The Master and Margarita


The Master and Margarita (Russian: Ма́стер и Маргари́та) is a novel by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, written in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1940 during Stalin's regime. A censored version was published in Moscow magazine in 1966–1967. The manuscript was not published as a book until 1967, and then first in Paris. A samizdat version circulated that included parts cut out by official censors, and these were incorporated in a 1969 version published in Frankfurt. The novel has since been published in several languages and editions.

The story concerns a visit by the devil to the officially atheistic Soviet Union. Many critics consider it to be one of the best novels of the 20th century, as well as the foremost of Soviet satires.[1][2]


Mikhail Bulgakov was a playwright and author. He started writing the novel in 1928, but burned the first manuscript in 1930, as he could not see a future as a writer in the Soviet Union at a time of widespread political repression.[3] He restarted the novel in 1931. In the early 1920s Bulgakov had visited an editorial meeting of an atheistic-propaganda journal. He is believed to have drawn from this to create the Walpurgis Night ball of the novel.[4] He completed his second draft in 1936, by which point he had devised the major plot lines of the final version. He wrote another four versions. When Bulgakov stopped writing four weeks before his death in 1940, the novel had some unfinished sentences and loose ends.

A censored version, with about 12 percent of the text removed and more changed, was first published in Moskva magazine (no. 11, 1966 and no. 1, 1967).[5] A manuscript was taken out of the Soviet Union to Paris, where the YMCA Press, celebrated for publishing the banned work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, published the first book edition in 1967.[6] The text, as published in the magazine Moskva, was swiftly translated into Estonian, remaining for decades the only printed in book form edition of the novel in Soviet Union, published in 1968.[7] The original text of all the omitted and changed parts, with indications of the places of modification, was printed and distributed by hand in the Soviet Union (in the dissident practice known as samizdat). In 1969, the publisher Posev (Frankfurt) printed a version produced with the aid of these inserts.

In the Soviet Union, the first complete version, prepared by Anna Saakyants, was published by Khudozhestvennaya Literatura in 1973. This was based on Bulgakov's last 1940 version, as proofread by the publisher. This version remained the canonical edition until 1989. The last version, based on all available manuscripts, was prepared by Lidiya Yanovskaya.

Plot summary

The novel alternates between two settings. The first is 1930s Moscow, where Satan appears at the Patriarch Ponds in the guise of "Professor Woland", a mysterious gentleman and "magician" of uncertain origin. He arrives with a retinue that includes the grotesquely dressed valet Koroviev; the mischievous, gun-happy, fast-talking black cat Behemoth; the fanged hitman Azazello; and the witch Hella. They wreak havoc targeting the literary elite and its trade union MASSOLIT.[note 1] Its privileged HQ is Griboyedov's house. The association is made up of corrupt social climbers and their women (wives and mistresses alike), bureaucrats, profiteers, and, more generally, skeptics of the human spirit.

The second setting is the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate, described by Woland in his conversations with Berlioz and later reflected in the Master's novel. This part of the novel concerns Pontius Pilate's trial of Yeshua Ha-Notsri, his recognition of an affinity with, and spiritual need for, Yeshua, and his reluctant but resigned submission to Yeshua's execution.

Part one of the novel opens with a direct confrontation between Berlioz, the atheistic head of the literary bureaucracy, and an urbane foreign gentleman (Woland), who defends belief and reveals his prophetic powers. Berlioz brushes off the prophecy of his death, but dies pages later in the novel. The fulfillment of the death prophecy is witnessed by Ivan Ponyrev, a young and enthusiastically modern poet. He writes poems under the alias Bezdomny ("homeless"). His futile attempt to chase and capture the "gang" and warn of their evil and mysterious nature lands Ponyrev in a lunatic asylum. There, he is introduced to the Master, an embittered author. The rejection of his historical novel about Pontius Pilate and Christ had led the Master to such despair that he burned his manuscript and turned his back on the world, including his devoted lover, Margarita.

Major episodes in the first part of the novel include a satirical portrait of the Massolit and their Griboyedov house; Satan's magic show at the Variety Theatre, satirizing the vanity, greed and gullibility of the new rich; and Woland and his retinue taking over the late Berlioz's apartment for their own use. (Apartments were at a premium in Moscow and were controlled by the state's elite. Bulgakov referred to his own apartment as one of the settings in the Moscow section of the novel.)

Part two of the novel introduces Margarita, the Master's mistress. She refuses to despair over her lover or his work. She is invited to the Devil's midnight ball, where Woland offers her the chance to become a witch with supernatural powers. This takes place the night of Good Friday. This is the time of the spring full moon, as it was traditionally when Christ's fate was affirmed by Pontius Pilate, sending him to be crucified in Jerusalem. The Master's novel also covers this event. All three events in the novel are linked by this.

