The Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol

The Inspector General

subjects: Plays, Playscripts

Description

Although it may read to modern audiences like a hilarious slapstick comedy, The Inspector-General is actually much more than that. Famed Russian writer Nikolai Gogol intended it to be a veiled but pointed satire of the ineptitude, corruption, and greed that exemplified the Russian bureaucracy in the nineteenth century. The witty play was later used as the basis for a movie version starring Danny Kaye.

Excerpt

Anton Antonovich, the Governor, Artemy Filippovich, the Superintendent of Charities, Luka Lukich, the Inspector of Schools, Ammos Fiodorovich, the Judge, Stepan Ilyich, Christian Ivanovich, the Doctor, and two Police Sergeants.

GOVERNOR. I have called you together, gentlemen, to tell you an unpleasant piece of news. An Inspector-General is coming.

AMMOS FIOD. What, an Inspector-General?

ARTEMY FIL. What, an Inspector-General?

GOVERNOR. Yes, an Inspector from St. Petersburg, incognito. And with secret instructions, too.

AMMOS. A pretty how-do-you-do!

ARTEMY. As if we hadn’t enough trouble without an Inspector!

LUKA LUKICH. Good Lord! With secret instructions!

GOVERNOR. I had a sort of presentiment of it. Last night I kept dreaming of two rats–regular monsters! Upon my word, I never saw the likes of them–black and supernaturally big. They came in, sniffed, and then went away.–Here’s a letter I’ll read to you–from Andrey Ivanovich. You know him, Artemy Filippovich. Listen to what he writes: “My dear friend, godfather and benefactor–[He mumbles, glancing rapidly down the page.]–and to let you know”–Ah, that’s it–“I hasten to let you know, among other things, that an official has arrived here with instructions to inspect the whole government, and your district especially. [Raises his finger significantly.] I have learned of his being here from highly trustworthy sources, though he pretends to be a private person. So, as you have your little peccadilloes, you know, like everybody else–you are a sensible man, and you don’t let the good things that come your way slip by–” [Stopping] H’m, that’s his junk–“I advise you to take precautions, as he may arrive any hour, if he hasn’t already, and is not staying somewhere incognito.–Yesterday–” The rest are family matters. “Sister Anna Krillovna is here visiting us with her husband. Ivan Krillovich has grown very fat and is always playing the fiddle”–et cetera, et cetera. So there you have the situation we are confronted with, gentlemen.

AMMOS. An extraordinary situation, most extraordinary! Something behind it, I am sure.

LUKA. But why, Anton Antonovich? What for? Why should we have an Inspector?

GOVERNOR. It’s fate, I suppose. [Sighs.] Till now, thank goodness, they have been nosing about in other towns. Now our turn has come.

AMMOS. My opinion is, Anton Antonovich, that the cause is a deep one and rather political in character. It means this, that Russia–yes–that Russia intends to go to war, and the Government has secretly commissioned an official to find out if there is any treasonable activity anywhere.

GOVERNOR. The wise man has hit on the very thing. Treason in this little country town! As if it were on the frontier! Why, you might gallop three years away from here and reach nowhere.

AMMOS. No, you don’t catch on–you don’t–The Government is shrewd. It makes no difference that our town is so remote. The Government is on the look-out all the same–

GOVERNOR [cutting him short]. On the look-out, or not on the look-out, anyhow, gentlemen, I have given you warning. I have made some arrangements for myself, and I advise you to do the same. You especially, Artemy Filippovich. This official, no doubt, will want first of all to inspect your department. So you had better see to it that everything is in order, that the night-caps are clean, and the patients don’t go about as they usually do, looking as grimy as blacksmiths.

ARTEMY. Oh, that’s a small matter. We can get night-caps easily enough.

GOVERNOR. And over each bed you might hang up a placard stating in Latin or some other language–that’s your end of it, Christian Ivanovich–the name of the disease, when the patient fell ill, the day of the week and the month. And I don’t like your invalids to be smoking such strong tobacco. It makes you sneeze when you come in. It would be better, too, if there weren’t so many of them. If there are a large number, it will instantly be ascribed to bad supervision or incompetent medical treatment.

ARTEMY. Oh, as to treatment, Christian Ivanovich and I have worked out our own system. Our rule is: the nearer to nature the better. We use no expensive medicines. A man is a simple affair. If he dies, he’d die anyway. If he gets well, he’d get well anyway. Besides, the doctor would have a hard time making the patients understand him. He doesn’t know a word of Russian.

The Doctor gives forth a sound intermediate between M and A.