Aleksandr Sumarokov

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sumarokov, Aleksandr Petrovich


Born Nov. 14 (25), 1717, in St. Petersburg; died Oct. 1 (12), 1777, in Moscow. Russian writer.

Sumarokov came from an old family of the nobility. From 1732 to 1740 he studied at the Military Academy for the Nobility, where he began writing poetry. Sumarokov gained fame with his love songs, which circulated in manuscript. M. V. Lomonosov, an advocate of civic themes in poetry, disapproved of these works, and Sumarokov replied with his Critique of the Ode.

In the Epistle on Versification (1747), Sumarokov formulated the poetics of the main genres of classicism, particularly the comedy and the fable. The polemics between Lomonosov and Sumarokov in the 1750’s constituted an important stage in the establishment of the aesthetics and methodology of Russian classicism.

Sumarokov wrote a number of verse tragedies, including Khorev (1747), Hamlet (1748), and Sinav and Tntvor (1750), which combined love motifs with social and philosophical problems. Sumarokov’s plays formed the basis of the repertoire of the first professional, permanent Russian public theater, which Sumarokov directed from 1756 to 1761. The performers in Sumarokov’s plays were the first professional Russian actors.

In 1759, Sumarokov published the first Russian literary journal, Trudoliubivaia pchela (The Industrious Bee). In the late 1750’s and early 1760’s he wrote fables that castigated bureaucratic arbitrariness, bribery, and the inhuman treatment of serfs by landowners. During the 1770’s, Sumarokov wrote his best comedies, The Imaginary Cuckold, The Mother as Rival of Her Daughter, and The Troublesome Girl (all 1772), as well as his best tragedies, The False Demetrius (1771) and Mstislav (1774). Sumarokov’s comedies are satires of mores; in them, the author differentiates the characters by their speech, thus anticipating the comedies of D. I. Fonvizin. In 1774, Sumarokov published the collections Satires and Elegies.

Sumarokov, his followers, and his successors helped establish classicism in Russian literature. Sumarokov also wrote articles on philosophy and political economy.


Poln. sobr. vsekh soch. v. stikhakh i proze, 2nd ed., parts 1–10. Moscow, 1787.
Stikhotvoreniia. [Introductory article by P. N. Berkov.] Leningrad, 1953.
Izbr. proizv. [Introductory article by P. N. Berkov.] Leningrad, 1957.


Gukovskii, G. A. O sumarokovskoi tragedii. In Poetika: Sb. st., fasc. 1. Leningrad, 1926.
Berkov, P. N. Sumarokov, 1717–1777. Leningrad-Moscow, 1949.
Serman, I. Z. Russkii klassitsizm. Leningrad, 1973.
Istoriia russkoi literatury XVIII v.: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Leningrad, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Aleksandr Sumarokov (1717-77), a translator and pioneer of classical theatre in Russia, presented the first Russian Hamlet as Gamlet in 1748.
Over sixty years after Aleksandr Sumarokov, Stepan Viskovatov has his Ofeliia revise the Shakespearean model in the same ways as had his predecessor.
(8) Kirill Ospovat, "Poetic Justice: Coup d'Etat, Political Theology, and the Politics of Spectacle in the Russian Hamlet", in Terror and Pity: Aleksandr Sumarokov and the Theater of Power in Elizabethan Russia (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2016).