Margarita enters naked into the realm of night after she learns to fly and control her unleashed passions. (She takes violent retribution on the literary bureaucrats who had condemned her beloved to despair.) She takes her enthusiastic maid Natasha with her, to fly over the deep forests and rivers of the USSR. She bathes and returns to Moscow with Azazello, her escort, as the anointed hostess for Satan's great spring ball. Standing by his side, she welcomes the dark celebrities of human history as they arrive from Hell.

She survives this ordeal and, for her pains, Satan offers to grant Margarita her deepest wish. She chooses to liberate a woman whom she met at the ball from the woman's eternal punishment. The woman had been raped and killed her resulting infant. Her punishment was to wake each morning and find the same handkerchief by which she had killed the child lying on her nightstand. Satan grants her first wish and offers her another, saying that Margarita's first wish was unrelated to her own desires. For her second wish, she chooses to liberate the Master and live in poverty-stricken love with him.

Neither Woland nor Yeshua appreciates her chosen way of life, and Azazello is sent to retrieve them. The three drink Pontius Pilate's poisoned wine in the Master's basement. The Master and Margarita die, metaphorically, as Azazello watches their physical manifestations die. Azazello reawakens them, and they leave civilization with the Devil, while Moscow's cupolas and windows burn in the setting Easter sun. Because the Master and Margarita did not lose their faith in humanity, they are granted "peace" but are denied "light" — that is, they will spend eternity together in a shadowy yet pleasant region similar to Dante's depiction of Limbo. They have not earned the glories of Heaven, but do not deserve the punishments of Hell. As a parallel, the Master releases Pontius Pilate from eternal punishment, telling him he's free to walk up the moonbeam path in his dreams to Yeshua, where another eternity awaits.


There are several interpretations of the novel:

  • Response to aggressive atheistic propaganda

Some critics suggest that Bulgakov was responding to poets and writers who he believed were spreading atheist propaganda in the Soviet Russia, and denying Jesus Christ as a historical person. He particularly objected to the anti-religious poems of Demyan Bedny. The novel can be seen as a rebuke to the aggressively "godless people". There is justification in both the Moscow and Judea sections of the novel for the entire image of the devil. Bulgakov uses Jewish demonology characters as a retort to the denial of God in the USSR.

  • Occlusive interpretation

Bulgakov portrays evil as inseparable from our world as light is from the darkness. Both Satan and Jesus Christ dwell mostly inside people. Jesus was unable to see Judas' treachery, despite Pilate's hints, because he saw only good in people. He could not protect himself, because he did not know how, nor from whom. This interpretation presumes that Bulgakov had his own vision of Tolstoy's idea of resistance to evil through non-violence, by giving this image of Yeshua.

  • Freemason interpretation

Academics have noted that the novel abounds with Freemason symbols. It shows Freemason rituals, which this theory suggests originate from the mystery plays of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. Such writers suggest that Bulgakov had knowledge of Freemasonry.[8] Bulgakov may have obtained this knowledge from his father, Afanasy Ivanovich Bulgakov, who had written an article on "Modern Freemasonry and its Relation to the Church and the State" in The Acts of the Kiev Theological Academy in 1903.[9]

The Spring Festival Ball at Spaso House

On 24 April 1935 Bulgakov was among the invited guests who attended the Spring Festival at Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, hosted by Ambassador William Bullitt. Critics believe Bulgakov drew from this extravagant event for his novel. In the middle of the Great Depression and Stalinist repression, Bullitt had instructed his staff to create an event that would surpass every other Embassy party in Moscow's history. The decorations included a forest of ten young birch trees in the chandelier room; a dining room table covered with Finnish tulips; a lawn made of chicory grown on wet felt; a fishnet aviary filled with pheasants, parakeets, and one hundred zebra finches, on loan from the Moscow Zoo; and a menagerie including several mountain goats, a dozen white roosters, and a baby bear.

Although Joseph Stalin did not attend, the 400 elite guests at the festival included Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, Defense Minister Kliment Voroshilov, Communist Party luminaries Nikolai Bukharin, Lazar Kaganovich and Karl Radek, Soviet Marshals Aleksandr Yegorov, Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Semyon Budyonny, and other high-ranking guests.

The festival lasted until the early hours of the morning. The bear became drunk on champagne given to him by Karl Radek. In the early morning hours, the zebra finches escaped from the aviary and perched below the ceilings around the house.

