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American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages

Stavrogin and Prince Hal: The Hero in Two Worlds

Author(s): Norman Leer
Source: The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1962), pp. 99-116
Published by: American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages
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Stavrogin and Prince Hal: The Hero in Two Worlds
By Norman Leer
Indiana University

Even a brief look at the criticism of Dostoevskij's novel, The Pos-

sessed, will indicate the diversity of interpretations given its enigmatic
hero, Nikolaj Vsevolodovic Stavrogin. A large number of his critics at-
tempt to relate him to one or another of the better known heroes of litera-
ture. Thus Vjaceslav Ivanov, for example, finds the story of Stavrogin
to be parallel to the Faust myth, but with more explicit Christian over-
tones. He finds a relationship in the novel between the earth-soul
(Mar'ja Lebjadkin and Gretchen); the daring but erroneous human spirit
(Stavrogin and Faust); and the powers of Darkness (PetrVerxovenskijand
Mephistopheles). Ivanov adds, however, that in Stavrogin love has been
quenched andwith it the erotic striving-in the Platonic sense-by which
Faust is saved. 1 George Steiner sees in Dostoevskij's hero a "variant
of the Satanic heroes of Byronism and the Gothic." But Steiner goes even
further and suggests that he "conveys to us a tragic apprehension of the
duality of God."2 I wonder, however, whether this view of Stavrogin as
a literary image of God himself is not ruled out by the constant emphasis
given his searching and his essential aimlessness. God might embody
duality; but if he were aimless, how could he be God? As for the Byronic
hero, the chief characteristic found in Stavrogin is called to our attention
by Mario Praz. This critic notes how Byron "required the feeling of guilt
to arouse in him the phenomena of the moral sense and the feeling of fa-
tality in order to appreciate the flow of life:' 3 We shall see how an al-
most ambiguous guilt forms a dominant part of Stavrogin's character. I
hope to show that Stavrogin also requires this sense of guilt and punish-
ment in order to make at least a negative moral affirmation. Andre Gide
does not relate Dostoevskij's hero to any specific predecessor, but sees
a worship of energy as the "key to this baffling character. "4 Dostoevskij,
himself, eventually came to view Stavrogin as the main character of his
novel, one who both caused and took precedence over the political action.
When the author sent his first chapters to Katkov, he wrote that the inci-
dent of Satov's murder, probably the climax of the political plot, "is
nevertheless only an accessory and background for the action of another

SEEJ, Vol. VI, No. 2 (1962) 99

100 The Slavic and East European Journal

figure who can really be called the main character of the novel. This
other figure (Nikolaj Stavrogin) is also a gloomy individual, also a vil-
lain. But it seems to me that his figure is tragic. I took him out of my
heart. "5
We can acknowledge that Stavrogin' s heroism has qualities in com-
mon with Faust, the Byronic hero, and perhaps other literary heroes as
well. But he must still be seen as a specific hero in the context of a
specific novel. For as we shall see, the meaning even of references ex-
plicitly made to a former hero-that is, to Shakes peare' s "Prince Harry" -
is very much controlled by the world of the novel.
This paperwill then hold itself to suggesting the nature of the stated
relationship between Henry V and Stavrogin. Although there is a lack of
decisive evidence in Dostoevsky's other works, such as the letters and
the Diary of A Writer, significant materialcan be found in the structural
action and character relationships even of the novel itself. I hope to look
briefly at Shakespeare's "Harry, " more extensively at Stavrogin, and to
show how the explicit and implicit relationships are used by Dostoevskij
to embody two ironic statements-the first about the nature of Stavrogin's
career, and the second about the nature of his world.
Shakespeare's soldier-king is also surrounded by a highly diverse
body of criticism, most of which centers around the morality of his youth
andhis war against France. Dover Wilson, for example, in the New Cam-
bridge edition of Henry V, affirms the judgment of the play's Chorus that
Henry is "the mirror of all Christian kings. "6 But some critics, among
them Harold C. Goddard, contend that the Chorus does not represent
Shakespeare's view, but that of average public opinion, and that the re-
quests that the audience use its imagination to compensate for the inade-
quacies of the stage are actually a veiled separation of public or patriotic
imagination from reality. Goddard feels that the play is pervaded by a
strong irony between what Henry says and the results of his actions, the
rejection of Falstaff and the destruction and chaos wrought by his con-
quests. Henry, Goddard.feels, is a dual personality, embodying the po-
tential for a rightly or wrongly used imagination.7 About this view, I
shall have more to say shortly. Roy W. Battenhouse agrees that the pre-
sentation of the king is pervaded by irony. In fact, he regards Henry V
as heroic comedy, heroic in that Henry is acting in accord with his own
ideal, and comic in that this ideal is very limited and a false one which
totally evades the responsibilities of the king. 8 Other critics, particu-
larly Derek Traversi and John Palmer, do not feel that Shakespeare's con-
demnation was so complete, and they see the play as embodying a con-
flict between Henry the man and Henry the king. For Traversi, this conflict
is tragic, while for Palmer it creates satiric comedy.9 Nevertheless,
Palmer contends that Shake s peare's portrayal of the king is a neutral one.10
Mark Van Doren regards the whole play as a disunified embodiment of un-
resolved conflict. 1 My own view of the play is very much indebted to
Goddard and Battenhouse. I believe that Henry is a dual personality, but
that by the time of his rejection of Falstaff in Henry IV, Part II, he has
resolved this conflict, so that the hero of Henry V is committedto the
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 101

