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Skomorokhi, the Troubadours of Old Rus
November 22, 2007 19:26


Theatre arts in Russia are rooted in folk games, rites and ritual ceremonies. The oldest “theatricals” were those performed by folk histrionics, called “skomorokhi” and first recorded in historical chronicles in 1068.

Skomorokhi were the wandering minstrels of ancient Russia; they were singers, jesters, musicians, play performers, acrobats and animal trainers. But first of all skomorokhi were singers of freedom, who dared to ridicule the power, the clergy, and the rich and sympathized with the common people.

It was quite a complicated phenomenon. Skomorokhi were considered to be somewhat of soothsayers. Yet it was a false belief, since skomorokhi, while taking part in rites did not enhance their religious and mystical character, but on the contrary, attached more of worldly, secular meaning to them.

Almost anyone could “skomoroshit”, i.e. sing, dance, jest, play music instruments and impersonate some personages or creatures. Yet, only those whose artistry made them stood out against mass art were recognized true skomorokh masters.

 

Initially the skomorokh performances did not need their uniting into big companies. An actor could cope with showing tales, singing songs and playing music alone.

The appearance of Russian puppet theatre was directly associated with skomorokh performances. The first chronicle data about skomorokhi concur with the period when frescoes depicting skomorokh shows were painted on the walls of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. The monk chronicler denounced skomorokhi as devil servants, whereas the artist, who painted the walls of the Cathedral, found it possible to introduce their pictures as church decorations along with icons.

 

 


Skomorokhi’s Mask
  Skomorokhi were “wizards” of singing, music, dancing, poetry and drama, yet there were regarded merely as entertainers and fun-makers. Their art was related and addressed to the common people and usually opposed to the ruling groups, thus being not just useless, but ideologically detrimental and dangerous from the point of view of the feudalists and the clergy.

The worldly art of skomorokhi was alien to the church and clericals. The chronicles (such as “Tale of Bygone Years”) present evidence of the hatred the Orthodox Church showed towards the art of skomorokhi. The church sermons of the 11th -12th centuries announced skomorokh masquerading sinful. Skomorokhi were most of all persecuted in the years of the Mongol yoke, when the church strenuously propagated ascetic living. Nevertheless, no harassments could eradicate the art of skomorokhi; in spite of all that, it was successfully developing and its satirical sting becoming still more biting.

 

Skomorokhi left their home places and wandered around the Russian lands in search of earnings; gradually they moved from villages to towns, where they started performing for tradesfolk also, and sometimes even for noblemen.

Skomorokhi were also got involved in court folk performances, which became very popular under the influence of Byzantium and its ways of court life. When the Moscow court arranged Amusing Boxroom (in 1571) and Amusing Chamber (in 1613), skomorokhi turned to be court jesters there.

In opposition to folk amusements and skomorokh performances the Christian church developed its ritual art full of religious and mystical elements. In spite of the use of spectacular and drama forms, the Russian church did not create its own theatre.

As for the skomorokhi, though they did not have proper conditions for establishing theatre companies and were persecuted by the church as alleged disseminators of paganism and heresy along with sorcerers and soothsayers, the folk theatre went on and on.

Sources:
    teatp.ru
    krugosvet.ru

Photos:
    russianplanet.ru
    sgu.ru
    palekh.narod.ru
    novgorod.ru


Tags: Russian Traditions Russian Theatre Folk Theatre Russian Folklore Skomorokhi 

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