|Born||October 21 [O.S. October 9] 1896
|Died||January 15, 1958
|Occupation||Editor, novelist and playwright|
Evgeny Lvovich Shvarts (Russian: Евге́ний Льво́вич Шва́рц; October 21 [O.S. October 9] 1896, Kazan, Russian Empire – January 15, 1958, Leningrad, USSR) was a Soviet writer and playwright whose cult works include twenty-five plays and screenplays for three films (in collaboration with Nikolai Erdman).
Evgeny Shvarts was born in Kazan, Russia, into a physician's family. His father was Jewish, his mother Russian. In 1910 he studied law at Moscow University, where he also became involved in theater and poetry. He was drafted into the army in the spring of 1917, and served in the White regiment of general Kornilov. He suffered injuries and shell-shock during the storming of Yekaterinodar in 1918, lost several teeth and acquired a tremor of the hands that plagued him for the rest of his life.
After the war, Shvarts studied theater in Rostov-on-Don. In 1921 he moved with the theater troupe to Petrograd, becoming involved with the "Serapion Brothers," a literary group including Ivanov, Zoschenko and Kaverin. In 1923 he moved to Bakhmut and began to publish satirical verse and reviews in the local newspaper. With Mikhail Slonimsky and Nikolay Oleynikov, he organized the literary magazine Slaughter in 1925.
In 1924, Shvarts returned to Leningrad to become an employee of Gosizdat, Children's Department of State Publishing House, under the administration of Samuil Marshak. He became an author of the children's magazines Hedgehog and Siskin. He also wrote children's books, including The Story of Old Balalaika (1924), The Adventures of Shura and Marousi (1937), Alien Girl (1937) and First Grader (1949). During this time, he also became associated with members of the avant-garde literary group OBERIU.
In 1929 Shvarts began a relationship with Nikolay Akimov at the Leningrad Comedy Theater and began writing contemporary reality plays based on the folk and fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. These included «Golyi korol'» ("The Emperor's New Clothes") (1934), «Krasnaya Shapochka» ("Little Red Riding Hood") (1936), «Zolushka» ("Cinderella") (1938), «Snezhnaya Koroleva» ("The Snow Queen", after Hans Christian Andersen) (1938), «Tyen'» ("The Shadow", after Hans Christian Andersen) (1940), «Drakon» ("The Dragon", an original) (1944), and «Obyknovennoye Chudo» ("An Ordinary Miracle") (1956). At the beginning of World War II, Shvarts wrote Under the Linden Trees of Berlin (1941) with Zoshchenko. During the war, he wrote One Night and The Far Country.
Postwar, Shvarts, wrote Ordinary Miracle and The Tale of the Brave Soldiers. Shvarts's adaptations of The Snow Queen and The Shadow were produced as movies in 1966 and 1971. He also completed film scripts for Cinderella, First Grader, Don Quixote and Ordinary Miracle. Shvarts died in Leningrad.
In 1944, Shvarts completed the satirical play The Dragon, which was seen as subversive in the political climate of post-war Russia. The play tells the story of the knight Lancelot, who sets out to slay the dragon. However, in his quest, he stumbles on a community governed by a bureaucratic hierarchy using the dragon to cover their own use of power. A filmed version, To Kill a Dragon, was produced in 1988.
This play, the most "grown-up" of Shvarts' plays, is a political satire aimed at totalitarianism in all forms. The plot is based on the attempt of the hero, Lancelot, to liberate people in a land suffering under Dragon's brutal rule. But his efforts meet with resistance, since most of the people have gotten used to the Dragon and considered his methods, though harsh, the only possible way; their souls become, in a way, crippled with this inability and unwillingness to resist. Says the Dragon in the play: "You see, the human soul is very resilient. Cut the body in half — and the man croaks. But tear the soul apart — and it only becomes more pliable, that's all. No, really, you couldn't pick a finer assortment of souls anywhere. Only in my town. Souls with no hands. Souls with no legs. Mute souls, deaf souls, chained souls, snitch souls, damned souls."
Lancelot killing the Dragon in a fight did not free the people; all that changed was the Burgomaster acceding to the position formerly occupied by the Dragon and demanding that Elsa, the same girl who was destined to be sacrificed to the Dragon, become his wife. When Lancelot returns to the town a year later, he realizes that his task is much more complex: "This is going to be a very meticulous job... We have to kill the dragon in each one of them."
The Ordinary Miracle
From The Emperor's New Clothes:
- Lady of the Court: "Yesterday I was so anxious, my husband fainted."
From The Dragon:
- Heinrich: "It's not my fault, I was taught that way."
- Lancelot: "Everyone was, but why did you have to be first in class?"
- Cinderella: "It's bad for your health not to go to the ball when you deserve it."
- Young Page: "I'm not a wizard yet, I'm still in training."
From The Snow Queen:
- Female head of the gang of robbers: "Children should be spoiled, only then do they grow into true robbers."
From The Ordinary Miracle
- King: "Why? Why? Because I'm a foolish despot, that's why!"
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