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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(itinerant performer), one of a group of medieval Russian actors, who also performed as singers, dancers, and musicians and who wrote most of the musical and dramatic works that they performed. The skomorokhi came into existence before the mid-11th century. They are depicted in frescoes dating from 1037 in the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev. This type of entertainment was most popular from the 15th to 17th centuries, declining gradually in the 18th century. Some of its traditions were passed to the balagan (a temporary theatrical, circus, or estrada [variety stage] performance) and to the raek (a peep show).

The repertoire of the skomorokhi included comic songs, dramatic scenes, and glumy (social satire), which were performed in masks and special costumes to the accompaniment of dom-ras, bagpipes, and tambourines. Appearing on streets and squares, the skomorokhi mixed with the spectators and involved them in their performance. The main hero of their presentations was a merry, sprightly, and very crafty fellow who frequently operated under the guise of comic simplemindedness.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the skomorokhi traveled in groups of 70–100 members. They were often persecuted by the church and by civil authorities and were prohibited from performing by ukases issued in 1648 and 1657. (Subsequently, the skomorokhi did, however, sometimes perform at folk festivals.)


Famintsyn, A. S. Skomorokhi na Rusi. St. Petersburg, 1889.
Morozov, A. “M. D. Krivopolenova i nasledie skomorokhov.” In M. D. Krivopolenova, Byliny, skomoroshiny, skazki. Arkhangl’sk, 1950.
Vsevolodskii-Gerngross, V. N. Russkaia ustnaia narodnaia drama. Moscow, 1959.
Belkin, A. A. “Skomorokhi ν obshchestvennoi zhizni Rusi.” Teatr, 1971, no. 11. [23–1533–]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.