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2015 Summer Workshop: Gogol’s The Government Inspector

Pyotr Boklevsky, 1869

Pyotr Boklevsky, 1869

The Government Inspector is the funniest Russian comedy. Gogol rejects traditional devices such as the love interest, the conventional happy ending, the character that is the author’s mouthpiece, and the commedia dell’arte type of role development. Instead, he creates more complex, living characters that combine both typical and individual traits and refuses to divide them into good and bad. Most of them are rogues but all display a mixture of qualities. This comedy, both in its characterization and in its language, is much nearer to real life than any previous Russian play. We will discover how Gogol reduces the disharmony, which seems to him the very essence of reality, to comic grotesque through laughter. In this, Gogol anticipated the Western European theater of the absurd of Ionesco and Beckett.

Class Format: The class will meet on two consecutive Tuesdays, July 7 and 14, at noon Central Time for 90 minutes. Each session will consist of a 20 to 30 minute lecture by the teacher, followed by a group discussion.

Age/Maturity Level: 13+ (mainly because of the content). We are going to read adult, college-level fiction. Russian fiction may contain sexual themes and episodes of extreme violence not appropriate for younger readers. I feel strongly against having very young children present and want the teens to feel that our discussions are a place where they can express the most difficult and controversial ideas openly.

Course Requirements/Amount of Outside Work: The reading load will be considerable – up to 90 pages per week. Students are expected to read the assigned play in advance of each session and be prepared to discuss what they have read. In addition, the workload will include the reading of supplemental texts from various fields (essays, criticism, history, poetry, and philosophy) and writing short assignments for each class.

Estimated Cost: $50.00. There will be 15% discount for the siblings taking the class. Payment is due before the first session. Payment will be accepted through PayPal. Both credit card payments and cash transfers are accepted at It is not necessary to have a Paypal account to pay with a credit card via 90% of class fees are refundable if a student withdraws before the official start of the workshop.

Number of Students: Minimum 5 students, maximum 16 students.

Technical Requirements: All participants must have a PC or Macintosh with internet access and a supported browser to participate in courses. High-speed internet is strongly recommended. A good microphone and a headset are required for live webinars. Headsets are strongly encouraged to reduce echo. We will read some scenes in the class: every student should be able to speak in the class!

Workshop Syllabus
July 2015

Class 1 (July 7) The Government Inspector Acts I – III (pp. 213 – 265)
Class 2 (July 14) The Government Inspector Act IV – V (pp. 266-306)

Text: The Diary of a Madman, The Government Inspector and Selected Stories by Nikolay Gogol; translated by Ronald Wilks, Penguin Classics, New York, 2005
ISBN 978-0-14044-907-5