English comedians, Shakespeare and the first Russian theatre

In 1673 the same author, Johann Gregory and his assistants, prepared for the new play, and again on the bible plot, — «Judith», or «The Play of Holofernes». The play was shown in the beginning of February in Preobrazhenskoe during the Maslenitsa (Pancake week). It was reproduced the history of the bible heroine Judith who, saving her people from the slavery, boldly goes to the camp of the enemy, besieging her hometown Bethulia, penetrated to the enemy commander Holofernes, she chops off his head with his own sword. It is interesting, that Moscow «Judith» doesn`t coincide with the one of the European plays about Judith 16– 17 centuries, and this fact gives the basis to believe, that pastor Gregory staged the play by himself, following the bible story, but in the style well-known as the “English comedies” of the folk theatre.
Indeed, the construction of the first Russian theater performances were influenced by the traditions of Western drama, especially the English comedy — plays from the repertoire of the English troupes, known as «English comedians», consisted of the professional actors wandering in the first half of the 17th century in Germany. Their repertoire included plays, known as the «principal and state action». In repertoire of the «English comedians” there were also plays on the bible themes: for example, about Esther, about the prodigal son. English comedians staged also the plays of Shakespeare, his predecessors and contemporaries. Plays of the English playwrights had been processed to impress German public. The repertoire remained mainly Shakespeare’s tragedy. Comedies were less popular. Shakespeare’s comedies in the repertoire were only the «Merchant of Venice», «The Taming of the Shrew» and «The Comedy of Errors» , while the tragedy were well represented. From pre-shakespearean repertoire were popular Marlowe, Kyd , Greene , Peel , of post-shakespearean — Marston, Messinger , Ford. Since it was necessary to adapt the plays to the tastes of the uncultured audience, whose nerves are not very easily resisted even the most stunning effects. For instance, one of the most ferocious of the Elizabethan tragedies repertoire «Titus Andronicus», English comedians contrived to rewrite so that more intensified its bloodthirstiness. However, the performances were strong in the elements of moralizing. English comedy differed a bright entertainment, naturalistic images of scenes of torture, summary executions, rudeness farcical episodes. First plays of the Russian theater, “The Play of Artaxerxes” and “Judith” is definitely staged with caution on the West-European theatrical tradition. But unlike the «English comedy» in the Russian plays action was strengthened, the authors have determined the development of its internal logic of alternating scenes. The authors tried to present the viewer with «a consistent, slowly but steadily growing dramatizing narrative «in persons, approximate, on the one hand, to the biblical story, the other — to the court of reality. All this should be reflected in the set design of the first Russian theater. It is known, that theatrical «horomina» in village Preobrazhenskoe, by the moment of opening the performances, represented spacious wooden building of 90 square meters fathoms. «Horomina» was divided on two parts: it covered by a board roof; windows were given out the whole chest “window glasses”. On all sides «Horomina» surrounded by the fence with a gate. Interior walls of the «horomina» were covered with green and red cloth.
The stage has been separated from auditorium by a bar with a handrail and, possibly, was raised a bit. The stage, apparently, had no curtain. Bast boxes and candle holders, wood and brass, designed for grease and poppy candles was placed for illumination of a stage and auditorium. Decorations for the stage were made carefully: «frames of the perspective letter», i.e. lateral coulisse and back decorations were written. It took about 55 square meters fathoms, which is more than half of the total area of the building. This ratio was determined by the need to provide staged spectacular performances that require large amounts of splendor and, accordingly, theatrical places.The court performances were staged with great luxury. They reflect the character of the yard — a lush, rich. For the manufacture of the costumes and props used precious materials: ermine furs, expensive cloth, satin, silk, lace: from Esther — white dress with gold stripes, decorated with «silk flora.» Stage equipment at that time was quite high, and allowed to use a variety of sound and light effects. In «Judith» was used and quite complex props — in one scene «human head» was appeared i.e. a sham severed head of Holofernes.
More about English comedians: Gr e n е e R., Lehr- und Wanderjahre des deutschen Schauspiels, B., 1882.


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