The Government Inspector

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The Government Inspector
Cover of the first edition, with archaic spelling Ревизоръ
Written byNikolai Gogol
Date premiered1 May 1836
Place premieredAlexandrinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
Original languageRussian

The Government Inspector, also known as The Inspector General (Russian: Ревизор, tr. Revizor, literally: "Inspector"), is a satirical play by Russian dramatist and novelist, Nikolai Gogol.[1] Originally published in 1836, the play was revised for an 1842 edition. Based upon an anecdote allegedly recounted to Gogol by Pushkin,[2] the play is a comedy of errors, satirizing human greed, stupidity, and the political corruption of contemporary Russia.

The dream-like scenes of the play, often mirroring each other, whirl in the endless vertigo of self-deception around the main character, Khlestakov (rendered in some English translations as Hlestakov), who personifies irresponsibility, light-mindedness, and absence of measure. "He is full of meaningless movement and meaningless fermentation incarnate, on a foundation of placidly ambitious inferiority" (D. S. Mirsky). The publication of the play led to a great outcry in the reactionary press. It took the personal intervention of Tsar Nicholas I to have the play staged, with Mikhail Shchepkin taking the role of the Mayor. Nicholas I was personally present at the play's premiere on the stage of the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on April 19, 1836, concluding that "there is nothing sinister in the comedy, as it is only a cheerful mockery of bad provincial officials."[3]

According to D. S. Mirsky, The Government Inspector "is not only supreme in character and dialogue – it is one of the few Russian plays constructed with unerring art from beginning to end. The great originality of its plan consisted in the absence of all love interest and of sympathetic characters. The latter feature was deeply resented by Gogol's enemies, and as a satire the play gained immensely from it. There is not a wrong word or intonation from beginning to end, and the comic tension is of a quality that even Gogol did not always have at his beck and call."[4] In 2014, the play was ranked by The Telegraph as one of the 15 greatest ever written.[5]


Early in his career, Gogol was best known for his short stories, which gained him the admiration of the Russian literary circle, including Alexander Pushkin. After establishing a reputation, Gogol began working on several plays. His first attempt to write a satirical play about imperial bureaucracy in 1832 was abandoned out of fear of censorship. In 1835, he sought inspiration for a new satirical play from Pushkin.[2]

Do me a favour; send me some subject, comical or not, but an authentically Russian anecdote. My hand is itching to write a comedy... Give me a subject and I'll knock off a comedy in five acts – I promise, funnier than hell. For God's sake, do it. My mind and stomach are both famished.

— Letter from Gogol to Pushkin, October 7, 1835

Pushkin had a storied background and was once mistaken for a government inspector in 1833. His notes alluded to an anecdote distinctly similar to what would become the basic story elements for The Government Inspector.

Krispin arrives in the Province ... to a fair – he is taken for [illegible] ... . The governor is an honest fool – the governor's wife flirts with him – Krispin woos the daughter.

— Pushkin, Full collected works, volume 8, book 1

Plot summary[edit]

A stamp depicting "The Government Inspector", from the souvenir sheet of Russia devoted to the 200th birth anniversary of Nikolai Gogol, 2009

The corrupt officials of a small Russian town, headed by the Mayor, react with panic to the news that an incognito inspector will soon be arriving in their town to investigate them. The flurry of activity to cover up their considerable misdeeds is interrupted by the report that a suspicious person had arrived two weeks previously from Saint Petersburg and is staying at the inn. That person, however, is not an inspector; it is Ivan Alexandreyevich Khlestakov (Hlestakov in some translations) a foppish civil servant with a wild imagination.

They learned that Khlestakov has not been paying for the hotel, just charging to the bill. Moreover, his original travel destination was Saratov Governorate, but for some unknown reason he has been staying in this town for a long time. Therefore, the Mayor and his crooked cronies are immediately certain that this upper-class twit is the dreaded inspector. For quite some time, however, Khlestakov does not even realize that he has been mistaken for someone else. Meanwhile, he enjoys the officials' terrified deference and moves in as a guest in the Mayor's house. He also demands and receives massive "loans" from the Mayor and all of his associates. He also flirts outrageously with the Mayor's wife and daughter.

Sick and tired of the Mayor's ludicrous demands for bribes, the town's Jewish and Old Believer merchants arrive, begging Khlestakov to have him dismissed from his post. Stunned at the Mayor's rapacious corruption, Khlestakov states that he deserves to be exiled in chains to Siberia. Nevertheless, he still requests more "loans" from the merchants, promising to comply with their request.

Terrified that he is now undone, the Mayor pleads with Khlestakov not to have him arrested, only to learn that the latter has become engaged to his daughter. Khlestakov then announces that he is returning to Saint Petersburg, having been persuaded by his valet Osip that it is too dangerous to continue the charade any longer.

After Khlestakov and Osip depart on a coach driven by the village's fastest horses, the Mayor's friends all arrive to congratulate him. Certain that he now has the upper hand, he summons the merchants, boasting of his daughter's engagement and vowing to squeeze them for every kopeck they are worth. However, the Postmaster suddenly arrives carrying an intercepted letter which reveals Khlestakov's true identity – and his mocking opinion of them all.

The Mayor, after years of bamboozling governors and shaking down criminals of every description, is enraged to have been this humiliated. He screams at his cronies, stating that they, not himself, are to blame. At this moment, the famous fourth-wall breaking phrase is uttered by the Mayor to the audience: "What are you laughing about? You are laughing about yourselves!". While the cronies continue arguing, a message arrives from the real Government Inspector, who is demanding to see the Mayor immediately.

