What did Hamlet (Not) Do to Offend Stalin?

Michelle Assay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soon after its arrival in a Russia in 1748, Hamlet and its chief protagonist became inseparable parts of Russian national identity, prompting such remarks as William Morris’s: “Hamlet should have been a Russian, not a Dane”. However, at the outbreak of the Second World War, the play seems to have disappeared for more than a decade from the major stages of Moscow and Leningrad. Thus was born the ‘myth’ of Stalin and Hamlet. Today virtually every mention of Hamlet in the Stalin era refers to the dictator’s hatred for this tragedy and his supposed banning of it from all Soviet stages. Notwithstanding the efforts of theatre directors such as Sergei Radlov with his heroic production of Hamlet in 1938, there is no doubt that Hamlet was problematic in the context of the paradigm of Socialist Realism. And it was certainly not the most suitable play for a war-stricken country. Moreover, from Stalin’s own pejorative reference to ‘an indecisive Hamlet’ in connection with Eisenstein’s ill-fated depiction of Ivan the Terrible (Part II), it is evident that for the dictator the character of Hamlet had negative connotations. The chequered history of Hamlet in the Soviet Union from the outbreak of the War to the death of Stalin in 1953 and the flood of new productions almost immediately after this date, together with the myth of Stalin’s ‘ban’, deserve more nuanced and broadly contextualised study than they have received to date, based on concrete historical facts, memoirs and official documents.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3840
Number of pages15
JournalActes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare
Early online date1 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes
EventShakespeare after Shakespeare: 2016 Conference of the French Shakespeare Society - Foundation Deutsch de la Meurthe, Paris, France
Duration: 20 Jan 201623 Jan 2016


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