Woe from Wit (Griboyedov)

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Woe from Wit
1824 Wikidata.svg
Summary of the Play
Microsummary: Returning from his travels, the ardent young romantic began to ridicule the vices of Moscow society: officialdom, ignorance, falsehood... Society declared him insane, and he, insulted, went away forever.

Early 19th century. Moscow, the house of the Famusovs. All the events take place in the course of a single day.

Very Brief Content

The daughter of a wealthy Moscow official has an affair with her father's secretary. At this time, a young man, a childhood friend of the official's daughter, returned from a trip. He was in love with the girl, but she had managed to forget him for three years.

The Moscow official dreamed of a rich bridegroom for his daughter. The official was frightened by the young man's reasoning, contrary to the outdated system of values of Moscow society. The official's daughter freethinker became angry because he spoke contemptuously of her new hobby - the secretary. The secretary was courting the official's daughter "ex officio," in fact he was in love with her pretty servant girl.

The young man suspected that the official's daughter was in love with someone. He could not believe that she loved such a nobody as a secretary.

At a ball that took place at the official's house, his angry daughter started a rumor that the young man was crazy. After listening to his overly modern reasoning for the time, the guests believed it to be true.

Seeing that everyone was running away from him, the young man decided to leave. As he descended the front stairs, he heard the secretary confessing his love to the maid. The official's daughter also heard it and was offended. A scandal broke out: the official's daughter chased the secretary out of the house, and the young man reproached the girl for trading him in for a pathetic sycophant.

The official came to the noise. He decided that the daughter was having an affair with a man she herself called mad, became indignant, threatened to send the daughter "to her aunt in the village", and forbade the young man to come to his house.

The offended young man declared that he had no intention of marrying the official's daughter. He advised the girl to reconcile with the secretary and he would make a convenient husband for her. He replied to the official that he would surely find a groomsman for his daughter. Then the young man left Moscow forever.

Detailed retelling by action

"The names of the acts are conditional.

Action 1. Sofia's new lover. Chatsky's Return

Early morning. Lizanka has been waiting at the door of her mistress Sophia's bedroom all night, waiting for her to part with her beau.

Sofia Pavlovna Famusova Wikidata.svg — 17 years old, beautiful and wealthy bride, well-read and educated, romantic and flighty, loves music and French novels, resolute and not cowardly.
Lizanka Wikidata.svg — Sofia's maid, a pretty serf girl, smart and sensible, a little superstitious, a cheerful and frisky prankster, but tries to seem modest.

The maid was afraid that the lovers would be caught by Famusov, so she decided to change the clock so that it would startle the couple.

Pavel Afanasyevich Famusov Wikidata.svg — Sophia's father, manager of a government office, widower, rich and slow-witted, fussy, quick-witted and irrepressible, a businessman with a passion for rank.

The sound of the musical clock is heard by Famusov, and he appears and starts pestering Lizanka.

To avoid the baron's caresses, Lizanka said Sophia had been up all night reading. The maid deliberately spoke loudly so that the lovers would hear. Sophia cried out to Lizanko from behind a closed door and, tiptoeing away, Famusov left.

Sofia and Molchalin came out of the bedroom and ran into the returning Famusov.

Alexei Stepanovich Molchalin Wikidata.svg — Famusov's secretary, silent, outwardly docile, shy and timid, in reality calculating and cunning, obliging and hypocritical flatterer, not witty.

Tom did not like seeing the two of them together at such an early hour - he began to reproach his daughter, whom he was raising without a mother. Famusov believed that all this willfulness and free-thinking was because of the French books that Sofia reads at night.

We don't give a damn about languages.
Let us take the tramps, in the house and on the ticket,
To teach our daughters everything, everything--
and dancing, and singing, and tenderness, and sighing!
As if we were preparing them for wives for clowns.

Then Famusov switched to Molchalin, whom he took as his secretary, lodged in his house and gave him a rank, without looking at his homelessness. Sofia interceded for Molchalin and with difficulty managed to calm her father down.

Famusov and Molchalin left, and Sophia told Lizanka that her cavalier was shy and did not allow himself any liberties. Lizavka thought that nothing good would come of this love: Famusov, "like all Moscovites," dreams of a rich bridegroom with stars and ranks.

Lizanka recalls the merry and witty Chatsky.

Alexander Andreevich Chatsky Wikidata.svg — Son of Famusov's close friend, landowner, round orphan, intelligent, bold, ironic, eloquent, proud, sincere, free-thinking and independent, passionate and ardent, in love with Sophia.

