Anthony Burgess was an energetic writer and composer, but his work for the stage is not as well known as it deserves to be. In Two Plays, we see him tackling major monuments of French and Russian theatre: The Miser by Molière and Chatsky by Alexander Griboyedov.
Miser, Miser! is a bold reworking of Molière’s classic comedy of 1668. Harpagon the miser is hoarding a pile of gold, which he has buried in his garden. As he tries to sell off his daughter, catch himself a beautiful young bride, and outwit his scheming household of clever servants, the comedy of errors intensifies.
Although the original French play is written in prose, Burgess remakes it in a mixture of verse and prose, in the style of his famous adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. This translation, discovered in the author’s archive, is the work of a writer working at the height of his powers. It is an attempt to reinvent Molière for modern audiences.
Chatsky, subtitled ‘The Importance of Being Stupid’ is another verse comedy. The theme is that of the intellectual hero who rebels against the smug, philistine society in which he finds himself. First performed in 1833, Griboyedov’s play was so heavily cut by Russian censors that it was barely recognisable. The play is a virtuoso vehicle for male actors, and the source of many famous quotations. It is also notoriously difficult to translate. In Chatsky, Burgess remakes a classic Russian play in the spirit of Oscar Wilde. It is a great feast of language and invective.
The complete texts of both plays are published here for the first time. Two Plays confirms Anthony Burgess’s reputation as a gifted writer for the stage, and as a translator of great wit and sophistication.