In his novel, Bulgakov featured the Spring Ball of the Full Moon, considered to be one of the most memorable episodes.[10] On 29 October 2010, seventy-five years after the original ball, John Beyrle, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, hosted an Enchanted Ball at Spaso House, recreating the spirit of the original ball as a tribute to Ambassador Bullitt and Bulgakov.[11]

Major characters

Contemporary Russians

The Master
An author who wrote a novel about the meeting of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth), which was rejected by the Soviet literary bureaucracy, ruining his career. He is "detained for questioning" for three months by the secret police because of a false report by an unscrupulous neighbor. Later, he is committed to a psychiatric clinic, where Bezdomny meets him. Little else is given about this character's past other than his belief that his life began to have meaning when he met Margarita.
The Master's lover. Trapped in a passionless marriage, she devoted herself to the Master, whom she believes to be dead. She appears briefly in the first half of the novel, but is not referred to by name until the second half, when she serves as the hostess of Satan's Grand Ball on Walpurgis Night. Her character is believed to have been inspired by Bulgakov's last wife, whom he called "my Margarita". He may also have been influenced by Faust's Gretchen, whose real name is Margarita, as well as by Queen Marguerite de Valois. The latter is featured as the main character of the opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer, which Bulgakov particularly enjoyed, and Alexandre Dumas' novel, La Reine Margot. In these accounts, the queen is portrayed as daring and passionate.
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz
Head of the literary bureaucracy MASSOLIT. He bears the last name (Берлиоз) of French composer Hector Berlioz, who wrote the opera The Damnation of Faust. Berlioz insists that the Gospel Jesus was a mythical figure with no historical basis. Woland predicts that he will be inadvertently decapitated by a young Soviet woman, which comes to pass.
Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov (Bezdomny)
A young, aspiring poet. His pen name, Bezdomny (Иван Бездомный), means "homeless". Initially a willing tool of the MASSOLIT apparatus, he is transformed by the events of the novel. He witnesses Berlioz's death and nearly goes mad, but later meets The Master in asylum. There he decides to stop writing poetry.
Stephan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev
Director of the Variety Theatre and Berlioz's roommate, often called by the diminutive name Styopa. His surname is derived from the Russian word for "malfeasant". For his wicked deeds (he denounced at least five innocent people as spies so that he and Berlioz could grab their multi-bedroom apartment), he is magically teleported to Yalta, thereby freeing up the stolen apartment for Woland and his retinue.
Grigory Danilovich Rimsky
Treasurer of the Variety Theatre. On the night of Woland's performance, Rimsky is ambushed by Varenukha (who has been turned into a vampire by Woland's gang) and Hella. He barely escapes the encounter and flees to the train station to get out of the city.
Ivan Savelyevich Varenukha
House-manager of the Variety Theatre, whose surname refers to a traditional alcoholic fruit-punch resembling mulled wine. He is turned into a creature of darkness but is forgiven by the end of Walpurgis Night, restoring his humanity.
Natasha Prokofyevna
Margarita's young maid, later turned into a witch.
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy
Chairman of the House Committee at 302B Sadovaya Street (the former residence of Berlioz). For his greed and trickery, he is deceived by Koroviev and later arrested.

Woland and his entourage

Woland (Воланд, also spelled Voland) is Satan in the disguise of a "foreign professor" who is "in Moscow to present a performance of 'black magic' and then expose its machinations". Woland instead exposes the greed and bourgeois behaviour of the spectators themselves.
(Бегемот, meaning "hippopotamus" in Russian) An enormous demonic black cat (said to be as large as a hog) who speaks, walks on two legs, and can transform into human shape for brief periods. He has a penchant for chess, vodka, pistols, and obnoxious sarcasm. He is evidently the least-respected member of Woland's team — Margarita boldly takes to slapping Behemoth on the head after one of his many ill-timed jokes, without fear of retribution. In the last chapters, it appears that Behemoth is a demon pageboy, the best clown in the world, who paid off his debt by serving Satan in his Moscow journey. His name (Бегемот) refers to both the Biblical monster and the Russian word for hippopotamus.
Fagotto (Korovyev) (Master and Margarita)
Also known as Fagotto (Фагот, meaning "bassoon" in Russian and other languages), he is described as an "ex-choirmaster", perhaps implying that he was once a member of an angelic choir. He is Woland's assistant and translator, and is capable of creating any illusion. Unlike Behemoth and Azazello, he does not use violence at any point. Like Behemoth, his true form is revealed at the end: a never-smiling dark knight.
Azazello (Азазелло) is a menacing, fanged and wall-eyed member of Woland's retinue, a messenger and assassin. His name may be a reference to Azazel, the fallen angel who taught people to make weapons and jewelry, and taught women the "sinful art" of painting their faces (mentioned in the apocryphal Book of Enoch 8:1–3). He gives a magical cream to Margarita. He transforms into his real shape in the end: a pale-faced demon-assassin with black empty eyes.
Hella (Гелла) is a beautiful, redheaded succubus. She serves as maid to Woland and his retinue. She is described as being "perfect, were it not for a purple scar on her neck", suggesting that she is also a vampiress.

