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Mikhail Shchepkin

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Mikhail Semyonovich Shchepkin
Portrait by Nikolai Nevrev
Portrait by Nikolai Nevrev
Native name
Russian: Михаи́л Семёнович Ще́пкин
Born17 November [O.S. 6 November] 1788
Krasnoe, Kursk Province, Russian Empire
Died11 August [O.S. 23 August] 1863 (aged 74)
Yalta, Russian Empire
Period19th-century theatre
Literary movementRealism
Years active1805—1863
Notable workMemoirs

Mikhail Semyonovich Shchepkin (Russian: Михаи́л Семёнович Ще́пкин, 17 November [O.S. 6 November] 1788, the village Krasnoe, Oboyan county, Kursk Province — 11 August [O.S. 23 August] 1863) was the most famous Russian Empire actor of the 19th century. He is considered the "father" of realist acting in Russia and, via the influence of his student, Glikeriya Fedotova, a major influence on the development of the 'system' of Konstantin Stanislavski (who was born in the year in which Shchepkin died).[1] Shchepkin's significance to the Theatre of Russia is comparable to that of David Garrick to the English theatre.[2]

He distinguished between two kinds of actors, both of whom are dedicated to the art of acting: (1) those who have developed the art of pretense on the basis of intelligence and reason; (2) those who express feelings actually experienced by the actor in performance and work on the basis of "a flaming-soul, heavenly spark." Shchepkin considered the effect of the latter approach superior to that of the former.[3] He was opposed to the principles advanced by the French playwright and philosopher Denis Diderot in his Paradox of the Actor (published posthumously in 1830), which inverted Shchepkin's evaluation.[4]


Shchepkin was born in the village of Krasnoe, in the Kursk Governorate of the Russian Empire, to a serf family owned by Count G. S. Volkenshtein.[5] 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'.[6] 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.

Acting philosophy[edit]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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 Konstantin Stanislavski.


In 1812, Shchepkin married Elena Dmitrievna ("Alyosha") who was a Turkish captive during the Siege of Anapa.[8][9] They had five children, including the philologist Dmitry Mikhailovich Schepkin [ru]; the publisher and teacher Nikolai Mikhailovich Schepkin [ru]; the lawyer Petr Mikhailovich; and the actresses Fyokla (Faina) Mikhailovna and Alexandra Mikhailovna.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Golub (1998, 985).
  2. ^ Benedetti (2005, 102).
  3. ^ Carlson (1993, 245—246).
  4. ^ Benedetti (2005, 104).
  5. ^ "Answers - the Most Trusted Place for Answering Life's Questions". Answers.com.
  6. ^ a b Benedetti (1999, 16).
  7. ^ Quoted in Benedetti (1999, 16).
  8. ^ Первый русский Актёр, Белгород Медиа, 2013, retrieved 11 April 2021, А ведь он был уже семейным человеком. Супругой его стала прекрасная турчанка Елена Дмитриевна Дмитриева, которую муж ласково называл Алёшей.
  9. ^ "Роза в черных кудрях". История любви Михаила и Елены Щепкиных, The Armenian Museum of Moscow and Culture of Nations, 2017, retrieved 11 April 2021, В 1812 году Елена Дмитриевна стала женой провинциального крепостного актера Михаила Щепкина. Она — турчанка по происхождению и русская по духу — стала своему мужу верным другом, поддержкой и опорой, хранительницей очага...Однажды, когда Елена Дмитриевна уже была замужем, до нее дошли слухи, что семья турецкого паши, приехавшая в Санкт-Петербург, разыскивает дочь, пропавшую у них при взятии Анапы. Как пишет невестка Щепкиных в своих воспоминаниях, Елена Дмитриевна была уверена, что разыскивают именно ее: о своем происхождении ей все было известно. Люди, у которых ей довелось побывать в воспитанницах, не делали из этого секрета и довольно подробно обо всем рассказывали. Но Елена Щепкина не пожелала что-либо менять в своей жизни. Посланцы турецкого паши уехали ни с чем.


  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
  • Benedetti, Jean. 1999. Stanislavski: His Life and Art. Revised edition. Original edition published in 1988. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-52520-1.
  • Benedetti, Jean. 2005. The Art of the Actor: The Essential History of Acting, From Classical Times to the Present Day. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77336-1.
  • Carlson, Marvin. 1993. Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present. Expanded ed. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801481543.
  • Golub, Spencer. 1998b. "Shchepkin, Mikhail (Semyonovich)". In Banham (1998, 985-986).
  • Senelick, Laurence. 1984. Serf Actor: The Life and Art of Mikhail Shchepkin. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-22494-3.

External links[edit]