RYBAKOV Nikolai Khrisanfovich

13 of March 2021
The 11th World Shakespeare Congress will be held online from the National University of Singapore on July 18–24, 2021. The Congress theme of circuits draws attention to the passage of Shakespeare’s work between places and periods, agencies and institutions, positionalities and networks of production, languages and mediums. The theme is particularly suited to the online medium of the Congress, that gathers together such passages of Shakespeare’s work not by the movements of persons between places, but by creatively connecting and expanding our circuits in multimedia and live conversations.
Database "Russian Shakespeare"
Moscow University for the Humanities
Nikolai Khrisanfovich Rybakov
Nikolai Khrisanfovich Rybakov

Nikolai Khrisanfovich Rybakov [7(19).5.1811, Kursk — 15(27).11.1876, Tambov] was a prominent Russian dramatic actor.

He was born in the family of an estate manager of the Veliaminovs, Kursk landowners. His father died when he was a small child. Nikolai was living in the care of his mother who had a modest atelier and a clothing store. In 1825 after the finishing of four-year course of gymnasium the actor-to-be enlisted in the office of the Kursk State House. At the same time he was admitted to the company under the direction of I.F. Stein as an extra player.

On February 5, 1826 N.Kh. Rybakov made his first appearance on the stage in the bit part of the Roman in B.M. Fedorov’s comedy “Strange Encounters, or Turmoil in Masquerade” (“Chudnye vstrechi, ili Sumatokha v maskarade”, 1818). In 1832 he retired from the office and decisively chose the path of professional actor. Being an actor of I.F. Stein’s Theater he visited and went on tour many towns and cities of the Russian Empire, including Moscow.

After the decline of I.F. Stein’s non-repertory company during the theatrical season of 1833–1834 he joined the troupe of L.Yu. Mlotkovsky. In 1839 N.Kh. Rybakov presented his interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The provincial audience welcomed this production with open arms. For instance, in 1840 the actor played the parts of Othello and Hamlet in Tambov.

It is assumed that eminent P.S. Mochalov happy-go-lucky played a significant role in the fate of the novice actor. Being on tour in Kharkov the great Russian tragedian did not find common ground with entrepreneur L. Yu. Mlotkovsky and flatly refused to come upon the stage as Hamlet. N.Kh. Rybakov proposed himself as a replacement of the Moscow celebrity. L.Yu. Mlotkovsky essentially had nothing to do but to accept the offer, because posters had already been pasted up. The action of the performer as Hamlet was greeted with applause again. P.S. Mochalov himself gave a good report of the young actor and became his patron. On the maestro’s advice N.Kh. Rybakov concentrated on the performance of tragical parts. In 1840 the two actors were playing the role of Hamlet in the Goloshchapov’s Tambov Theater by turns.

I.F. Gorbunov was recollecting that after many years the actor was asked a question on where actor’s talent was and he said the following: “In the eyes! Look into Sadovsky’s eyes someday… And such the eyes Mochalov had. I was lucky to perform with this great man in Voronezh. He was acting Hamlet, and I was Guildenstern.” However, it should be noted that N.Kh. Rybakov had his own conception of the character of Hamlet: although he was acting Hamlet in the romantic key as well as his teacher was, nevertheless, he was making more particular emphasis on the mournful reflections on the meaning of life.

The actor was acquiring popularity, but in 1841 he disrupted relations with L.Yu. Mlotkovsky’s company and became a free actor. Only 4 years after P.S. Mochalov’s decease (1848) the performer managed to make debut on the stage of Moscow Imperial Maly Theater (1852). In 1854 he appeared on the scene of the capital Aleksandrinsky Theater as Hamlet. However, because of some disagreements with the administration of the Imperial theaters N.Kh. Rybakov had to come back to the province, where he successfully carried on the traditions established by P.S. Mochalov, M.S. Shchepkin, V.A. Karatygin. The actor enacted Liapkin-Tiapkin, Zemlianika, Khlestakov [“The Government Inspector” (“Revizor”) by N.V. Gogol], Skalozub, Chatsky [“Woe from Wit” (“Gore ot uma”) by A.S. Griboyedov], Skotinin [“The Minor” (“Nedorosl”) by D.I. Fonvizin], etc. He was especially famed as Gennadiy Neschaslivtsev in “The Forest” (“Les”) — a comedy by “Russian Shakespeare” A.N. Ostrovsky that was dedicated to the actor. Later his son, K.N. Rybakov, was successfully acting this part in the Maly Theater.

In 1862 he enacted Hamlet in Saratov at the age of 50. Actor L.N. Samsonov used to recall that “the whole house was crying.”

Among his Shakespearean roles there were: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Coriolanus, Macbeth, Richard III in the eponymous plays by the Great Bard, as well as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” and Guildenstern in “Hamlet”.

In May 1876, when the actor was honoured on the occasion of his 65th anniversary and the semicentenary of his allegiance to the Russian stage in the Public Theater, his close friend A.N. Ostrovsky said the following: “He who has gained the honours is not notable and dignified, but somebody is, if he is worth them… Your semicentennial devoted service for Russian theater will hold your name in the grateful remembrance of descendants for evermore.”

In June 1876 he signed a contract with Tambov entrepreneur I.I. Oznobishin and played on the stage of the Winter Theater. The actor passed away in Tambov on 15 (27) November, 1876. He was buried at the Uspensky Cemetery.

In Tambov in the Theater Square, which is situated not far from the place where the Winter Theater was located, a memorable stone with the name of N.Kh. Rybakov was laid. Since 2007 the All-Russian Theater Festival in Tambov has been named after him.

It is interesting that to the 25th anniversary of the day of the actors’ death V.M. Doroshevich published a feuilleton, entitled “Nikolai Khrisanfovich Rybakov Himself” (“Sam Nikolai Khrisanfovich Rybakov”) [first in “Russia” (“Rossiia”) journal: 1901. 15 November. No. 919]. The title is the words of Neschaslivtsev of the above mentioned comedy “The Forest” by A.N. Ostrovsky. There one can find motives and quotations from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. V.M. Doroshevich re-wrote the famous graveyard scene: Hamlet and the First Actor (instead of Horatio) come to the churchyard, the gravedigger points at Rybakov’s tomb, recollects an anecdote about him. Hamlet stops him and says that he used to know the great actor. The Prince is pondering over the fact that they criticize new actors comparing them with their predecessors, and actor’s “fame turns to anecdote as corpse turns to dust.”

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Boris N. Gaydin

The article was written and published within the framework of the project "The Image of Hamlet as a Constant of Russian Culture" with the support of the Russian Foundation for the Humanities (grant No. 11-34-002211).

Citation: Gaydin B. N. Rybakov Nikolai Khrisanfovich [Electronic resource] // The World of Shakespeare: An Electronic Encyclopaedia. URL: [2011].