irresponsible or false imagination. Yet I cannot agree with Battenhouse

that the latter play is wholly comic, for embodiments of a higher ideal
are found in the play itself and modify the essential detachment of comedy.
The sincere affection of his comrades for the dying Falstaff, as well as
the honest professions by some of the soldiers of love and responsibility
contrast with Henry's rhetoric, and at the same time suggest what that
rhetoric should have become. In other words, through the presentation
of something higher within the play itself, a tension is created and the
critical vantage point of pure comedy is lost. We have in Henry V a good
deal of irony, but there is also an immediate ethical tension, which puts
the drama on the level of direct conflict rather than comic action once
There is thus a conflict in Henry V between the king and something
higher than himself, and that something is the responsible imagination-
the faculty which should enable Henry to conceive the king's moral role.
We should recall the frequent appeals made in the play to the imagination,
andrememberthatthis faculty is a bridge between the individual and ex-
ternal reality in different ways. It can ground itself in things as they
actually are and attempt to impart coherence to what is, or it can
construct an apparent order out of what is not real. The second type of
imaginative action, totally determined by the whims of the individual self,
can often become an excuse for what the individual cannot, or does not
wish to, comprehend. Its basis is frequently self-gratification. If the
imagination works from an awareness of things as they are, then we may
say that it is responsible; but if it arbitrarily imposes its own demands
on reality, then we may say that it is irresponsible, inasmuch as the
order it makes is more pretense than actuality.
In Shakespeare's Henry plays there is a movement from the dual
potential of Prince Hal's youth to the ironic false beginning of his king-
ship. In Henry IV, he can become either Prince Hal, the companion of
Falstaff, or King Henry, the invader of France. The tavern-hopping period
with Falstaff is often seen as mere boyish revelry. But as Goddard points
out, Falstaff embodies a type of imagination. He stands for liberty from
the tyranny of drabness. He is the symbol of the supremacy of imagina-
tionoverfact: "Facts melt before Falstaff like ice before a summer sun-
dissolve in the aqua regia of his resourcefulness and wit." True, he
disregards the rights of others, and his imagination is stimulated by
"immense potations of sack. " But he represents the undeveloped or
childlike imagination, or the activity of play: "complete freedom, an
all-consuming zest for life, an utter subjugation of facts to imagination,
and an entire absence of moral responsibility."'2 Falstaff was the men-
tor of Henry's youth. If Prince Hal were to develop into the ideal king,
he would have to extend his youthful knowledge through the addition of
responsibility. After Falstaff, he had three choices: ( 1) he could adopt
the way of war; (2) he could adopt the pursuit of pleasure or power, the
way of "soft" peace; (3) or he could adopt the third way that is "neither
pleasure nor power," the way of the "imagination: of the love of life for
its own sake, of human friendship or the good family on a social scale,
102 The Slavic and East European Journal

of play in its adult estate." 13 By the time of his kingship, Henry had
adopted the first choice of war, and Goddard sees the overall play as
"pervaded with an irony that imparts intense dramatic value to practically
every one of its main scenes. "14 Goddard also finds in the later play,
however, the continuation of Henry's double personality. I feel, as I
hope to show briefly, that in this play the good, or ideal, is located ex-
ternally to the main character. In the play we can see King Henry creating
causes and justifications for his war against France. This war, based
on a false claim to the French throne, is actually Henry's following of his
father's deathbed-advice to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels. "
Thus, the king embraces false imagination, and creates his own reality.
Moreover, althoughhe forms his own reality, Henry is constantly assign-
ing the responsibility of creation to someone else. In fact, he seems al-
most ignorant of the responsibilities of the king. Thus, he will go through
ceremonies of justice against the three traitors, Cambridge, Scroop, and
Grey, and of love for Princess Katherine of France. But these are essen-
tially false, for the traitors are advocating a counter-claim to the English
throne (we should recall that Henry IV had deposed Richard II from the
English kingship), and Henry regards "Kate" as another of his French
spoils. Furthermore, Henry's pretensions of mercy and righteousness
must be played against his actions as given in the play. The king is con-
stantly setting up his own reality. Thus, he looks upon his public rejec-
tion of Falstaff as a declaration of independence and righteousness. But
the play indicates otherwise. In Act II we witness the death of the child-
like, comic knight and see the honest feeling of his friends. Mistress
Quickly, the innkeeper, suggests that Henry killed Falstaff, and this
accusation is repeated by Captain Fluellen, just before the announcement
of the English victory at Agincourt. The Captain is comparing the King to
Alexander the Great ( "Alexander the Big" is transformed by his Welsh
dialect into "Alexander the Pig"), and he says: "As Alexander killed
his friend, Cleitus, being in his ales and cups, so also Harry Monmouth,
being also in his right wits and good judgements, turned away the fat
knight with the great belly doublet" (IV, vii, 47-51).15
The claim to the French throne is equally a falsification of reality
to suit self-interest. This claim is based on the fact that Henry's great-
great-grandmother was the daughter of Philip IV of France. The only bar
to its legitimacy is the Salic Law, under which succession through the
female line is illegal. The Archbishop of Canterbury sophistically dis-
credits this law, by saying that the French kings who have opposed Henry' s
claim are in themselves crooked, because their own titles come through
the female. "The very thing, " says Goddard, "that proves the title of
a French king crooked-namely, inheritance through the female-serves,
by some twist of ecclesiastical logic, to prove the title of an English
king good. "16
Throughout the play we see Henry evading responsibility for the
violence and disorder caused by the false claim. Thus, when he asks the
Archbishop of Canterbury to sanction the contest on which he has already
decided, he cautions the cleric:
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 103

