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Optimistic Tragedy


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A: Vsevolod Vishnevsky Pf: 1933, Kiev Pb: 1933 Tr: 1937 G: Hist. drama in 3 acts; Russian prose S: Naval cruiser, Baltic port, and battlefield, Russia, 1918 C: 15m, 2f, extrasIn the upheavals following the Bolshevik Revolution, anarchists have taken over a naval ship of the Russian Baltic Fleet. They are shabby, demoralized, bored, and frustrated; easy prey to sex and liquor; and ready to organize themselves in a democratic but arbitrary manner. When an old woman accuses a sailor of stealing her purse, he is summarily executed. Suddenly she finds her purse, so she must die too. In order to restore order, the Party sends a female Commissar to take control of the ship. She soon establishes her authority: when a sailor attempts to rape her, she shoots him on the spot. After initial resentment, especially by the anarchist leader, the sailors gradually submit themselves to the new order. When it seems impossible to reform the anarchist leader, the Commissar has him shot. Another deserts, but one, Aleksei, willingly joins the Bolsheviks. Marching for almost 4,000 miles to engage with the White Army in the Ukraine, the ‘First Red Army Regiment’, including their brave Commissar, are defeated on the battlefield. This is the tragedy, but there is room for optimism, because the Second Red Navy Regiment is on its way to the southern front and will ultimately defeat the counter-revolution.

A: Vsevolod Vishnevsky Pf: 1933, Kiev Pb: 1933 Tr: 1937 G: Hist. drama in 3 acts; Russian prose S: Naval cruiser, Baltic port, and battlefield, Russia, 1918 C: 15m, 2f, extras

This forms a parallel piece to The Days of the Turbins, tracing the formation of one element of the Red Army from its unpromising anarchist beginnings to a disciplined fighting force. While not as subtle a piece as Bulgakov's, Optimistic Tragedy addresses important issues regarding the limits of individual freedom. Peter Stein's 1972 production contributed to the debate surrounding anarchist groups like Baader-Meinhof.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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