Akimov and Shostakovich’s Hamlet: a Soviet ‘Shakesperiment’

Michelle Assay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Akimov and Shostakovich’s Hamlet: a Soviet ‘Shakesperiment’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this