... For God doth know how many now in health,

Shall drop their blood in approbation
Of what your reverence shall incite us to.
(I, ii, 18-20)
Later, when he is threatening the French town of Harfleur with brutal vil-
lainies, he again disclaims responsibility:
What is't to me, when you yourselves are cause,
If your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation?
(III, iii, 19-21)
Finally, after the victory at Agincourt, his attribution of this victory to
God seems composed more of anxiety than reverence:
O God, thy arm was here!
And not to us, but to thy arm alone,
Ascribe we all!/ Take it God,
For it is none but thine!
(IV, viii, 111-113, 116-117)17
Goddard nonetheless sees a suppressed dualism in Henry V, and he
bases his argument on the soliloquy on ceremony in Act IV. But the sig-
nificance of this speech seems to lie in what is omitted. Henry, disguised
by night and a black cloak, has gone among his soldiers, and has been
questioned by three of them, Bates, Court, and Williams. He has skill-
fully evaded their inquiries into the res ponsibility of the king for the jus-
tice of his war. Now he asks himself the value of royal ceremony. First
he givesacomplaint against the responsibility that Henry thinks his sub-
jects wish to "lay on the king, " and its irony is noticeable only in the
light of Henry's constant denials of responsibility throughout the play.
But in this light, we see the king complaining of a burden he has not as-
sumed. By the second part, which is an assertion that all the king has
over the common man is the "idol" of ceremony, he seems to have for-
gotten the whole question of his responsibility. He asks:
And what have kings that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
( IV, i, 241-242)
The omission is important. Henry, by the word "save, " has isolated
ceremony as the only distinguishing attribute of the king. He goes on to
ask what ceremony can give him, actually to deny that it can give him
anything to cure his greatness, which he unintentionally notes has be-
come "sick" (IV, i, 255). In the third part he answers his own question
in the negative, and confesses his envy of the sound sleep of the "wretch-
ed slave, " who with "vacant mind ... Never sees horrid night" (IV, i,
272-275). He envies, that is to say, a position that represents almost
total absence of responsibility, and where there is none of the sleepless
introspection brought on by the need to justify the self. Ceremony is,
however, a public ritual, and it is usually a celebration of greatness.
104 The Slavic and East European Journal

Without the responsibility of greatness, it becomes a mockery, a torrent

of rhetoric, and its effect is simply to give the appearance of greatness
to others.
What, we may ask at this point, is the relationship between this
dual-natured and eventually false English monarch and the hero of The
Possessed, who represents greatness to others, but himself seems able
to affirm nothing? Stavrogin's deception, if it is even deception, is cer-
tainlymorecomplexthanHenry's, and it transcends the level of political
action. George Steiner seems to feel that the connection is confined to
the dissipated period of their youths, their dual potentials, and the enig-
matic front which they present to their companions. He notes the theme
of Stavrogin as false pretender, and calls attention to the fact that Mar'ja
Lebjadkin refers to her husband as Griska Otrep'ev, "the monk who pre-
tended to be Dimitrij, the murdered son of Ivan the Terrible. "18 But
Steiner makes no connection between this aspect of Stavrogin and the
false claims of Henry V. The question is whether there is any closer
parallel. Goddard also emphasizes the dual personalities of the two
youths. He observes that Varvara Petrovna, Stavrogin's mother, "did not
find the resemblance very striking. " He then goes on:
Neither do we, though we do not have the excuse of mother
love to blind us. The resemblance is there just the same:
the same charm, the same neglect, the same plunge into dis-
sipation, the same outrageous pranks, the same contact with
military life, the same impossibility of reconciling what seem
like two different men.... What in Henry's case is deep
variation in mood amounts in Nikolay's to a pathological split
in personality. If Nikolay's place in the world had been
more comparable with Henry's, their histories might have
been more alike than they were.'9
Goddard introduces a significant new factor for consideration: the dif-
ferent worlds of the two heroes. For these worlds are crucial to an under-
standing of the similarity and difference of the two heroes. Indeed, I
would like to suggest that this difference. is used by Dostoevskij to criti-
cize the society in which Stavrogin finds himself, and which therefore
limits his nature, at least in part.
The basic difference in the two figures-Harry and Stavrogin-is
one of a resolution of character and aims. For Prince Hal seems to have
resolutely willed the role of Henry V, even before the start of the play
that bears his name. Stavrogin, by contrast, never resolves himself and
ends his life with the dubious assertion of suicide. This difference, as
I hope to show, is largely the result of the fact that each operates in a
radically different social and metaphysical context. Each has his period
of youthful debauchery and seeming abandon. But once beyond this,
Prince Hal can play the easily-defined role of King Henry, while Stavrogin
plays only the many different roles assigned to him by his various fol-
lowers. Moreover, he neither fully encourages these roles nor fully be-
lieves in them himself. King Henry is able to make a public display,
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 105

almost a ceremony, of his rejection of Falstaff, which one side of his

personality had been planning all along. Following upon this, he can
adopt a false imagination, and assume the role of king and conqueror, as
he wants and is able to conceive them. Even though the reality is false,
he is committed to it, and seems almost to fool himself. Moreover, Henry
can more easily resolve himself because he operates in the limited con-
texts of ceremony, politics, and war. Stavrogin is not given the clear
alternatives of real and false imagination. Instead, his personal chaos
seems both to affect and result from a social and metaphysical unrest.
He cannot dedicate himself to any of the roles of leadership assigned by
his followers. And he does not, apparently cannot, rule himself to the
point of asserting preventive action against violence done in his name.
Thus, the further resemblance between Stavrogin and "Prince Harry," af-
ter their youthful duality, is one of comparison, comparison of their two
worlds and of the different ways in which they embody similar character-
istics. They bear relationships in three major areas: (1) each is a false
pretender to some position of leadership; (2) neither accepts full respon-
sibility for himself or his actions; (3) both are seen by others only in
their external appearances-either that of ceremony or that of the mask.
But inStavrogin the dual potential of good and evil is never resolved, his
choices are more directly metaphysical than social, and his character,
because of his sometimes puzzling and unresolved nobility, is tragic.
Thus, the two worlds in which Stavrogin and Henry V operate are
central to an understanding of the characters themselves. There appears
to be no direct evidence as to howDostoevskij interpreted Shakespeare's
hero, outside of the novel itself. Yet, I would like to point out that the
references to "Prince Harry" in the novel serve two ends. First, they
emphasize the dual aspects of personality, which in Stavrogin are never
fully resolved. Secondly, the allusions to a previous hero, who like
Stavrogin is a false pretender, serve to underscore ironically the fragmen-
tary nature of Stavrogin's world and the potentials for heroic actionwith-
in it.
Speaking of The Possessed in The Diary of a Writer, Dostoevskij
notes that in the novel he tried to "depict the manifold and heterogenous
motives which may prompt even the purest of heart and the most naive
people to take part in the perpetration of so monstrous a villainy. " But
he noted that "This ... happens not only in our midst but throughout the
world ... at times of violent commotion in people's lives-doubts, nega-
tions, skepticisms and vacillation regarding the fundamental convic-
tions. "20 In another essay in the Diary, Dostoevskij sees the result of
this "vacillation" of belief in the "segregation" of society:

