"Inspector General" Publication Introduction
Program Notes for the World Debut of Nicolai Gogol’s “Inspector General” adapted by Michael M. Chemers. Performed in February 2010 at Carnegie Mellon University's Chosky Theater.
Introduction to the Play
According to critics, Nikolai Gogol’s (1809-1852) The Gove rnment Inspector was the first “truly Russian play” written by the father of Russian realism. The Government Inspector uncharacteristically satirized the corrupt bureaucracy of provincial Russian politics in, what the Russians call, the “era of terror by censorship.” The play is a comedy of errors, portraying greed, stupidity, and the ugly desire for power. Tsar Nicholas I, who understood the story as an affirmation of the monarchy’s omnipotence, personally approved the play. He accepted the show in hopes that the comedy would correct manners through mockery.
On opening night, the play immediately caused uproar. The audience did not know if they were allowed to laugh and the tension in the theatre was said to be unbearable. Gogol was offended by the uneasy reception. In a note to Alexander Pushkin, the most prominent writer in Russia, Gogol proclaimed, “the reaction to [ The Government Inspector] has been extensive and tumultuous. Every- body is against me. Respected officials, middle-aged men, scream that I hold nothing sacred in having had the effrontery to speak of officialdom as I did. The police are against me, the merchants are against me, the literati are against me. They rail at me and run off to the play; it’s impossible to get tickets for the fourth performance. If not for the intervention of the Emperor, my play would never have remained on the stage, and yet there were people seeking to have it banned. Now I see what it means to be a writer of comedies. The faintest glimmer of truth- and entire classes are up in arms against you.”
Comedy has a way of speaking the deep and dark taboos of any society. What you are about to see tonight is not in Russia or the 19th century. The new adaptation by Dr. Michael M. Chemers, founding director of the school’s dramaturgy program, sets this
classic tale in a present day “rust belt city”, where the grotesqueries of modern-day political corruption are as tragic and funny as they were in Gogol’s time.
“There are two things that are important in politics. The first thing is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
-Mark Hanna, 14th Chair of the Republican national Committee
In January of this year (2010), the Supreme Court altered the regulations that prohibited corporations from purchasing campaign commercials and advocating the election or defeat of specific candidates. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 was meant to protect the political realm from economic pressures. Paul S. Ryan, of the Campaign Legal Center, proclaimed, "today the Supreme Court majority declared that corporate speech trumps the rights of American voters to government free of corporate corruption.” Many organizations have tried to enforce transparency in government by disclosing the amounts that lobbyist pay to specific politicians. Most of the underhanded dealings are publically accessible. Opensecrets.org, for example, is a nonpartisan guide to money’s influence on U.S. elections and public policy. They determined that lobbyists spent 2.5 billion dollars to sway politics in 2009.
The themes of corruption, abuse of power, money and immorality project well beyond the confines of Russia and early 19 th century. A recent example would be the Rod Blagojevich scandal in January 2009. The Democratic Illinois Governor was charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and of solicitation of bribery. He was furthermore accused of “Pay to Play” schemes, such as selling Barack Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder. He was impeached for attempting “to obtain personal gain... through the corrupt use” of his authority. Also more recently, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, the GOP VP candidate in 2008, generated controversy when she accepted a $500,000 wardrobe upgrade. In the Healthcare debate, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent 6.2 million dollars this quarter to combat the health care reform bill. The American Medical Association spent 4 million. Whatever side of the debate is “correct,” 10 million dollars has gone to politicians instead of hospitals.
It is quite apparent from these stories that money determines political policy. Despite the fact that humanity is about to overrun the carrying capacity of the earth, we still consume resources at an unsustainable rate. Corporations lobby against pollution cap laws and restrictions on manufacturing to ensure profits by continuously producing and selling products. Because of this, the “commons”—meaning the air, the water, living creatures and delicate ecological systems are compromised. ExxonMobil, the world’s largest integrated oil company, has actively lobbied against the Kyoto Protocol and, according to a document released by the EPA, has
contributed almost $3 million to groups that “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence.” The EPA and other governmental agencies do not have enough monetary leverage to combat corporate lobbyists. Meanwhile more than 100,000 Americans die every year from occupational diseases such as black lung and asbestosis, pollution, contaminated foods, and hazardous consumer products.
“In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?” -Saint Augustine
In a society ruled by money rather than politics, many morals and rights are overturned. Politicians today stand by an old adage from Jesse Unruh, a Californian democratic politician, “if you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and still vote against them, you have no business being up here.”
Where there is money, there is imminently corruption. To sum up this story, we can take a look back at The Inspector General, when Gogol tells us that the only honest and noble character is laughter itself.
About the Author
Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, named after Saint Nikolai, was born in Velikie Sorochintsy, Ukraine on March 31st 1809 to Maria Ivanovna and Vasily Afansevech. His parents were landowners and he attended high school in Nezhin. As a child, Gogol was anxious and sullen. His classmates nicknamed him “the mysterious dwarf” because he was strangely anti-social and had a sickly, weak composure. In school he gravitated towards literature and the thea- ter. His first publications in 1829 garnered little attention- most of it scathingly negative. Embarrassed and deeply offended, Gogol purchased all the copies of his publication and burned them.
“Cold sweat drenches my face at the thought that I may perish in dust without becoming famous for any extraordinary accomplishment. Living in this world would be terrible if I failed to make my being beneficial.”
-Gogol in a letter to his uncle, October 1927
In 1834, Gogol accepted a position at Saint Petersburg University, as an assistant professor of medieval literature. He was a horrible teacher, primarily because he had no knowledge of medieval history and focused mainly on his own writings. After writing The Government Inspector and other plays, he retired from his teaching career and went into
self-imposed exile. He claimed, “everyone is against me” and fled to Europe.
In 1848, Gogol returned from exile and immersed himself in the Orthodox Church. Afraid of the impact of his sinful writings, he entered a deep depression. He became close friends with a church elder, Matvey Konstantinovsky, who encouraged Gogol to burn his manuscripts for the second part of Dead Souls, Gogol’s final and most acclaimed masterpiece. Shortly after destroying his work, Gogol started a religious fast, refusing to leave his bed, and died of starvation nine days later on March 4th, 1852.