, often foreign to the subject, and so often debased by idle buffooneries.” And with his drama Orestes, the French playwright made the following claim: “I have at least given my countrymen some idea of a tragedy without love, without confidants, and without episodes” (italics mine). The romantic sub-plot, in Voltaire’s view, detracted from the gravitas of the main political/military plot-line. He therefore argued for a clear separation of romance and politics. But while Voltaire simply omits a romantic sub-plot, Pushkin “lays bare” his rejection of it within Boris Godunov, thereby critically engaging the tradition. Furthermore, his inclusion of “buffooneries” in his drama and his indebtedness to Shakespeare, whom Voltaire considered “a barbarian,” suggest that Pushkin may have had somewhat different motives in excising romance than did Voltaire.