Verily, I keep thinking that we have reached an epoch of

some universal 'segregation.' Everybody segregates himself,
keeps aloof from others; everybody seeks to invent something
of his own, something new-never before heard of. Every-
body sets aside all that which formerly used to be shared in
common-in ideas and sentiments-and begins with his own
thoughts and feelings. Everybody strives to start from the
106 The Slavic and East European Journal

beginning. ... True, a great many people are not starting

anything and never will start; even so, they are detached;
they stand apart, staring at the empty spot and idly waiting
for something. We are all awaiting something. Meanwhile,
in almost nothing is there moral accord; everything has been,
or is being, broken up.
He goes on to say that those people who are isolated have a "link with
the past," but that this link is "disjoined. " He then likens the situa-
tion in Russia to a devouring "forest fire, " in which "energy, fire, and
warmth is absorbed to no purpose. "21 In The Possessed, as we shall
see, everyone is "waiting for something" in Stavrogin, but the difficulty
lies in the fact that their presumed hero appears to be "waiting for some-
thing" himself.
One marked sign of "segregation" in Russia was the gap between
the intellectuals and the Russian people. InDostoevskij's view, the lib-
erals of the 1840's had been too concerned with their humanitarian ideals,
and had lost touch with humanity, and indirectly, they brought about the
unrest of the 1860's.22 This position was expressed by Dostoevskij in
a letter to the future Tsar, Alexander III, and Irving Howe points out that
Dostoevskij' s politics were an attempt to heal this gap, both in himself
and society, "to heal his moral fissure" and the sickness he found in al
men. Howe goes on to say that "he feared that the intellectual, loosed
from the controls of Christianity and alienated from the heart-warmth of
the Russian people, would feel free to commit the most monstrous acts
to quench his vanity. ,23
For Dostoevskij, the problem was to a large extent one of a lack of
faith, faith in something higher than individual man and which might close
the gap. Without faith, as Ivanov emphasizes in his summary of the
novelist's thought, man grows to regard himself as the principle on which
all his acts are based; he becomes the creator of his own higher law.
All accepted values become "universally relative. " At this point, the
individualeither yields to despair or comes to believe himself dependent
on nothing. Sometimes these two reactions are one and the same. In
order to transcend this dangerous autonomy, Dostoevskij emphasized that
the individualhad to be able to go outside himself. This was not a ques-
tion of a simple subject-object antithesis, but the result of an act of will
in which the other ego becomes not an object, but another subject. It is
a "spiritual penetration, " a going beyond individual consciousness.
This transcendence takes place in love, if the love involves faith in the
beloved and consequent surrender of the self. This "spiritual penetra-
tion" finds its fulfillment in the full and unconditional acceptance of the
other existence, of the "Thou Art." But this "Thou Art" no longer means
merely the recognition of another existence, but the experience of one's
very existence in the experience of someone else. The will to good dis-
covers itself in this mode of thought, and this becomes faith. From this
point, Dostoevskij proceeds to the necessary existence and recognition
of God in heaven and Christ in man's brotherhood. One cannot say of
God or Christ "Thou Art, " and yet believe "Thou Art Not. " When we
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 107

cannot believe, and in a society dominatedby atheism, there is a corrup-

tion of the moral sense. The soul despairing of God is driven to chaos.24
In The Possessed, this problem of self-transcendence is faced un-
successfully by Stavrogin and most of the major characters. His problem
of identity is much more metaphysical that that faced by "Prince Harry. "
And in Dostoevskij's novel, the comparison is made in orderto juxtapose
ironically the simple, heroic past and the ironic, unheroic present. The
narrator tells us that he has been studying Stavrogin of late, and that per-
haps he "should compare him with some gentleman of the past of whom
legendary traditions are still perceived among us.... But years have
passed since those times, and the nervous, exhausted, complex charac-
ter of the man of today is incompatible with the craving for those direct
and unmixed sensations which were so sought after by some restlessly
active gentlemen of the good old days.... Stavrogin would have shot his
opponent in a duel, and would have faced a bear if necessary ... but it
would be without the slightest thrill of enjoyment, languidly, listlessly,
even with ennui and entirely from unpleasant necessity."25 This passage,
whichcrystallizes the nature of Stavrogin's heroism, as well as its rela-
tion to the past, immediately precedes the "Night" chapters of the novel,
within which Stavrogin calls upon all the people in whom he has implanted
ideas and who now regard him as a kind of god, or at least a god-bearer.
What sort of character is this Nikolaj Stavrogin, who embodies
various beliefs for so many different people, and yet who can find no be-
lief for himself? On October 9, 1870, Dostoevskij wrote from Dresden to
his friend, N. N. Straxov, that after he had gotten his planned novel into
"good trim," the plans suddenly underwent a "transformation" and there
arose "a new, vital character, who insisted on being the hero of the
book... The new one so inspired me that I once more began to go over
the whole book afresh."26 The novel thus changed from a tale dominated
by political intrigue to a study of its enigmatic hero. The author's con-
ceptionofStavroginhimself also underwent alteration. In the early notes,
he and "the foster daughter are new people, " and they are "resolved to
begin a restored life." The difference between Stavrogin in the novel and
the notes reveals Dostoevskij's intention to envelop him in a cloak of
mystery. In the notes, the hero's thoughts, conversations, and actions
are described in some detail. In the novel, he is seen indirectly, pri-
marily through his effect on the others, to whom he is an alluring shadow.
At several points in the notes, Dostoevskij reminds himself "not to ex-
plain the prince" and to 'keep his reader in a quandary:" 2 In these
changes, we can see Dostoevskij attempting to emphasize Stavrogin's
importance for others as a false pretender (although his pretensions are
not wholly conscious) and to show his own internal chaos and inability
to transcend himself. In a world where each man seems to be looking for
a god, the hero, partly because he too is looking, cannot assume any of
the roles which others in their anxiety want to assign him.
Stavrogin's character emerges with certain key traits. First of all,
there is his dual potential, his unrealized possibility for good or evil.
Even though and partly because of this lack of realization, Stavrogin
108 The Slavic and East European Journal

