Akimov and Shostakovich’s Hamlet

a Soviet ‘Shakesperiment’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

When in 1932 the young theatre artist Nikolay Akimov made his directing debut with Hamlet, nobody expected to witness one of the biggest scandals of Russian/Soviet theatrical history. Akimov’s production for the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow had every element of the famously controversial style of Vsevolod Meyerhold (Russia’s Bertolt Brecht), including an apparently irreverent score by the equally young Dmitry Shostakovich. Yet even Meyerhold criticised the show severely. With Ophelia portrayed as a drunken prostitute, and Hamlet as a short, fat comedian, it is hardly surprising that critical opinion should have been sharply divided, agreeing only that Shostakovich’s music was the best thing about the production. Over the years Western views – without the benefit of access to materials in Moscow’s theatre archives – have become rigid and reductionist. As a case study for Soviet appropriation of Shakespeare, this paper suggests an understanding of Akimov’s intentions more grounded in documentary evidence, not least in relation to the socio-political and cultural climate of the time and to Shostakovich’s music, which, paradoxically, may have been too skilful for the good of the production.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalActes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare
Volume33
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Hamlet
Moscow
Music
Reductionist
History
William Shakespeare
Scandal
Artist
Debut
Comedian
Fat
Climate
Russia
Ophelia
Bertolt Brecht
Witness
Appropriation
Documentary Evidence
Prostitutes
Intentions

Cite this

@article{cc2a4db0ccfa46a49209d05560b44839,
title = "Akimov and Shostakovich’s Hamlet: a Soviet ‘Shakesperiment’",
abstract = "When in 1932 the young theatre artist Nikolay Akimov made his directing debut with Hamlet, nobody expected to witness one of the biggest scandals of Russian/Soviet theatrical history. Akimov’s production for the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow had every element of the famously controversial style of Vsevolod Meyerhold (Russia’s Bertolt Brecht), including an apparently irreverent score by the equally young Dmitry Shostakovich. Yet even Meyerhold criticised the show severely. With Ophelia portrayed as a drunken prostitute, and Hamlet as a short, fat comedian, it is hardly surprising that critical opinion should have been sharply divided, agreeing only that Shostakovich’s music was the best thing about the production. Over the years Western views – without the benefit of access to materials in Moscow’s theatre archives – have become rigid and reductionist. As a case study for Soviet appropriation of Shakespeare, this paper suggests an understanding of Akimov’s intentions more grounded in documentary evidence, not least in relation to the socio-political and cultural climate of the time and to Shostakovich’s music, which, paradoxically, may have been too skilful for the good of the production.",
keywords = "Akimov Nikolai, Hamlet, incidental music, Meyerhold Vsevolod, Music, Russian translations, Shakespeare in the Soviet Union, Shostakovich Dmitri, Soviet theatre",
author = "Michelle Assay",
year = "2015",
month = "10",
day = "10",
doi = "10.4000/shakespeare.3329",
language = "English",
volume = "33",
pages = "1--18",
journal = "Actes des congr{\`e}s de la Soci{\'e}t{\'e} fran{\cc}aise Shakespeare",
issn = "2271-6424",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Akimov and Shostakovich’s Hamlet

T2 - a Soviet ‘Shakesperiment’

AU - Assay, Michelle

PY - 2015/10/10

Y1 - 2015/10/10

N2 - When in 1932 the young theatre artist Nikolay Akimov made his directing debut with Hamlet, nobody expected to witness one of the biggest scandals of Russian/Soviet theatrical history. Akimov’s production for the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow had every element of the famously controversial style of Vsevolod Meyerhold (Russia’s Bertolt Brecht), including an apparently irreverent score by the equally young Dmitry Shostakovich. Yet even Meyerhold criticised the show severely. With Ophelia portrayed as a drunken prostitute, and Hamlet as a short, fat comedian, it is hardly surprising that critical opinion should have been sharply divided, agreeing only that Shostakovich’s music was the best thing about the production. Over the years Western views – without the benefit of access to materials in Moscow’s theatre archives – have become rigid and reductionist. As a case study for Soviet appropriation of Shakespeare, this paper suggests an understanding of Akimov’s intentions more grounded in documentary evidence, not least in relation to the socio-political and cultural climate of the time and to Shostakovich’s music, which, paradoxically, may have been too skilful for the good of the production.

AB - When in 1932 the young theatre artist Nikolay Akimov made his directing debut with Hamlet, nobody expected to witness one of the biggest scandals of Russian/Soviet theatrical history. Akimov’s production for the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow had every element of the famously controversial style of Vsevolod Meyerhold (Russia’s Bertolt Brecht), including an apparently irreverent score by the equally young Dmitry Shostakovich. Yet even Meyerhold criticised the show severely. With Ophelia portrayed as a drunken prostitute, and Hamlet as a short, fat comedian, it is hardly surprising that critical opinion should have been sharply divided, agreeing only that Shostakovich’s music was the best thing about the production. Over the years Western views – without the benefit of access to materials in Moscow’s theatre archives – have become rigid and reductionist. As a case study for Soviet appropriation of Shakespeare, this paper suggests an understanding of Akimov’s intentions more grounded in documentary evidence, not least in relation to the socio-political and cultural climate of the time and to Shostakovich’s music, which, paradoxically, may have been too skilful for the good of the production.

KW - Akimov Nikolai

KW - Hamlet

KW - incidental music

KW - Meyerhold Vsevolod

KW - Music

KW - Russian translations

KW - Shakespeare in the Soviet Union

KW - Shostakovich Dmitri

KW - Soviet theatre

U2 - 10.4000/shakespeare.3329

DO - 10.4000/shakespeare.3329

M3 - Article

VL - 33

SP - 1

EP - 18

JO - Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare

JF - Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare

SN - 2271-6424

ER -