Characters from The Master's novel

Pontius Pilate
The Roman Procurator of Judaea (a governor of a small province). The historic Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judaea, not the procurator. This fact was not widely known until after Bulgakov's death.
Yeshua Ha-Nozri
Jesus the Nazarene (Иешуа га-Ноцри), a wanderer or "mad philosopher", as Pilate calls him. His name in Hebrew is said to mean either "Jesus who belongs to the Nazarene sect" or "Jesus who is from a place called Nazareth", though some commentators dispute the latter interpretation.[12] In the Master's version, Yeshua describes himself as an orphan, denies doing miracles, and has one full-time "Apostle", not twelve, among other departures from the Gospels and mainstream Christian tradition. The atheist regime of the novel still considers this Jesus to be offensive.
Head of the Roman Secret Service in Judaea.
Levi Matvei
Levite, former tax collector, follower of Yeshua. Levi is introduced as a semi-fictionalized character in the Master's novel, but toward the end of The Master and Margarita, the "historical" Matthew of the Gospel appears in Moscow to deliver a message from Yeshua to Woland.
High Priest of Judaea. Kaifa supports execution of Yeshua in order to "protect" the status quo religion, and his own status as the High Priest, from the influence of Yeshua's preachings and followers.
Judas Iscariot
A spy/informant hired by Kaifa to assist the authorities in finding and arresting Yeshua. In contrast to the Gospels' version, in which Judas is a long-time member of Jesus's "inner circle" of Apostles, Bulgakov's Judas meets Yeshua for the first time less than 48 hours before betraying him. He is paid off by Kaifa, but is later assassinated on Pilate's orders for his role in Yeshua's death.
Themes and imagery

The novel deals with the interplay of good and evil, innocence and guilt, courage and cowardice, exploring such issues as the responsibility towards truth when authority would deny it, and freedom of the spirit in an unfree world. Love and sensuality are also dominant themes in the novel.[13]

Margarita's devotional love for the Master leads her to leave her husband, but she emerges victorious. Her spiritual union with the Master is also a sexual one. The novel is a riot of sensual impressions, but the emptiness of sensual gratification without love is emphasized in the satirical passages. Rejecting sensuality for the sake of empty respectability is pilloried in the figure of Nikolai Ivanovich, who becomes Natasha's hog-broomstick.

The interplay of fire, water, destruction, and other natural forces provides a constant accompaniment to the events of the novel, as do light and darkness, noise and silence, sun and moon, storms and tranquility, and other powerful polarities. There is a complex relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow throughout the novel, sometimes polyphony, sometimes counterpoint.

The novel is deeply influenced by Goethe's Faust,[14] and its themes of cowardice, trust, intellectual curiosity, and redemption are prominent. It can be read on many different levels, as hilarious slapstick, deep philosophical allegory, and biting socio-political satire critical of not just the Soviet system but also the superficiality and vanity of modern life in general.[15] Jazz is presented with an ambivalent fascination and revulsion. But the novel is full of modern elements, such as the model asylum, radio, street and shopping lights, cars, lorries, trams, and air travel. There is little evident nostalgia for any "good old days" – the only figure who mentions Tsarist Russia is Satan. The book is a Bildungsroman, with Ivan Nikolayevich as its focus. It also has strong elements of what in the later 20th century was called magic realism.

Allusions and references to other works

The novel is influenced by the Faust legend, particularly the first part of the Goethe interpretation and the libretto of the opera which music was composed by Charles Gounod. Nikolai Gogol is seen as an influence, as is the case in other of Bulgakov's novels. The dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri is strongly influenced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's parable "The Grand Inquisitor" from The Brothers Karamazov.[16] The "luckless visitors chapter" refers to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "everything became jumbled in the Oblonsky household". The theme of the Devil exposing society as an apartment block, as it could be seen if the entire façade would be removed, has some precedents in El Diablo cojuelo (1641, The Lame Devil or The Crippled Devil) by the Spaniard Luís Vélez de Guevara. (This was adapted to 18th-century France by Alain-René Lesage's 1707 Le Diable boiteux).

English translations

The novel was translated several times into English:

  • Mirra Ginsburg's 1967 version for Grove Press[17]
  • Michael Glenny's 1967 version for Harper and Row and Harvill Press[18]
  • Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor's 1993 version for Ardis Publishing[19]
  • Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's 1997 version for Penguin Books[20]
  • Michael Karpelson's 2006 version[21]
  • Hugh Aplin's 2008 version for Oneworld Publications[22]
  • Sergei Khramtsov-Templar's 2000 version | non-published, catalogued with The Library of Congress |

The early translation by Glenny runs more smoothly than that of the modern translations; some Russian-speaking readers consider it to be the only one creating the desired effect, though it may take liberties with the text.[23] The modern translators pay for their attempted closeness by losing idiomatic flow. Literary writer Kevin Moss considers the early translations by Ginsburg and Glenny to be hurried, and lacking much critical depth.[24] As an example, he claims that the more idiomatic translations miss Bulgakov's "crucial" reference to the devil in Berlioz's thoughts (original: "Пожалуй, пора бросить все к черту и в Кисловодск…"[25]):

  • "I ought to drop everything and run down to Kislovodsk." (Ginsburg)
  • "I think it's time to chuck everything up and go and take the waters at Kislovodsk." (Glenny)
  • "It's time to throw everything to the devil and go to Kislovodsk." (Burgin and Tiernan O'Connor)
  • "It's time to send it all to the devil and go to Kislovodsk." (Pevear and Volokhonsky)
  • "To hell with everything, it's time to take that Kislovodsk vacation." (Karpelson)
  • "It's time to let everything go to the devil and be off to Kislovodsk." (Aplin)

Several literary critics have hailed the Burgin/Tiernan O’Connor translation as the most accurate and complete English translation, particularly when read in tandem with the matching annotations by Bulgakov's biographer, Ellendea Proffer.[26] However, these judgements predate translations by Pevear & Volokhonsky, Karpelson, and Aplin.

