Mikhail Semyonovich Shchepkin (Russian: Михаи́л Семёнович Ще́пкин, November 17, 1788, the village Krasnoe, Oboyan county, Kursk Province – August 11, 1863) was the most famous Russian Empireactor of the 19th century.
Shchepkin was born in Russia, in the village Krasnoe, to a serf family owned by Count G. S. Volkenshtein. Shchepkin's freedom had to be bought by his admirers in 1821. Three years later, he joined the Maly Theatre in Moscow, which he would dominate for the next 40 years—it became known as the 'House of Shchepkin'. Shchepkin was the first to play Famusov in the Woe from Wit (1831) and the Mayor in The Government Inspector (1836). His acting was acclaimed by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Herzen, and Ivan Turgenev for its subtlety, with much attention given to realistic detail and understatement.
Shchepkin argued that an actor ought to get into the skin of a character, identifying with their thoughts and feelings; observation of life and the actor's knowledge of their own nature provide the source for an actor's work. In 1848 he wrote:
It is so much easier to play mechanically—for that you only need your reason. Reason will approximate to joy and sorrow just as an imitation approximates to nature. But an actor of feeling—that's quite different. [...] He just begins by wiping out his own self [...] and becomes the character the author intended him to be. He must walk, talk, think, feel, cry, laugh as the author wants him to. You see how his efforts become more meaningful. In the first case you need only pretend to live—in the second you really have to live.
Shchepkin's distinction between the 'actor of reason' and the 'actor of feeling' influenced the formation of the ideas about acting contained in the 'system' devised by Constantin Stanislavski.