develops a certain arrogance, a desire to assert himself through hurried

sensational acts of defiance, such as his biting of the governor's ear.
But this self-assertion is never sustained because Nikolaj Stavrogin is
fundamentally detached, both from his society and from himself. He
craves some form of commitment, and this hunger even manifests itself
in a desire to defiantly exaggerate his guilt and to punish himself. Fin-
ally, he lacks the primary virtue by which man can transcend himself, the
ability to love. Thus, like Henry V, he is self-contained, but unlike
Henry, he is not self-consistent; like Henry, he pretends to power, but
unlike Henry, he does not believe in the power himself; and like Henry,
he operates on the level of appearance, but unlike Henry, he seems at
least aware of his own failings.
The most explicit comparison to the British king is made at the time
when Varvara Petrovna is informed that "the young man had suddenly taken
to riotous living with a sort of frenzy. " Stepan Trofimovic, Stavrogin's
boyhood tutor and the representative of the liberalism of the 'forties, in-
forms her that this is simply youthful effervescence, "and that this was
only like the youth of Prince Harry, who caroused with Falstaff, Poins,
and Mrs. Quickly, as described by Shakespeare. " Stavrogin's mother
herself takes up the "immortal chronicle"; but "it did not comfort her,
and indeed she did not find the resemblance very striking" ( pp. 28-29)
Actually, on first reading the resemblance seems limited to the idea of
youthful abandon, and Varvara Petrovna's doubt may be Dostoevskij's
way of ironically hinting at the difference in the two worlds. Later the
mother suggests to Stepan Trofimovic that her son is "more like Hamlet,
to my way of thinking at least" ( p. 190). This comparison is not devel-
oped, and Hamlet like Henry V is open to many conflicting interpretations.
Yet might not the comparison suggest that Stavrogin is torn by the profound
doubt-even the metaphysical unrest-which torments the Prince of Den-
mark with regard to the murder of his stepfather? For in Shakespeare's
tragedy we again have a man who is expected to act authoritatively, but
who cannot resolve his own internal dilemma.
The hero of The Possessed is almost enigmatic to himself, and to
others he often seems to be a mask. On his first view of Stavrogin, the
narrator comments on his rather handsome elegance, and says that "one
would have thought that he must be a paragon of beauty, yet at the same
time there was something repellent about him. It was said that his face
suggested a mask.... But a few months passed and the wild beast showed
his claws" ( p. 41). The question of a mask, the problem of appearance,
is also raised in the Henry plays. There, Prince Hal wears at least a
partial mask of friendship toward the Falstaff whom he will soon reject.
And his invasion of France is couched in the appearance of justice, pa-
triotism, and even clerical and divine sanction. But Henry employs the
mock-sentiments cunningly, for specific ends, while Stavrogin's mask
simply lends an aura of mysterious unity to an unresolved and fragmentary
The chapter of the novel entitled "At Tixon's, " in which Stavrogin
submits his confession to the priest, seems at first to be a removal of
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 109

his mask. And yet, as Tixon notes, the confession is probably exagger-
ated, and the desire for punishment is in part a mask for arrogant self-
assertion. This chapter was originally suppressed by Dostoevskij's edi-
torbecause of its indelicate subject, the sexual violation of a child. But
the author himself omitted it from later editions, and it did not appear in
Russia until the 1920's, orin American printings until Avrahm Yarmolinsky
added his translation to the Modern Library edition. Yarmolinsky specu-
lates that the reason for the omission by Dostoevskij was that he might
have felt that despite the spirit of.challenge in which it was given, the
confession was out of keeping with his final intention of showing Stavro-
gin's utterly lost soul. 28 The narrator introduces the confession by noting
that it shows "a terrible undisguised need of punishment, the need of the
cross, of public chastisement." Stavrogin, himself, relates that previous
to the incident with the child, MatreBa, he was "so utterly bored that I
could have hanged myself, and if I didn't it was because I was still look-
ing forward to something, as I have all my life." Tixon questions, how-
ever, whether the document is in its very frankness not another kind of
egoism. He wonders whether Stavrogin will be able to endure the inevi-
table laughter, since "nowadays moral serenity is nowhere to be had. A
great conflict is going on everywhere. Men do not understand each other
as in the time of the confusion at Babel" ( pp. 701, 704-705, 724-725).
Tixon, inotherwords, senses that the confession may be a kind of nega-
tive agression, a desire on Stavrogin's part to establish a superior moral
identity by castigating himself. In a similar manner, as Yarmolinsky
notes, the violation was itself a doubly-motivated act. It was in part a
release from boredom, but Stavrogin seems also to have enjoyed the sense
of guilt which followed the act. 29 The priest, because he senses the
aggressive impulse behind the document, tries to dissuade Stavrogin
from its publication. Yet he also perceives that the hero, with his pres-
ent attitude, will substitute other catastrophic crimes for the publication.
And in accord with this prediction, Stavrogin does end his life with a
double crime. For one thing, he becomes morally guilty of Mar'ja
Timofeevna's murder, in that although he is aware of its imminence, he
takes no preventive steps. His failure to interfere is in part dictated by
a vague thought of marrying Liza Tusina. He accepts this girl in a moment
of impulse, when she gives herself to him. He hopes that she will some-
how redeem him, but at the same time knows that he is incapable of lov-
ing. Liza goes to the scene of Mar'ja's murder, almost as if driven by
a sense of guilt for the crime. And the mob, sensing Stavrogin's part in
the crime, also regards Liza as his woman. She is beaten to death, so
that in a sense his hands are stained with her blood too.30 Moreover, in
the sense that he knowingly serves as a kind of idol for the revolution-
ary "quintet, " Stavrogin could be said to be partly responsible for the
violence perpetrated by them at the hands of Petr Stepanovi6. Yet we
should recognize, I think, that Stavrogin's crime is not one of heroic ac-
tion, but of inaction in the awareness of catastrophe. He is too torn
within himself to prevent the tearing up of his world.
One of his great failings is his inability to love. He seems to feel
110 The Slavic and East European Journal