He and Sofia grew up together and were even considered bride and groom, but Chatsky suddenly left for three years. Sofia did not consider her affair with Molchalin to be treason. She thought Chatsky was mocking, abrupt, and thought too highly of herself.

Chatsky came into the living room. He has just returned from a journey and, missing Sophia, hurried, contrary to propriety, to see her. Chatsky, admiring Sofia's beauty, was grieved by the cold reception. He began to mockingly ask her about her old acquaintances, referring ironically to Moscow society, where "a mixture of languages still prevails: French and Nizhny Novgorod", and made sure that Moscow is still the same. He also spoke of Taciturnus with the same sneer, which hurt Sofia.

Famusov shows up and Sophia leaves. Famusov began to question Chatsky about the journey, but he declined, alleging fatigue. Famusov was left wondering whom his daughter had chosen: a penniless secretary or a dandy and a moth?

What a commission, Creator,
To be an adult daughter's father!

Action 2. Chatsky's dispute with Famusov and Skalozub

The servant was reading to Famusov a calendar with a list of things to do. It turned out that on one day he would have to be at a dinner party, a wake and a name-day party. Chatsky enters and starts talking about Sophia. Famusov asks if he wants to marry and says that first Chatsky must sensibly manage his estate and achieve some sort of rank.

Famusov did not like Chatsky's answer "I would be glad to serve, but I am sick and tired of being a servant. He believed that young people should take an example from the older generation, and remembered his late uncle. He had deserved his high position at court by falling down several times in front of the Empress and making her laugh very much.

Chatsky replied that that was "the age of submission and fear," when the position was won not by honest service, but by flattery and servility. Nowadays people are in no hurry to "join the regiment of buffoons" and serve "the cause and not the faces." Famusov was frightened of these speeches, he considered Chatsky a freethinker and revolutionary and even plugged his ears so as not to hear his outrageous arguments. Chatsky did not continue the argument.

Skalozub appeared.

Sergei Sergeyevich Skalozub Wikidata.svg — Famusov's friend, colonel, middle-aged, very rich, tall and personable, speaks with a thick bass, dandy and fashionable, stupid, limited soldier and careerist.

Famusov would have been happy to marry him off to Sofia, but he thought his daughter was too young to marry. Chatsky suspected that Sofia had managed to get a fiancé.

Famusov and Skalozub started talking about Moscow's society, in which the young are educated beyond their years, old men are wise judges, the ladies can sit in the Senate, and the girls, because of their great patriotism, "are so attracted to men of war", although underneath the gold embroidered uniforms they hide only "weak-willed" and "poor in reason". Chatsky remarks that Moscow is full of old customs and prejudices and there is no one to take his example from: there are only rich robbers around, whom connections protect from a fair trial.

And who are the judges? - For ages past.
To free life their enmity is irreconcilable,
Their judgments are drawn from forgotten newspapers
Ochakovskiye times and Crimea conquest...

Chatsky recalled two rich landlords: one exchanged loyal servants for greyhound dogs, the other had a serf theater, and then sold off the actors one by one, separating them from their families. A young man who seeks neither wealth nor ranks, but is interested in science, such "judges" will immediately label "dreamer, dangerous.

Famusov left in horror. Skalozub decided that Chatsky was condemning Moscow society's love for the Guards, and he supported him - that there would be brilliant officers in the army, too.

An agitated Sophia ran into the room, looked out of the window and fainted. It turned out that Molchalin had fallen from his horse in the yard, and Sofia thought he had been killed. After she came to and found out that Molchalin was alive and well, Sofia tried to justify her fainting by being overly sensitive. She assured that she was frightened by the slightest misfortune that did not happen to her, but Chatsky suspected that there was something between Sofia and Molchaline.

When Chatsky and Skalozub left, Lizanka scolded her mistress for being too frank and intemperate. Molchalin was afraid that rumors would spread and hurt him. They persuaded Sophia to go to her father and flirt with Skalozub. She left, and Molchanin began to pester Lizanka, telling her that he loved her and that he was courting the young lady "ex officio". Lizanka did not want his love.

Action 3. Ball. Sophia calls Chatsky a madman

Chatsky tries to find out from Sofia who her chosen one is. The girl says she dislikes Chatsky's excessive harshness and mockery. She thought that such a mind as his would not make her family happy. Molchalin is not a genius, but he is silent, obedient, diligent, modest, and does not respond when he is scolded.

From Sofia's answers, Chatsky concluded that she does not respect Molchaline, but perhaps loves him. Of Skalozub, the girl said that he was not the hero of her novel.

