One is told that the Russians now disapprove of tragedy, and there was a performance of Hamlet in the Turk-Sib region which the audience decided spontaneously was a farce. – William Empson, “Some Versions of Pastoral,” 1935.
Shamil still remembers the original
in twenty four. “It was hilarious.
Ha ha ha Po-lon-yus up his arras
That gawky kid in the sketch with the skull
and big misunderstanding with the girl
Go and live, dirty bitch, in a nun’s house.
I laughed from when we saw the silly ghost
right to the fight when all the fools get killed.”
This comedy sustained him through, he says,
famine and forced collectivisation,
the NKVD terror and the purges.
In the gulag it could still raise a grin.
He prays the Prince is played by Brian Rix
and thinks it can’t get any worse than this.