Cultural influence

The book was listed in Le Monde 's 100 Books of the Century.

"Manuscripts don't burn"

A memorable and much-quoted line in The Master and Margarita is: "manuscripts don't burn" (рукописи не горят). The Master is a writer who is plagued both by his own mental problems and the harsh political criticism faced by most Soviet writers in 1930s Moscow in the Stalinist Soviet Union. He burns his treasured manuscript in an effort to cleanse his mind from the troubles the work has brought him. Woland later gives the manuscript back to him saying, "Didn't you know that manuscripts don't burn?" There is a deeply autobiographical element reflected in this passage. Bulgakov burned an early copy of The Master and Margarita for much the same reasons as he expresses in the novel.

Bulgakov museums in Moscow

In Moscow, two museums honor the memory of Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita. Both are located in Bulgakov's former apartment building on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, No. 10. Since the late 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union, the building has become a gathering spot for Bulgakov fans, as well as Moscow-based Satanist groups. Over the years they have filled the walls with graffiti. The best drawings were usually kept as the walls were repainted, so that several layers of different colored paints could be seen around them. In 2003, all of the numerous paintings, quips, and drawings were completely whitewashed.[27]

The two museums are rivals: the official Museum M.A. Bulgakov, although established second, identifies as "the first and only Memorial Museum of Mikhail Bulgakov in Moscow".[28]

  • Bulgakov House

The Bulgakov House (Музей – театр "Булгаковский Дом") is situated on the ground floor of the building. This museum was established as a private initiative on 15 May 2004. It contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held. The museum organises tours of Bulgakov's Moscow, some of which have re-enactors playing characters of The Master and Margarita. The Bulgakov House also operates the Theatre M.A. Bulgakov and the Café 302-bis.

  • Museum M.A. Bulgakov

In apartment number 50 on the fourth floor is the Museum M.A. Bulgakov (Музей М. А. Булгаков). This facility is a government initiative, founded on 26 March 2007. It contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held here.

Allusions and references

Various authors and musicians have credited The Master and Margarita as inspiration for certain works.

  • British singer Mick Jagger may have been inspired by the novel in writing the song "Sympathy for the Devil".[29] Will Self's foreword to the Vintage edition of the Michael Glenny translation of the novel suggests the same.
  • The grunge band Pearl Jam were influenced by the novel's confrontation between Yeshua Ha-Nozri and Pontius Pilate in their song, "Pilate", on their 1998 album Yield.[30]
  • Surrealist artist H. R. Giger named a 1976 painting after the novel. The band Danzig featured this painting on the cover of their 1992 album Danzig III: How the Gods Kill.[31]

Live action films

  • 1971: the Polish director Andrzej Wajda made the movie Pilate and Others for German TV, based on the biblical part of the book ('The Master's manuscript').[32][33]
  • 1972: the joint Italian-Yugoslavian production of Aleksandar Petrović's The Master and Margaret (Italian: Il Maestro e Margherita, Serbo-Croatian: Majstor i Margarita) was released. Based loosely on the book, in the movie the Master is named Nikolaj Afanasijevic Maksudov, while in the original book the Master is anonymous.[34][35]
  • 1992: In the adaptation called Incident in Judaea by Paul Bryers, only the Yeshua story is told. The film includes a prologue which mentions Bulgakov and the other storylines. The cast includes John Woodvine, Mark Rylance, Lee Montague and Jim Carter. The film was distributed by Brook Productions and Channel 4.[36][37]
  • 1994: A Russian movie adaptation of the novel was made by Yuri Kara. Although the cast included big names and talented actors (Anastasiya Vertinskaya as Margarita, Mikhail Ulyanov as Pilate, Nikolai Burlyayev as Yeshua, Valentin Gaft as Woland, Aleksandr Filippenko as Korovyev-Fagot) and its score was by the noted Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, the movie was never released on any media. The grandson of Bulgakov's third wife Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya claims, as a self-assigned heir, the rights on Bulgakov's literary inheritance and refused the release. Since 2006, however, copies of the movie have existed on DVD. Some excerpts can be viewed on the Master and Margarita website.[38] The movie was finally released in cinemas in 2011.[39]
  • 1996: The Russian director Sergey Desnitsky and his wife, the actress Vera Desnitskaya, made the film Master i Margarita. Disappointed by the responses of the Russian media, they decided not to release the film for distribution.[40]
  • 2005: The Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete made a short film of 26 minutes, entitled A Mester és Margarita. This film, with such noted Russian and Hungarian actors as Sergey Grekov, Grigory Lifanov, and Regina Myannik, was broadcast by MTV Premier on 5 October 2005.[41][42]
  • 2008: The Italian director Giovanni Brancale made the film Il Maestro e Margherita, set in contemporary Florence.[43]
  • 2013: The American producer Scott Steindorff is preparing the film The Master and Margarita. Many names of possible directors and actors have been rumored. Caroline Thompson was hired to write the script.[44]


