‘Woe from Wit’ by Alexander Griboedov – “When I Fight Authority, Authority Always Wins”


‘Woe from Wit’, a verse comedy by Alexander Griboedov (1823) – 152 pages Translated from the Russian by Betsy Hulick

From the very first words in the prologue of this verse play in four acts you can tell that it is going to be sharp and special:

Fate’s a mischief making tease,

That’s her character in brief,

a fool is blissfully at his ease,

a man of spirit comes to grief.

Our main character Chatsky is a man of spirit, a fellow who is too smart and honest for his own good. He questions everything, even authority. He is quick with a stinging jest in this “world that eats an honest man alive”.

Chatsky tells off the rich businessman Famusov with whom he is staying for “kowtowing to the powers that be” and for being “keen to fawn upon the tsar”. Famusov does happen to have a daughter Sophia that Chatsky is deeply in love with, but Chatsky doesn’t let up on telling Famusov a thing or two:

Trample those beneath whom you despise,

Flatter those above you adulate –

an age of servile urges, in the guise

of zeal to serve the sovereign and the state.

Chatsky’s honest words anger Famusov, and Famusov calls Chatsky a subversive and “a dangerous man to know” and “a flaming liberal firebrand”. Famusov even goes so far as to question whether Chatsky is out of his mind.

The daughter Sophia is more interested in another guy Molchalin and now she only has disdain for her childhood friend Chatsky who says all these outrageous things. She tells Chatsky:

Tell me, have you ever, in a gracious mood,

or even by mistake, said something kind

about another person? Well?

If not now, then long ago in childhood?

The guy she has her eyes on, Molchalin, is just the opposite of Chatsky. Molchalin is “a fawning toady”, “a wretched spineless thing”, who is advancing rapidly up the ranks of the bureaucracy. Much to Chatsky’s disgust, Molchalin has just spent the night with Sophia.

No one happy minds the clock.”

This is the setup for the play, but be prepared for some dazzling twists.

Betsy Hulick’s brilliant translation of this exceptional play ‘Woe From Wit’ is up to date, very easy to follow and understand, and its rhymes only add to its charm. She brings the atmosphere and language of the play up to today, and the play’s theme and message will never go out of fashion.

A huge Thank You to Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings for bringing this mighty ‘Woe From Wit’ to my attention. This is a must-read, and I would love to see a stage version of the play.


Grade:    A+



2 responses to this post.

  1. I’m so glad you loved it Tony – I think it’s fabulous, and I so wish I could see it performed! 😀

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi kaggsy,
      Theater groups are always doing Chekhov plays of which I have seen several. ‘Woe From Wit’ is much more fun being a comedy, and for me it has a stronger message. I guess one of the problems theater groups have with ‘Woe From Wit’ is that it requires a larger cast than most plays, but I really can’t see why there hasn’t been a recent Broadway production of it.

      Liked by 1 person


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