September 01, 2015

Two Dmitrys and a Marina

Two Dmitrys and a Marina
The betrothal of Marina Mniszech.

For lovers of Russian literature, Marina Mniszech (Mnishek as she is known in Russian) is more literary figment than historical figure.

Many of us imagine her as she is portrayed by Pushkin in a famous scene from his play, Boris Godunov. During a fountain-side rendezvous, False Dmitry (the impostor pretending to be the murdered son of Ivan IV), who has been wondering whether Marina truly loves him or is merely enamored of his future power, admits that he is not who he claims to be, thereby imperiling both his romantic and political prospects. But the Polish beauty is won over when she sees his true character, after he declares that he is done groveling before her and launches into a famous monologue, in which he confesses to being the adopted son of “Ivan’s ghost” rather than Ivan’s true life orphan.

What kind of a woman was Marina Mniszech? Is her reputation for being haughty, beautiful and power-hungry deserved? Probably. But we should not forget that she was born in 1588. That means she was only seventeen on the autumn day in 1605, when Afanasy Vlasyev, a Russian dyak (non-boyar government administrator) married her before the entire Polish court “on behalf of Tsar Dmitry,” who had by then already captured Moscow. Seventeen-year-olds may have been closer to adulthood in the early seventeenth century than they are today, but she was still very young and probably lacked sophistication when it came to politics and international relations.

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