Ennio Morricone, Alfred Schnittke and Igor Kornelyuk have composed soundtracks for films of The Master and Margarita.[45]

Animated films

  • 2002: the French animators Clément Charmet and Elisabeth Klimoff made an animation of the first and third chapter of The Master and Margarita based on Jean-François Desserre's graphic novel.[46]
  • 2010: Israeli director Terentij Oslyabya made an animation film The Master and Margarita, Chapter 1. His movie literally illustrates the novel.[47][48]
  • 2012: the Russian animation filmmaker Rinat Timerkaev started working on a full-length animated film Master i Margarita. On his blog, Timerkaev informed followers in 2015 that he would not continue working on it due to expenses.[49] He had already released a trailer, which can be seen on YouTube.[50]


  • 1988: The Polish director Maciej Wojtyszko produced Mistrz i Małgorzata, a TV miniseries of four episodes.[51][52]
  • 1989: the Russian theatre director Aleksandr Dzekun adapted his theatre play Master i Margarita for television. As suggested by the subtitle, "Chapters from the novel": the film covers part of the novel; 21 chapters were adapted in a miniseries.[53]
  • 2005: Russian director Vladimir Bortko, noted for his TV adaptation of Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog and Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, made a Master and Margarita TV miniseries of ten episodes (2005). It starred Aleksandr Galibin as The Master, Anna Kovalchuk as Margarita, Oleg Basilashvili as Woland, Aleksandr Abdulov as Korovyev-Fagot, Vladislav Galkin as Bezdomny, Kirill Lavrov as Pontius Pilate, Valentin Gaft as Kaifa, and Sergey Bezrukov as Yeshua.[54][55]


The novel has been adapted by Lucy Catherine, with music by Stephen Warbeck, for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 15 March 2015.

Comic strips and graphic novels

Several graphic novels have been adapted from this work, by the following:

  • 1997: Russian comic strip author Rodion Tanaev[56]
  • 2002: French comic strip author Jean-François Desserre[57]
  • 2005: Russian comic strip authors Askold Akishine and Misha Zaslavsky[58]
  • 2008: London-based comic strip authors Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal.[59]
  • 2013: The Austrian/French comic strip author Bettina Egger created a graphic novel adaptation entitled Moscou endiablé, sur les traces de Maître et Marguerite. It interweaves the story of 'The Master and Margarita' with elements of Bulgakov's life, and her own exploration of the sources of the novel in Moscow.[60]


The Master and Margarita has been adapted on stage by more than 500 theatre companies all over the world.

