Tsar Fyodor Ivanovitch – Monologue (Godunoff)

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A monologue from the play by Alexei Tolstoy

NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from The Moscow Art Theatre Series of Russian Plays. Ed. Oliver M. Sayler. New York: Brentanos, 1922.


Tsar Ivan was like a great volcano, and from the bowels of this volcano came an earthquake which shook all the world, and there would shoot up tongues of flame that carried death and destruction through all the land.

Tsar Fyodor is quite different. I would rather compare him to a cleft in a green meadow. Its ruts and hillocks are overgrown with green, silken grass. But if you wander about carelessly,

both the shepherd and his flock will fall through the cleft — into a precipice. We have a saying that once upon a time a church was swallowed by the earth, and so a hole appeared, and the people call it the ghost church.

And there is a rumor that on very quiet days one can hear a distant tolling of bells and chanting of hymns. Fyodor seems to me like such a sainted but unreal church. In his soul he is always frank to friend and foe.

His heart is filled with love and kindliness. And it is as though bells tolled gently in his inmost self. But what is the use of all this kindliness and piety since the man has no strength?

Seven years have passed since Tsar Ivan swept across Russia like the scourge of God; seven years since with great effort I put stone upon stone to erect a building, that sacred temple,

that powerful empire, that new and prosperous Russia of ours, the Russia over which I spent many sleepless nights in thought! But everything is futile! I am building over a precipice!

And, in a second, everything can crash into ruins. Should the most insignificant enemy desire it, he could win over the Tsar’s heart, and my own will, with which I steeled his heart, he will forget.

I have many foes, and they are not all negligible. You know the insolence of the Nagis and the Shouiskys’ unconquerable pride — no, do not interrupt me — I respect the Shouiskys —

but their loyalty is stupid and short-sighted. Their path is prosy and hackneyed; chained they are to the old ideals of loyalty; and with such a Tsar as Fyodor there must be no room for them!

Read the play here

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