Nabokov, the Russian Shakespeare
By Vladimir Nabokov, Translated by Thomas Karshan & Anastasia Tolstoy
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.00, 144 pages
Although The Tragedy of Mister Morn was Vladamir Nabokov’s first major work, written in 1923 and 1924, it was never performed or published in his lifetime. It was published posthumously in Russia in 1997. This is the first English translation of the play by Thomas Kashan and Anastasia Tolstoy.
Heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s tragedies, The Tragedy of Mister Morn is written in iambic pentameter, includes allusions to the former writer’s plays, long soliloquies, ironies caused by mistaken identities, and political commentary on the Russian Revolution. Great care has been taken by both Nabokov and the translators to emulate Shakespeare’s register and rhythm while retaining the imagery and symbolism.
“What is happiness? The flutter of celestial wings. What is happiness? A snowflake on one’s lip… What is happiness?…”
Also similar to Shakespearean plays, the characters are satires of real-life political figures and the plot is swift and straightforward. Yet, through vivid conjectures, wonderfully flawed characters, amusing scenes, and philosophical musings, Nabokov questions themes such as happiness, loyalty, idealism, romanticism, and courage. Unfortunately, a few lines toward the end are missing in the original Russian. Still, this is a must-read for Shakespeare and Russian-literature fans.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins