Griboedov in Bed: Meyerhold's «Woe to Wit» and the Staging of Sexual Mores in the NEP Era
Following the success of his modern adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General (1925), Vsevolod Meyerhold turned his attention to Alexander Griboedov’s play in verse, Woe from Wit (Gore ot uma; 1823). Like The Inspector General, Griboedov’s play satirized the vain and materialistic culture of the early nineteenth-century Russian aristocracy. Woe from Wit tells the story of Chatsky, a young man who, after spending three years wandering throughout Western Europe, returns home to Moscow with the intention of proposing marriage to his childhood love, Sofya. Chatsky’s newly acquired liberal, Western views, however, make him the object of ridicule in Muscovite high society, which in turn threatens to ruin his chances of winning back Sofya. For his adaptation of the famous Griboedov play, Meyerhold took a number of liberties with the original script. Almost half of the scenes in Woe to Wit (Gore umu) are entirely new additions penned by Meyerhold. On his decision to largely rewrite the original script, Meyerhold insisted that a “play is simply the excuse for the revelation of its theme on the level at which that revelation may appear vital today.” In that vein, he recast the story in a contemporary setting, replacing Griboedov’s nineteenth-century aristocracy with “NEP-men,” the new Soviet aristocracy. The biggest change, however, is Meyerhold’s reconfiguration of the “obscene” sexual mores of Muscovite society.