  • 1971: from 1971 to 1977, all theatre adaptations of The Master and Margarita were Polish. They were prohibited from using the title The Master and Margarita. Titles included Black Magic and Its Exposure (Kraków, 1971), Black Magic (Katowice, 1973), Have You Seen Pontius Pilate? (Wrocław, 1974), and Patients (Wroclaw, 1976).[61]
  • 1977: An adaptation for the Russian stage was produced by the director Yuri Lyubimov at Moscow's Taganka Theatre.[62]
  • 1978: a stage adaptation was directed by Romanian-born American director Andrei Şerban at the New York Public Theater, starring John Shea. This seems to be the version revived in 1993 (see below).
  • 1980: stage production (Maestrul şi Margareta) directed by Romanian stage director Cătălina Buzoianu at The Little Theatre ("Teatrul Mic"[63]) in Bucharest, Romania.[64] Cast: Ştefan Iordache[65] as Master / Yeshua Ha-Notsri, Valeria Seciu[66] as Margareta, Dan Condurache[67] as Woland, Mitică Popescu[68] as Koroviev, Gheorghe Visu[69] as Ivan Bezdomny / Matthew Levi, Sorin Medeleni[70] as Behemoth.
  • 1982: stage production (Mästaren och Margarita) directed by Swedish stage director Peter Luckhaus at the National Theatre of Sweden Dramaten in Stockholm, Sweden – Cast: Rolf Skoglund as Master, Margaretha Byström as Margareta, Jan Blomberg as Woland, Ernst-Hugo Järegård as Berlioz/Stravinskij/Pontius Pilate, Stellan Skarsgård as Koroviev and Örjan Ramberg as Ivan/Levi Mattei.[71]
  • 1983: stage production Saatana saapuu Moskovaan directed by Laura Jäntti for KOM-teatteri in Helsinki, Finland.
  • 1991: UK premiere of an adaptation at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. 3rd year professional diploma course. Director Helena Kaut-Howson. Cast includes: Katherine Kellgren, James Harper, Paul Cameron, Zen Gesner, Kirsten Clark, Polly Hayes, Abigail Hercules, Clive Darby, Daniel Philpot
  • 1992: adaptation at the Lyric Hammersmith in June by the Four Corners theatre company. It was based on a translation by Michael Denny, adapted and directed for the stage by David Graham-Young (of Contemporary Stage). The production transferred to the Almeida Theatre in July 1992.[72]
  • 1993: the Theatre for the New City produced a revival stage adaptation in New York City, as originally commissioned by Joseph Papp and the Public Theater. The adaptation was by Jean-Claude van Itallie. It was directed by David Willinger and featured a cast of 13, including Jonathan Teague Cook as Woland, Eric Rasmussen as Matthew Levi, Cesar Rodriguez as Yeshua Ha Nozri, Eran Bohem as The Master and Lisa Moore as Margarita. This version was published by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. A French version, using part of van Itallie's text, was performed at the Théâtre de Mercure, Paris, directed by Andrei Serban.
  • 1994: stage production at Montreal's Centaur Theatre, adapted and directed by Russian-Canadian director Alexandre Marine.
  • 2000: the Israeli theater company Gesher[73] premiered haSatan baMoskva, a musical based on the 1999 Hebrew translation of the novel. The production included song lyrics by Ehud Manor and a 23-musician orchestra. It was directed by Yevgeny Arye and starred Haim Topol, Evgeny Gamburg and Israel "Sasha" Demidov (as noted in the company history).[74]
  • A German-language stage adaptation of the novel, Der Meister und Margarita, directed by Frank Castorf, premiered at the 2002 Vienna Festival, Austria.[75]
  • 2004: an adaptation of the novel by Edward Kemp and directed by Steven Pimlott was staged in July 2004 at the Chichester Festival Theatre, UK. The cast included Samuel West as the Master and Michael Feast as Woland. The production included incidental music by Jason Carr.[76]
  • 2004: the National Youth Theatre produced a new stage adaptation by David Rudkin at the Lyric Hammersmith London, directed by John Hoggarth. It featured a cast of 35 and ran from 23 August to 11 September.[77] In 2005, Rudkin's adaptation received a production with a cast of 13 from Aberystwyth University's Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies at the Theatr y Castell, directed by David Ian Rabey.
  • In October 2006 it was staged by Grinnell College, directed by Veniamin Smekhov.
  • In 2006 an almost 5-hour long adaptation was staged by Georgian director Avtandil Varsimashvili.
  • In 2007, Helsinki, Finland, the group theatre Ryhmäteatteri stages a production named Saatana saapuu Moskovaan (Satan comes to Moscow), directed by Finnish director Esa Leskinen. Eleven actors played 26 separate roles in a three-hour production during the season 25 September 2007 – 1.3.2008.
  • In 2007, Alim Kouliev in Hollywood with The Master Project production started rehearsals on stage with his own adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita.[78] The premier was scheduled for 14 October 2007, but was postponed. Some excerpts and information can be viewed on the Master and Margarita website.[79]
  • In 2008 a Swedish stage production of Mästaren och Margarita directed by Leif Stinnerbom was performed at Stockholms stadsteater, starring Philip Zandén (the Master), Frida Westerdahl (Margarita), Jakob Eklund (Woland) and Ingvar Hirdwall (Pilate).[80]
  • In 2010 a new, original stage translation, written by Max Hoehn and Raymond Blankenhorn, was used by the Oxford University Dramatic Society Summer Tour, performing in Oxford, Battersea Arts Centre in London, and at C Venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.[81]
  • In 2011 Complicite premiered its new adaptation, directed by Simon McBurney at Theatre Royal Plymouth. It toured to Luxembourg, London, Madrid, Vienna, Recklinghausen, Amsterdam. In July 2012 it toured to the Festival d'Avignon and the Grec Festival in Barcelona.
  • In October 2013, Lodestar Theatre premiered a new adaptation by Max Rubin at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool.
  • December 2015, Macedonian National Theater (Skopje, Republic of Macedonia). Director: Ivan Popovski
  • In August 2016, Sleepless Theatre Company performed a revised adaptation of the book at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at St Cuthbert's Church.[82]

Ballet and dance

  • In 2003 the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, Russia, presented Master i Margarita, a new full-length ballet set to music by Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich, Hector Berlioz, Astor Piazzolla and other composers. Choreography and staging by David Avdysh, set design by Simon Pastukh (USA) and costume design by Galina Solovyova (USA).
  • In 2007 the National Opera of Ukraine, Kiev, premiered David Avdysh's The Master and Margarita, a ballet-phantasmagoria in two acts.[83]
  • 2010: Synetic Theater of Arlington, VA, presented a dance/performance adaptation of The Master and Margarita directed by Paata Tsikirishvili and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili. The show featured a cast of 16, including Paata Tsikirishvili as Master and Irina Tsikurishvili as Margarita. It ran for one month at the Lansburgh Theatre.