Meyerhold's interpretation[edit]

In 1926, the expressionistic production of the comedy by Vsevolod Meyerhold "returned to this play its true surrealistic, dreamlike essence after a century of simplistically reducing it to mere photographic realism".[6] Erast Garin interpreted Khlestakov as "an infernal, mysterious personage capable of constantly changing his appearance".[7] Leonid Grossman recalls that Garin's Khlestakov was "a character from Hoffmann's tale, slender, clad in black with a stiff mannered gait, strange spectacles, a sinister old-fashioned tall hat, a rug and a cane, apparently tormented by some private vision".

Meyerhold wrote about the play: "What is most amazing about The Government Inspector is that although it contains all the elements of... plays written before it, although it was constructed according to various established dramatic premises, there can be no doubt – at least for me – that far from being the culmination of a tradition, it is the start of a new one. Although Gogol employs a number of familiar devices in the play, we suddenly realize that his treatment of them is new... The question arises of the nature of Gogol's comedy, which I would venture to describe as not so much 'comedy of the absurd' but rather as 'comedy of the absurd situation.'"[8]

In the finale of Meyerhold's production, the actors were replaced with dolls, a device that Andrei Bely compared to the stroke "of the double Cretan axe that chops off heads," but a stroke entirely justified in this case since "the archaic, coarse grotesque is more subtle than subtle."[9]

Other adaptations[edit]


Films based on The Government Inspector include:


In 1958 the British comedian Tony Hancock appeared as Khlestakov in a live BBC Television version (which survives).

The PBS series Wishbone adapted the story for an episode.

In 2002 the Iranian playwright and director Mohammad Rahmanian adapted a version for national TV called Bazres-e-kol.


Anton Antonovich, played by Fyodor Paramonov, has many reasons to be worried about a visit from the inspector general (Maly Theatre (Moscow), 1905.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky played the postmaster Shpekin in a charity performance with proceeds going to the Society for Aid to Needy Writers and Scholars in April 1860.[11]

Inspecting Carol (1991) by American playwright Daniel J. Sullivan is a loose adaptation in which a man auditioning for a role in A Christmas Carol at a small theatre is mistaken for an informer for the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2005, the Chichester Festival Theatre produced a new version of the play translated by Alistair Beaton.

The UN Inspector (2005) by David Farr is a "freely adapted" version written for London's National Theatre called, which transposed the action to a modern-day ex-Soviet republic. Farr's adaptation has been translated into French by Nathalie Rivere de Carles and was performed in France in 2008.[12]

In 2006, Greene Shoots Theatre[13] performed an ensemble-style adaptation at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Directed by Steph Gunary (née Kirton), the acting used physical theatre, mime, and chorus work that underpinned the physical comedy. The application of Commedia dell'arte-style characterisation both heightened the grotesque and sharpened the satire.

In 2008, Jeffrey Hatcher adapted the play for a summer run at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. A slightly revised version of that adaptation played at Milwaukee Repertory Theater in September 2009.

In 2011, London's Young Vic Theatre presented a new version adapted by David Harrower, directed by Richard Jones, starring Julian Barratt, Doon Mackichan and Kyle Soller.

In 2011 the Stockholm City Theatre staged the play in an adaptation set in the Soviet 1930s.

In 2011 the Abbey Theatre, Dublin performed an adaptation by Roddy Doyle.

Also in 2012 the Residenz Theatre in Munich performed an adaptation by Herbert Fritsch with Sebastian Blomberg as Khlestakov.

In 2016 at the Yermolovoi Theater in Moscow there was a production by Sergei Zimliansky without words. The show was advertised as a comedy, in which music, costumes, dance, and movement by the actors tells the story in the absence of words.

The play was also revived by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for a UK Tour in 2016 directed by Roxana Silbert. It toured New Wolsey Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Nottingham Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman and Sheffield Crucible. This production was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award in Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre in the 2017 ceremony.[citation needed]



Incidental music (1926) by Russian Jewish composer Mikhail Gnessin.


Canadian Dance Company Kidd Pivot produced and toured with a dance-theatre performance Revisor based on the Gogol story (2019).[14]

See also[edit]

The following plays utilize a dramaturgical structure similar to The Government Inspector:


  1. ^ "Nikolay Gogol". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  2. ^ a b Ehre, Milton (1980). Notes for the Theater of Nikolay Gogol. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-30066-8.
  3. ^ Очень нервный вечер. Как Николай I и Гоголь постановку «Ревизора» смотрели
  4. ^ D. S. Mirsky. A History of Russian Literature. Northwestern University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8101-1679-0. p. 161. (Public Domain).
  5. ^ "Best plays of all time". The Daily Telegraph. 2014-04-28. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2020-04-14.
  6. ^ Karlinsky, Simon. Anton Chekhov's Life and Thought. Northwestern University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8101-1460-7. p. 370.
  7. ^ Listengarten, Julia. Russian Tragifarce: Its Cultural and Political Roots. Susquehanna University Press, 2000. ISBN 1-57591-033-0. p. 37.
  8. ^ [Ibid.|Ibidem]. p. 27.
  9. ^ Fusso, Susanne. Essays on Gogol: Logos and the Russian Word. Northwestern University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8101-1191-8. p. 55.
  10. ^ Johnson, Jeffry L. "Sovscope 70". Sovscope. Retrieved 15 May 2008.
  11. ^ Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Stir of Liberation.
  12. ^ "The UN inspector / L'inspecteur des Nations Unies - PUM 2012". Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  13. ^ "Greeneshoots Theatre Company". Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  14. ^ "Revisor - Kidd Pivot". Archived from the original on 2019-03-06.

External links[edit]