Gogol's hilariously funny nineteenth-century play about the stupidity, incompetence, and corruption of Russian small-town officials will have you laughing out loud.
First performed in 1836 with the permission of Tsar Nicholas I, it apparently wasn't funny to those who were being mocked, necessitating Gogol's temporary
exile to Rome, where he remained until 1842.
It begins as the Chief of Police, Antón Antónovich (more a city manager) has called together several officials to inform them that he has gotten word an Inspector General from Petersburg would be arriving incognito, so everyone must immediately get their departments cleaned up. And what a mess they are! Artémy Filíppovich, Supervisor of Charitable Institutions is advised that his patients should not look like blacksmiths, and at least make sure their nightcaps are clean. The physician, Christian Ivanovich, is told to put a label above each patient's bed stating what disease they have (in Latin).
It gets even worse with the judge, Ammós Ftédorovich, whose janitors are raising geese in the courthouse, and whose assessor smells like vodka. Antón Antónovich suggests the doctor might supply him with drugs to get rid of the smell, or at least he should eat onions and garlic. The judge has some little failings, as in taking bribes, but he insists he only accepts hunting hounds as payment. He points out to Antón Antónovich about him accepting fur coats for his wife.
Next Antón Antónovich questions the postmaster, to find if he has heard anything about this terrifying official. It is known that he reads all the letters that arrive, simply because he finds them interesting and wants to know what's going on in the world.
But it is when the two landowners, Petr Ivánovich Dóbchinsky and Petr Ivánovich Bóbchinsky come dashing in that everyone flies into a tizzy. They have the news that the Inspector has arrived and is at the Inn.
Well. Not really. Who is at the inn is Iván Alexándrovich Hlestakóv, who, true, is an official from St. Petersburg, but is actually a stupid loser nobody, who gambled away all the money his father gave him, and now is starving and the innkeeper won't allow him any more credit to eat. He travels with his manservant, Osip.
But he's not stupid enough to miss an opportunity to connive the town officials, who are more than ready to grovel at the feet of the one they think is the Inspector General. At first Iván Alexándrovich has no idea what is going on. He thinks the Chief of Police has come to arrest him, but the town's people assume he is just playing dumb because the Inspector is supposed to be traveling incognito. So he plays along when he realizes he's got a good thing going. In no time at all, his bills are paid; (of course he assures them he will send their repayment as soon as he arrives home). Next, he is offered to be taken to lunch, after which he will be staying at the Chief of Police's home. Even though he's an idiot, the town officials are even dumber, and soon have him elevated to the highest level of respect and importance.
Meanwhile, the town officials are nervously apprehensive, intent on averting the truth about the corrupt and greedy mess they have all created. The hysterical pretense gets more and more bizarre, until Iván Alexándrovich proposes to the Chief of Police's daughter (and to his wife on the side!). He says he must leave for a short time, promising to return the next day. He is given the best horses and off he goes.
And I'll bet you can guess what happens next!
This short play can be read in sitting, and you won't want to put it down till the end.
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