Review of Russian TV Miniseries Godunov – Part IV

Dear Readers:

Today concluding my review of this worthy TV series.  But first, a word about Russian names.  Names are always a fascinating topic, since virtually every human being has a name.

Most savvy readers are probably aware, but for those who aren’t so savvy, the majority of Russian names, of the upper crust, at least, are from the Greek.  Or from the Bible.  For example:  Tsar Fyodor, he’s “Theodore”, of course.  Russian phonology does not have the equivalent of the Greek Theta [θ] so they pronounce the /th/ as /f/.  Similarly, Vasily Shuisky is “Basil”.  Ivan is actually “Ioann”, which is the same as English “John”, which is a Biblical name.  There are several Marias in the show, Maria is of course the Biblical “Miriam”.  Irina (Boriska’s sister) is also a Biblical name.  Piotr is Peter, also from the Bible.

Russian Saints Boris and Gleb

The main exception to this rule is our hero himself, Boris.  His name derives neither from the Greek nor the Bible.  According to wiki, the name is of Bulgarian origin.  And, by “Bulgar”, we don’t mean contemporary Bulgarian, which is a South Slavic language.  No, we are talking about the original Bulgars, who spoke a (now-extinct) Oghur-Turkic language.  This was back in the 7th century, and is said to be the ancestor of the current Chuvash language.

wiki:  The most common theory is that this name [=Boris] comes from the Bulgar language with meanings according to the different interpretations from Turkic: böri – “wolf”, bogöri – “short” or bars – “snow leopard”.

The Bulgar ruler Prince Boris I (852-889) converted to Christianity, which earned him later canonization as a Saint.  Which is how his name started to get popular among the people of this region, even though he was a Vulgar Bulgar and not a Slav.

Russian Prince Vladimir I married a Bulgar noblewoman who was sister to the Bulgar King Boris II.  Based on this, Vladimir named one of his sons Boris.  The cult of the original Saint Boris became part of Russian Orthodoxy, and hence the name “Boris” became semi-popular.  And this why we have people like Boris Godunov, Boris Badenov, and even Yours Truly’s Grandpa Boris!  All of them patriotic Russians while also being ferocious Turkic snow leopards, every one of them.

Enter The Holy Fool

But returning to our story:  Tsarevich Dmitry (from the Greek Demetrios, of course) – Δημητριος from the Greek Earth Goddess Demeter — not such a butch name as Boris, but anyhow we have met young Dmitry in an earlier episode and taken an instant dislike.  All that is left is to plot his demise.  The crude and power-hungry Nagie clan must not be allowed anywhere near the throne.  As mentioned, the writers of this saga came up with their own rather unorthodox (pun intended) theory:  That the demise-plotter was none other than Masha Godunova.  Maria never really loved her husband, but she loves the power and wealth that he brought her; besides, he’s the father of her two own (adorable) children.  Maria also knows that her husband doesn’t have the stomach to kill Dmitry Ivanovich, even though the kid was so rude and disrespectful; hence the daughter of Maliuta Skuratov undertakes herself this unpleasant but necessary task.  In a Succession Crisis of this magnitude, all options are on the table, as the Americans like to say.  In other words:  Need to get this brat out of the way.

Voluptuous Irina Pegova portrays Maria Nagaya

Speaking of brats, it should be noted that when American children are trying to study Russian, they are always pleasantly surprised to learn that the Russian word for “brother” is “brat“.  So apropos, and also easy to remember!

But anyhow, the deed is done:  We see Dmitry running off to play at “toss knives” with a couple of peasant boys.  Rude, mean, autocratic, and bullying as always.  We see a shadow approaching the lad from behind … O could it be … the murderer?  Camera cuts away, and next thing we know the boy is lying supine with his mother sobbing over him, and a rather gory close-up of the neck-artery spurting blood.  Much as one dislikes this child, one starts to scream at the TV screen:  “Masha!  Put some pressure on the wound!”  But no… she just weeps and sobs, and then busies herself beating up the Nanny while her boy bleeds out…

Very dramatic!  I have to confess, by the way, that I find Irina Pegova to be the most sexually attractive of all the “Godunov” girls.  But it is time to put my personal feelings aside and relate the rest of the story.  Well, we know the rest of the story already:  How the angry mob of Uglich attacks and kills Dyak Bityagovsky.  How a devastated Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich appoints Vasily Shuisky to head the Investigative Committee.  And here we start to see how cunning Shuisky is, in case we didn’t know that before.  Shuisky travels to Uglich, gathers all the Village Idiots, listens to their idiotic testimony (“Bityagovsky murdered the Tsarevich!”  “How do you know that?  Did you see with your own eyes?”  “Well, no, I wasn’t there at the time, but I still know he did it!”)

Shuisky arrives in town to meet with the Village Idiots

In short, the Village Idiots get all their Fake News from CNN, or the Medieval Russian equivalent of the time.  Shuisky rolls his eyes, can’t make head or tail of any of this, eventually delivers the “correct” verdict, namely that Dmitry Ivanovich cut his own throat, accidentally, while in the throes of an epileptic fit.

But Shuisky is a man that no one can trust!  See, he has his own eyes glued to the throne.  He is just playing 3-D chess here.  His next move is to clear Boris from the board.  To that end, Shuisky hires one of the Village Idiots, a Holy Fool (Russian юродивый – yurodivy).  The yurodivy is a cross between a European Court Jester, the soothsayer who kept warning Caesar “Beware the Ides of March”, and an American Secretary of State.  He is allowed to say and do anything and cannot be punished, because everybody knows that he is crazy as a loon.  See, that was in the days when Schizophrenics were taken seriously instead of just being packed away to a halfway house.

“We can’t wait for the sequel!”

So, this particular Yurodivy used to live in comparative luxury with the Nagie clan in Uglich.  He used to say crazy things at the dinner table, while helping them plot for the Throne.  Now that his meal ticket is gone, the Yurodivy is hired by Shuisky, returns with him to Moscow.  His job, for the next few months, as the Succession Crisis plays out, consists of the following duties:

Shadow Boris Godunov; pop up at inconvenient times to remind Boris that he’s a child-murderer; report back to Shuisky; stir up the urban mob just like in the Pushkin play; and divers other duties as required.

And with that, Dear Readers, we end this saga and eagerly await the sequel…

[THE END ??]

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