a vague sexual attraction for Liza, and also hopes that her love may re-
deem him. But he cannot love her, perhaps because she is too much his
emotional double. On his first full view of her, the narrator notices
that "everything in her seemed perpetually seeking its balance and un-
able to find it; everything was in chaos, in agitation, in uneasiness"
(pp. 107-108). Stavrogin's relationship to gatov's sister, Darja Pav-
lovna, is of a different sort. She senses that he needs a "nurse, " and
offers to wait until he summons her. But Stavrogin feels unworthy of her
love, and therefore cannot bring himself to love her. At the close of the
novel, he sends for her, but his promise is one of hardship rather than
love. He has still not found himself; he has "no ties in Russia-every-
thing is as alien to me as elsewhere. " He feels himself to be "still
capable of desiring to do something good, and of feeling pleasure from
it; at the same time I desire evil and feel pleasure from that too. But
both feelings are always too petty, and are never strong." Moreover, he
rejects the idea of suicide because he "is afraid of showing greatness of
soul." Yet suicide is a negative assertion of the self, and it is also, as
seen by Dostoevskij, the assumption of the right held only by God to take
life. So that Stavrogin's final act, his suicide, in which he leaves a
note that "No one is to blame, I did it myself, " is not really an accep-
tance or a sign of responsibility, but a last desperate attempt, related
to the confession, to assert the self through punishment( pp. 685-688).
If like Henry V, Stavrogin's central failing is an inability to com-
mit himself to an acceptance of human responsibility, unlike Henry, he
does not make a willful evasion of that virtue. In fact, Kirillov notes
that Stavrogin is himself " seeking a burden, " and the hero' s reaction to
this observation is one of being seriously impressed ( p. 294). Irving
Howe remarks that Stavrogin "lives below, not beyond, good and evil."
This is because he is really below the point of desire; he cannot even
bring himself to this much of an assertion. "The Nietzschean vision of
'beyond good and evil', " says Howe, "implies a harmonious resolution
of desires to the point where moral regulation becomes superfluous; Stav-
rogin, by contrast, is on this side of morality. Yet it is no mere perver-
sity on the part of his friends that they look upon him with awe, for in
his wasted energies they see the potential of a Russia equally disordered
and distraught. People expect Stavrogin to lead; he himself 'seeks a
' 31
If Shakespeare's Falstaff is the embodiment of the childlike or play-
imagination, Dostoevskij's counterpart of the fat knight, in line with the
more somber and chaotic world in which he finds himself, is differentiated
by a more predominant sense of suffering. The role of Sir John in Stav-
rogin's life is filled by Captain Lebjadkin, the brother of Mar'ja Timof-
eevna. PetrStepanovi6 informs Stavrogin's mother that "Nikolaj Vsevol-
dovic used to call this gentlemen his Falstaff, " but misreading Lebjadkin' s
nature, he goes on to say, "that must be ... some old burlesque char-
acter, at whom everyone laughs, and who is willing to let everyone laugh
at him, if they'll only pay him for it. Nikolaj Vsevolodovic was leading
at that time in Petersburg a life, so to say, of mockery"(p. 187).
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 111

Lebjadkin may have been regarded by Stavrogin as a buffoon (just as

Falstaff was regarded by Henry V), but the Captain is also a poet, and
he remarks at one point on how much he used to enjoy talking and read-
ing poems to his companion. The Captain is described as "a stout,
fleshy man over six feet in height, with curly hair and a red face. " De-
spite Lebjadkin's age and appearance, he is, when the narrator first
meets him, sending love poetry to Liza. He also writes poems about
things which he has never experienced, merely because "you know what
rhyme is." Thus, this Russian Falstaff has the somewhat boisterous and
exuberant imagination of his Shakespearean predecessor, but he also
doubts the purpose of existence and denies the meaningfulness of Russia.
This doubt and denial link him to the general chaos of the novel's world
and to the other characters, all of them disillusioned, unsettled, and
looking for something to follow. He complains to Varvara Petrovna,
"That little word 'why' has run through all the world from the first day
of creation, and all nature cries every minute to its Creator 'why?' And
for some thousand years it has had no answer, and must Captain Lebjad-
kin alone answer? And is that justice, Madam?" Later in the same out-
burst he remarks that "To my mind Russia is a freak of nature and nothing
else" (pp. 116-117, 176-177).
Thus, Lebjadkin lacks two of the strongest virtues in the Dostoev-
skian world-faith in God, at least as a reality higher than oneself, and
and faith in Russia, in the sense that its people are god-bearers. His
sense of chaos and personal alienation makes him far removed from the
simple play-imagination of the sack-filled Shakespearean knight. What,
then, is the Captain's relation to Stavrogin? For one thing, we can as-
sume that he was a teacher of the imagination, although this is not ex-
plicitly brought out. But we do know that it was through Lebjadkin that
Stavrogin met Mar'ja Timofeevna. And in this sense, the "pupil" was
given a choice of allying himself with a woman who represented the spirit
of the Russian people. And although Stavrogin has married this lame wo-
man, as an act of self-castigation to punish himself for the rape of the
little girl, he never fulfills his role as her "falcon," or expected saviour.
Instead, Stavrogin simply extends and carries on the chaotic imagination
of his teacher, and all at the same time that this very teacher is looking
to him for salvation. Here, too, in this novel we have the cruel rejec-
tion of Falstaff. After he has visited his other disciples, Stavrogin goes
to Lebjadkin to inform the Captain of his plans to make the marriage pub-
lic, and thereby to end the Captain's financial support. Lebjadkin with
a sense of foreboding mentions that "The samovar has been boiling since
eight o'clock, but it went out at last like everything in this world. The
sun, too, they say will go out in turn. " He then says to his one-time
benefactor that once his fate has been decided, he will "pour out all I
feel, as I used to in the old days... They might call me your Falstaff
from Shakspeare in those days, but you meant so much in my life! I have
great terrors now, and it's only to you I look for counsel and light" ( pp.
266-267). But the pupil intends to throw off his teacher, and Stavrogin
will, by his rejection and his condoning of the murder through silence
112 The Slavic and East European Journal