Pop music

Hundreds of composers, bands, singers and songwriters were inspired by The Master and Margarita in their work. Some 250 songs or musical pieces have been counted about it. Many Russian bards, including Alexander Rosenbaum, have been inspired by the novel to write songs about it. They have based more than 200 songs[citation needed] on themes and characters from The Master and Margarita.

More than 25 rock bands and artists, including The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, Franz Ferdinand and Pearl Jam, have been inspired by the novel. In pop music, more than 15 popular bands and artists, including Igor Nikolayev, Valery Leontiev, Zsuzsa Koncz, Larisa Dolina and Linda, have been inspired by the novel. Valery Leontiev's song "Margarita" was the basis of the first Russian music video, produced in 1989.

Classical music

A dozen classical composers, including Dmitri Smirnov and Andrey Petrov, have been inspired by the novel to write symphonies and musical phantasies about it.

2011: Australian composer and domra (Russian mandolin) player Stephen Lalor presented his "Master & Margarita Suite" of instrumental pieces in concert at the Bulgakov Museum Moscow in July 2011, performed on the Russian instruments domra, cimbalom, bass balalaika, and bayan.[84]

Opera and musical theatre

More than 15 composers, including York Höller, Alexander Gradsky and Sergei Slonimsky, have made operas and musicals on the theme of The Master and Margarita.

  • 1972: 3-act chamber opera The Master and Margarita by Russian composer Sergei Slonimsky was completed, but not allowed to be performed or published. It premiered in concert in Moscow on 20 May 1989, and the score was released in 1991. An abridged Western premiere of this work was produced in Hanover, Germany in June 2000.
  • 1977: A musical adaptation written by Richard Crane and directed by his wife Faynia Williams was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by the University of Bradford Drama Group at Bedlam Theatre.[85] It won a Fringe First award, and garnered excellent reviews.[86]
  • 1989: The German composer York Höller's opera Der Meister und Margarita was premiered in 1989 at the Paris Opéra and released on CD in 2000.[87]
  • On 25 August 2006, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced intentions to adapt the novel as a stage musical or opera.[88] In 2007 it was reported by Stage that he had abandoned that work.
  • In late 2009, a Russian singer and composer Alexander Gradsky released a 4-CD opera adaptation of the novel. It stars Gradsky as the Master, Woland, Yeshua and Behemoth; Nikolai Fomenko as Koroviev, Mikhail Seryshev (formerly of Master) as Ivan; Elena Minina as Margarita; and many renowned Russian singers and actors in episodic roles, including (but not limited to) Iosif Kobzon, Lyubov Kazarnovskaya, Andrei Makarevich, Alexander Rosenbaum, Arkady Arkanov, Gennady Khazanov and the late Georgi Millyar (voice footage from one of his movies was used).[89]

Other music

Five alternative composers and performers, including Simon Nabatov, have been inspired by the novel to present various adaptations.

In 2009, Portuguese new media artists Video Jack premiered an audiovisual art performance inspired by the novel at Kiasma, Helsinki, as part of the PixelAche Festival. Since then, it has been shown in festivals in different countries, having won an honorable mention award at Future Places Festival, Porto. The project was released as a net art version later that year.[90]

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External links
  • The Master and Margarita (in English, French, Dutch, and Russian)  Free smartphone application to find annotations by chapter while reading the novel.
  • Master and Margarita (amateur site) (in Dutch, English, French, and Russian), EU , Website devoted solely to Bulgakov's Master and Margarita
  • The Master and Margarita (full text), RU: Lib, archived from the original on 2011-06-06 .
  • The Master and Margarita (in Russian and English), Get parallel translations .
  • The Master and Margarita (excerpts), DE: Chkebelski  in three languages.
  • A large collection of illustrations for The Master and Margarita (in Russian), RU .
  • Sonne, Paul (2005-12-19), "Russians Await a Cult Novel's Film Debut With Eagerness and Skepticism", The New York Times, retrieved 2013-10-31 .
  • Chris Hedges, Welcome to Satan's Ball, Truthdig, 2014.03.10. A comparison of the Soviet society described in Master and Margarita and modern society in the United States and Russia.
  • Bulgakov museum (in Russian), Moscow, The Odd Flat .
  • Diary (in Russian), Moscow: Bulgakov museum, archived from the original on 24 January 2009 .
  • Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita, Middlebury : useful introduction with lots of illustrative material
  • Master and Margarita on IMDb
  • Ambassador John Beyrle's 2010 recreation of the 1935 Spring Ball at Spaso House, attended by Bulgakov, which inspired the Ball in The Master and Margarita (You tube) (video), Google .
  • God, Evil, and the Saviour: Hermeneutics and the Reconstruction of a Character In Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (PDF), HU: Spira Veronika .

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