The Government Inspector



  • (Rivizor) A satirical comedy by Nikolai Gogol,written in 1835 and first performed the following year at the AlexandrinskyTheatre in St Petersburg. Although the play was banned by the censorsTsar Nicholas I overruled them, having enjoyed its ridicule of governmentbureaucracy. "Everyone has caught it," the tsar said ofGogol's satire, "but I have caught it more than anyone."

    Attacks on the play prompted Gogol to write a defence of hiswork in which he stated: "Some of us who are ready to have agood laugh at a man's crooked nose, have not the courage to laughat a man's crooked soul." In response to criticism that theplay lacked a single honest character, Gogol claimed that there wasone: "laughter". Nevertheless, continuing criticism ledhim to leave Russia in 1836.

    The plot concerns a petty clerk, Ivan Khlestakov, who is mistakenfor a government inspector by the corrupt officials of a small provincialtown. They smarten up the town and load him with bribes and gifts.By the time the mistake is discovered, Khlestakov has gone and thehumiliated officials are left to face the real inspector.

    The comedy was later interpreted by Soviet officials as criticismof the Tsarist regime, rather than as an attack on Russia's perenniallyinefficient and corrupt bureaucracy. The Government Inspectorhad its London premiere in 1920 and opened on Broadway three yearslater as The Inspector-General.