Academic journal article Pushkin Review

"She Troubles Me like a Passion": Shakespearean Echoes in Pushkin's Marina Mniszek

Academic journal article Pushkin Review

"She Troubles Me like a Passion": Shakespearean Echoes in Pushkin's Marina Mniszek

Article excerpt

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, Pohava 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. …

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