The Theater as an Enchanted Kingdom and as a State: Authors and Authority in Bulgakov’s Molière cycle and Theatrical Novel

Lina Khawaldah, Indiana University

In The Cabal of the Hypocrites, Life of Monsieur de Molière and Theatrical Novel Mixail Bulgakov uses the theater as a metaphor of an enchanted Kingdom (or a State). The theatre as the Kingdom (and the State) is not a world without conflicts. It has its Ruler—the stage director, who imposes authoritative laws on his “subjects”: the authors, the playwrights, the actors and on the personages in the plays. Bulgakov transposes his Theater-State likening and the fictional contact between authorities and authors on the territory of real life (Louis—Molière; the stage director of—Maksudov; Stalin—Bulgakov). The forced dependence and servility that a creative individual is obliged to reveal in his treatment of the autocrat (as in the Molière cycle) can be viewed as a circumlocution by means of which Bulgakov reflects on his relationship with Stalin.

As a central metaphor for Bulgakov’s entire professional pursuit, his fascination with theater is extendable to the context of the novels Life of Monsieur de Molière and Theatrical Novel. It also helps to understand why Bulgakov continuously worked within the two genres, using the different licenses they provide for his creative needs as a prose-writer and a playwright. Bulgakov not only uses theatrical manner of narration but also portrays Molière’s and Maksudov’s dramas and play rehearsals. He employs and alternates the two genres (drama—novel) within the limits of the novels.

The play and the novel on Molière are both built on the metaphor of the Theatre-Kingdom-State, but the figure of the narrator adds a new dimension to the theme of the struggle between the creative individual and autocracy. Through the disguise of the narrator, Bulgakov explains how a true Master, fated to create under tyranny, subterfuges to protect his work from destruction: a lizard with a cut tail does not cease to be a lizard. As a true Master, Molière succeeds in saving his play by employing this theatrical in its nature maneuver. This stanza is questioned in Theatrical Novel –which is after all the Notes of a Dead Man. Despite the multiple modifications, the future of Maksudov’s novel turned into play is uncertain, for it is under the rule of a talented stage director who enforces laws of creativity on his equally talented “subjects”.

The contrast between and “life in theatre” and “life created by theatre,” employed by Bulgakov, creates a suitable context for exploration of the theme of the artist and his relationship with forms of power (Henry). To a great extent, the works on Molière and Theatrical Novel can be interpreted as Bulgakov’s metacommentaries on the fate of nonconformist Masters (real or fictional) and their work.


Henry, Barbara J. “Reality and Illusion: Duality in Bulgakov’s Theatre Plays” Bulgakov: the Novelist-Playwright. Ed. Lesley Milne. Luxembourg: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995, 84-95.