and inaction, be responsible for Lebjadkin's death, just as Henry by his

rejection was responsible for that of Falstaff.
We have seen how certain aspects of Stavrogin's character parallel
those of Henry V, and how his relationship with Lebjadkin parallels that
of the English king with Falstaff. Still to be examined are the parallel
elements in the theme of false pretension. Again, the difference is found
primarily in the different worlds of the two heroes. Henry V establishes
a false claim to the French throne. But this claim is made with clear
objectives, and it enables Henry to move in a fixed direction in the po-
litical sphere. His role as king is already determined, and the only
question is the boundaries of his domain. Stavrogin, by contrast, has
no determined role to play. Yet because of his heroic qualities, he comes
to stand in the minds of certain people for the ideas which he has sug-
gested and which they ascribe to him. His motives for proposing these
ideas are complex. On the one hand, he wants, as in the case of Mar'ja
Timofeevna, to establish a temporary dominance. But on the other, he
himself is looking for a "burden" and his expression of contradictory
ideas is in part a serious manifestation of his own searching. In other
words, both Stavrogin and his worshippers are looking for a god; and the
ideals of the pretender, which are far from resolved, are seen differently
by each of his followers.
An example is the relationship of Stavrogin and Kirillov. At the
same time that he was indoctrinating Satov with religious nationalism,
Stavrogin had planted in Kirillov the seeds of a God-defying arrogance.
Now Kirillov wants to do away with God, yet he is a man of profound re-
ligious temper, and admits that God has "tormented me all my life."32
He believes that life is pain and terror, and that man is basically un-
happy. But if man can conquer the fear of death, if "it will be the same
to live or not to live, " he will be a "new man. He who will conquer
pain and terror will himself be a god. And this God will not be" (p. 114).
Kirillov wants thus to abolish God, but only because he is very much
disturbed by God, yet cannot believe. During the night on which Stav-
rogin visits his various followers, Kirillov is his first stop. After he has
expounded his ideas, however, and after Stavrogin has referred to them
as "The old commonplaces of philosophy, the same from the beginning of
time, " Kirillov begins to feel that Stavrogin is too disdainful and re-
minds him of their personal bond: "Remember what you have meant in my
life, Stavrogin" ( pp. 239-242). We shall see that each of his followers
has placed some degree of personal faith in Stavrogin, and that each is
at least partially repulsed by him on this particular night.
In this section of the novel, the next person whom Stavrogin visits
is Satov, the man in whom he has planted the ideas of religious national-
ism, and who wants to but cannot believe in God. Stavrogin has come
to warn Satov of possible danger from the revolutionaries, as they now
regard the mystic as a traitor and possible informer. Satov, in his turn,
cannot believe that his friend is a member of the group. But Stavrogin
replies that Satov seems to look upon him as "a sort of sun, and your-
self as an insect in comparison." Then he confesses that he never really
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 113

"joined them, " but that he simply aided them "by accident as a man of
leisure. " Still not sensing Stavrogin's own alienation, Satov is appar-
ently compelled to discuss his own Slavophilic views. But he wants to
feel himself equal to the "sun, " so he asks Stavrogin to drop his mask:
"While I am talking... we are two human beings and have come together
in infinity ... for the last time in the world. Drop your tone, and speak
like a human being. Speak, if only for once in your life with the voice
of a man." But Stavrogin hears gatov's ideas of the "god-bearing people"
with an air of amused detachment. gatov insists that the very concept
was Stavrogin's, and says to his tired listener, "It's your phrase alto-
gether, not mine. " And then he asks Stavrogin, "If you've renounced
these words about the people now, how could you have uttered them them?"
Yet Stavrogin is able to reply quite seriously, "I wasn't joking with you
then; in persuading you I was perhaps more concerned with myself than
you. " And later he remarks that "Everyone of you for some inexplicable
reason keeps foisting a flag upon me. " By this point, Satov begins to
suspect that he can rely on neither God nor Stavrogin, yet he asks his
in you through all eternity? "
friend, "Why am I condemned to believe
Still, Stavrogin can only answer that he is "sorry" but he "can't feel
affection for Satov. " The latter then places his finger on one of Stavro-
gin's chief failings, his detachment from the spirit of the Russian people:
"You've lost the distinction between good and evil because you've lost
touch with your own people. " His advice to Stavrogin is to attempt to
"attain to God by work, " and he counsels him also to go to Father
Tixon (pp. 242-260). In this dialogue, we can see the essential dis-
placement of both Stavrogin and his followers; and we can see that al-
though Stavrogin is looking for a burden, he cannot because of his lack
of belief carry that placed upon him by one like Satov.
The idea of a political false pretender is explicitly brought out in
Stavrogin's relationship with Petr Stepanovi6 Verxovenskij. Stepan Tro-
fimovic' s son is the self-made leader of the terrorist Left, and he is con-
cerned not so much with belief as with political action. Thus, he wants
Stavrogin to spark the political revolt by masquerading as the legendary
Ivan the Tsarevich. Yet at the same time, Petr Stepanovic seems almost
to believe in the masquerade himself. He tells Stavrogin: "It's just
such a man as you that I need. I have no one but you. You are the leader,
you are the sun and I am your worm." Stavrogin thinks this all madness,
but only offers slight verbal protest. Similarly, when Petr Stepanovic of-
fers to "settle Mar'ja Timofeevna tomorrow!.. without the money, " and
to bring him Liza, Stavrogin is again not really enticed, but he does not
answer( pp. 426-430). Petr Stepanovic is, however, the almost Satanic
agent of social and political chaos; and for purposes of the plot, he must
exercise some control over Stavrogin. Thus, while he offers to be at
Stavrogin's service always, he imagines after he has made the offer and
left, "that as soon as he was left alone, Nikolaj Vsevolodovic would be-
gin beating on the wall with his fists, and no doubt he would have been
gladto see this, if thathad been possible" (pp. 227,231). Petr Stepano-
vic leads and typifies the violence let loose upon the world by the inac-
tion of a morally inert Stavrogin.
114 The Slavic and East European Journal

