Fantasy, irony, and the grotesque: E. T. A. Hoffmann and Russian modernist theatre, 1910–1922
In Russia's early twentieth century, many avant-garde directors created theatre that depicted the world subjectively rather than simply reproducing life. A major inspiration on the theoretical underpinnings of this theatrical revolution was the German Romantic writer Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann. Hoffmann's advice in theatrical stories like Strange Sorrows of a Theatre Manager and "Princess Brambilla," and in his unfinished play Princess Blandina came to be viewed as a practical inspiration for Russia's theatrical explorations. The writer's name also became synonymous with the theatrical, the grotesque, commedia dell'arte , and distorted perspective. This dissertation traces these multifarious ways Hoffmann was interpreted, focusing in particular on the work of Fedor Komissarzhevskii, Vsevelod Meyerhold, and Alexander Tairov, the three directors who most actively applied the writer's theatrical principles to the stage.
The Introduction identifies and defines recurrent Hoffmannic themes and shows how they were absorbed or adapted in the Russian theatre, focusing in particular on Sergei Ignatov's 1914 monograph E. T. A. Hoffmann: Man and Works.
Chapter Two provides an overview of Russian attempts to adapt Hoffmann's theatrical tales and theories before turning to a discussion of Mikhail Kuzmin's performance poem The Little Grove, Komissarzhevskii's productions of Hoffmann's The Bride Lottery and Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, and several unrealized Hoffmann productions by Sergei Eisenstein.
Chapter Three traces Meyerhold's interest in Hoffmann, his propagandization of Hoffmann in the journal Love for Three Oranges: The Journal of Doctor Dappertutto, and his Hoffmann-inspired use of the metatheatrical and the grotesque in two productions: Columbine's Scarf and The Inspector General.
Chapter Four discusses Tairov's colorful, boisterous staging of Princess Brambilla at the Kamerny Theatre, a production significant not only for its translation of Hoffmannic content across languages, but also for its multi-layered transmission of theatrical theory, as evidenced in unpublished memoirs and the production's little-studied promptbook.
The conclusion touches on the Russian celebration of Hoffmann's hundredth jubilee in 1922 and related productions by Vladimir Sokolov and Konstantin Derzhavin before demonstrating how Hoffmann's fantasy, irony, and grotesque became naturalized in the Russian theatre.