Sofia left, and Chatsky talked to Molchalin who appeared. He spoke only about the ranks and high patrons he had received, and he considered himself a little man who has no right to have his own opinion. He pitied Chatsky: he had not managed to earn any rank, and in Moscow it is easy to do, all you need is to cheer up the right person.

Chatsky replied that he was either occupied with business or having fun, and that he did not mix "these two trades". After this conversation, Chatsky was finally convinced that Sofia was deceiving him: it is impossible to love such a worthless person.

In the evening guests gathered at Famusov's house and a ball began, where all Moscow society was present, including the famous swindler Zagoretsky.

Anton Antonovich Zagoretsky — a swindler known all over Moscow, a liar and a gossip, stupid and superficial, able to oblige to important people.

Everyone knew of his reputation, but still used his services.

Sofia's old aunt also appeared at the ball. Famusov introduced Skalozub to her, but the colonel was not to her aunt's liking, and she became annoyed. She was calmed down by Molchalin, who praised her aunt´s dog. Chatsky sneered at Molchaline's excessive obligingness.

An irritated Sofia spread a rumour that Chatsky is not completely sane. This gossip spread quickly, giving rise to strange details. Soon Zagoretsky was already claiming that Chatsky was insane and that his uncle the knave had allegedly sent him to the "yellow house". Famusov, remembering Chatsky's daring speeches, immediately believes in his madness, the cause of which he believes to be his excessive scholarship.

Long have I marvelled, how no one can bind him!
Try it on the powers that be, and no one knows what it will say!
Bow a little, bend a little, bend a ring,
even before a monarch's face,
He'll call you a scoundrel...

Chatsky came up and began to complain about the stuffy atmosphere of Moscow society, where a "Frenchman from Bordeaux" who had come to Russia felt at home. Chatsky was sickened by "empty, slavish, blind imitation," for which the Russians had exchanged "and morals, and language, and sacred antiquity."

As he reasoned, Chatsky did not notice how everyone was frightened away from him.

Action 4: Sofia discovers that she is unloved. A disappointed Chatsky leaves Moscow

The guests have left the ball, dissatisfied with the company that Famusov has assembled: "some freaks from the other world, and no one to talk to, and no one to dance with." Chatsky, having lost his last hopes for Sofia's reciprocity, also wishes to leave. On the main staircase he meets Repetilov, who begins to insist that Chatsky become his friend.

Repetilov — Chatsky's old friend, formerly a gambler, a drunkard, a womanizer, now rehabilitated, funny and clumsy, superstitious and foolish, but kind.

Repetilov joined a "secret society," where they talk all night "about important mothers" and the future of Russia, but do nothing, because "the cause of state... is not ripe." He began to invite Chatsky there, assuring him that it was him who was missing. Chatsky treated him mockingly and contemptuously.

Skalozub and other guests approached, Repetilov switched to them, and Chatsky managed to sneak away. Hiding in the Swiss room, he heard him being called a madman.

Chatsky wondered who could have called him that. He heard Sophia coming out on the stairs to send Lizanka after Molchalin, who assures the maid that he finds nothing attractive in her mistress. He pleases her by his habit of pleasing everyone. In addition, Molchalin was afraid that Famusov would find out about this affair.

Sofia also heard this conversation and told Molchalin to get out of her house immediately, threatening not to feel sorry for himself and tell everything to his father. Coming out of hiding, Chatsky began to reproach Sofia for choosing this wretch over him.

Famusov appears at the noise and is outraged to find his daughter alone with Chatsky, whom she herself has called insane. He threatened to demote Lizanka from maids to henkeepers for procuration and send Sofia "to the village, to her aunt in the middle of nowhere, in Saratov. Chatskoy is ordered not to cross the threshold of his house.

Indignant and offended Chatsky advised Sofia to make peace with Molchalin: in his person she will have an ideal husband and servant. He told Famusov that he had no intention of asking Sofia in marriage - he would find a son-in-law to suit his needs. Chatsky did not want to stay in Moscow, where he had been declared insane.

Get out of Moscow! I will not come here anymore.
I will run, I will not look back, I will seek the world,
Where there is a corner for the offended feeling! -
A carriage for me, a carriage!

Chatsky leaves. Famusov understood nothing of his words and was finally convinced of his madness. Famusov was worried that rumors of the scandal would not spread all over Moscow: "Oh, my God, what will Princess Maria Alekseevna say!"

The retelling is based on edition of the play edited by S. A. Fomichev (St. Petersburg: Notabene, 1995).