The relationship of the hero to his virgin wife, Mar'ja Timofeevna,

emphasizes two of Stavrogin's failings: his failure to come to success-
ful terms with the feminine spirit of the Russian earth, and his incapacity
for human love. When the narrator first views the lame woman (who is
lame as Stavrogin's Russia is lame), she seems to him "dreamy and sin-
cere in her gentle, almost joyful expression. " She evidently represents
the spirit of the earth, for she tells Satov that "when I bow down to the
ground at prayers, I've taken to kissing the earth. I kiss it and weep"
(pp. 141-144). Mar'ja Timofeevna at one time regarded Stavrogin as her
"prince. " But by the time she is visited by her husband in the second
part of the novel, she has recognized him and become disillusioned. The
"blind owl" and the "wretched actor, " even "Judas Iscariot, " have
supplanted and perhaps destroyed the "noble falcon" that "lives some-
where behind the mountains, and soars to gaze at the sun. " 33 "No, it
cannot be," she exclaims, "that a falcon has become an owl. My prince
is not like that" (p. 281). Yet despite the disillusion, there is proud-
ness and triumph in her exclamation. And it may be significant that in
spite of the fact that she will later be killed, this spirit of the Russian
earth is the only follower who fully rejects the unfulfilled heroism of her
false bearer of God.
Stavrogin's series of calls suggests the visitation of his anxious
worshippers by a God who cannot believe in himself. The false pretender
in Dostoevskij's novel is unconvinced of his own pretensions, and for
him they are at least in part simply the manifestations of a search. Others
adopt them so readily because of their own anxious searching. Shake-
speare's false pretender, by contrast, is fully convinced of his claims,
and if we take him on appearance, believes them himself. But note that
he is able to achieve his pretensions by acting in a defined political
sphere. Stavrogin has no defined sphere, and the chaos in which he
moves is not that of the battlefield, but of belief itself.
It seems to me, then, that Dostoevskij knowingly created elements
in Stavrogir s portrait parallel to elements in that of Henry V. The nature
of these elements is, however, different, for Henry moves in a world that
is political and ironic, while Stavrogin moves in one that is metaphysical
and tragic. "Prince Harry" is thus a symbol of a simpler world in which
it was possible to act in accord with a fixed role-however devious that
role might be-a world which Dostoevskij saw in its final disintegration.
The novelist therefore plays upon the difference in the two worlds in order
to comment more fully on the world of his own hero. The allusion to the
historical figure, that is to say, operates in an ironic contrast to the de-
gree of detachment and unbelief in Stavrogin and his followers. Despite
the dubious morality of his war against France, "Prince Harry" neverthe-
less resolves his personality through action. Stavrogin never reaches
this resolution. He even rejects the flags which others foist upon him.
The chaos of Stavrogin thus serves to localize for dramatic purposes the
chaos of his entire world. At the same time, his own disorder acts as a
catalyst on that of others, and the result finally is violence. In a sense,
Varvara Petrovna was/unknowingly correct when she remarked that she
Stavrogin and Prince Hal 115

did not find her son's resemblances to the English prince very convincing.
But the difference was not so much in the men as in the worlds in which
they lived.

Note s

1. Vyacheslav Ivanov, Freedom and the Tragic Life, A Study in Dostoevsky

(New York, 1957), pp. 60-65.
2. George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (New York, 1959), pp. 311,
3. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, translatedbyAngus Davidson (London,
NewYork, 1951), p. 70.
4. Andre Gide, Dostoevsky (Norfolk, Conn., 1949), pp. 142-143.
5. Ernest J. Simmons, Dostoevsky, The Making of a Novelist (London,
1950), p. 204.
6. Prof. Wilson's view, which underlies his introduction to the New Cam-
bridge edition of Henry V, is representative of the most popular reading of the
play; see New Cambridge Edition (Cambridge, England, 1947), pp. vii-lvi.
7. Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, I (Chicago, 1951),
8. Roy W. Battenhouse, "Henry V as Heroic Comedy, " paper to be pub-
lished, currently located in Indiana University Library, p. 4.
9. Derek Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare (NewYork, 1956), pp. 35-
10. John Palmer, Political Characters of Shakespeare(London, 1948), p. 247.
11. Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare (New York, 1939), pp. 170-179.
12. Goddard, I, 179-185.
13. Goddard, I, 210.
14. Goddard, I, 266.
15. All quotations from Henry V are taken from The Complete Works of
Shakespeare, ed. Hardin Craig (New York, 1951), pp. 736-768.
16. Goddard, I, 221.
17. It should be noted that the passages quoted are only a partial selection
from those which illustrate Henry's evasion of his responsibilities.
18. Steiner, pp. 311, 313.
19. Goddard, I, 173-174.
20. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Diary of a Writer, translated and annotated by
Boris Brasol, I (New York, 1949), 149.
21. Dostoevsky, Diary, I, 245.
22. Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Dostoevsky, His Life and Art (London, 1957),
p. 288.
23. Irving Howe, Politics and the Novel (New York, 1957), p. 55.
24. Ivanov, pp. 24-32.
116 The Slavic and East European Journal

25. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed, translated by Constance Gamett,

Foreword and translation of chapter "At Tihon's" by Avrahm Yarmolinsky (New
York, 1936), p. 206. Further quotations from The Possessed are from this edition.
26. Gide, p. 142.
27. Simmons, pp. 204-206.
28. Yarmolinsky, p. 297.
29. Yarmolinsky, p. 296.
30. Yarmolinsky, p. 297.
31. Howe, p. 64.
32. Yarmolinsky, p. 294.
33. Ivanov, p. 63.