Mirza Fathali Akhundzadeh and Iranian Drama

Despite the Persian poetry, the Persian drama did not root in the ancient history of Iran. With a modern background, the history of the Persian dramatic literature, in the western sense of the concept, went through ups and downs.

However, for one thing, the theatre and drama scholars were sure that the modern Iranian drama enjoys an intertextuality with the works of the Azerbaijani playwright Mirza Fathali Akhundzadeh. Akhundzadeh or Akhundov was born in 1812 in Nukha, Sheki Khanate, Azerbaijan.

Akhundzadeh was of Persian origin and interested in the Persian culture. He corresponded with the Iranian officials and criticized the policies of the Iranian rulers in favour of reforms.  Akhundzadeh is also well-known for his effort to reform alphabet in order to give momentum to the process of the familiarization of Iran and Azerbaijan with the Western culture and thought.

Moving to Tiflis and starting to work in the office of Caucus Viceroy, as the interpreter, Akhundzadeh found himself close to the Russian literary and cultural scene of the day. He was familiar with the plays of Griboyedov and Gogol, as well as those of Shakespeare and Molière in Russian translation. In Tiflis he also encountered not only the dramatic literature but also performance which led to his composition of six satirical comedies written between 1850 and 1855 published as a collection entitled Tamsilat:  The Story of Alchemist Molla Ebrahim Khalil (حکایت ملا ابراهیم خلیل کیمیاگر), The Story of Monsieur Zhurdan, Hakin of Nabatat and the drunk Dervish Alishah, the Famous Sorcerer (حکایت موسیو ژوردان حکیم نباتات و مستعلی شاه مشهور  به جادوگر), The Story of Lankaran Minister (حکایت وزیر خان لنکران), The Story of Gholdorbashan Bear (حکایت خرس قولدورباسان), The Story of the Stingy Man (حکایت مرد خسیس) , Mürafä’ä Väkillärinin Hikayäti (حکایت وکلای مرافعه تبریز). These plays were translated into Persian by Mirza Jafar Gharacheh Daghi (1834-1893).  

Akhundzadeh died in Tiflis aged 67.

The translation of Akhundzadeh’s plays based on his own request made a remarkable contribution to the establishment of the genre in the Persian literature as well as to the genesis of a new style in the Persian prose. The forerunner of the genre in Iran was, however, Mirza Agha Tabrizi (? – 1915), who composed his plays based on Akhundzadeh’s works. Mirza Agha Tabrizi was contemplating the translation of Akhundzadeh’s plays at the same time the translator for the plays was being casted about by Jalāl-al-dīn Mīrzā with whom Akhundzadeh was in touch.

The four plays by Mirza Agha Tabrizi are the followings: The Story of Ashraf Khan during the Days of His Sojourn in Tehran (سرگذشت اشرف خان در ایام توقف او در تهران); The Method of the Government of Zaman Khan of Borujerd (طریقه حومت زمان خان بروجردی); The story of Shahgholi Mirza’s journey to Karbala (حکایت کربلا رفتن شاه قلی میرزا); Agha Hashem Falls in Love (عاشق شدن آقا هاشم); and Haji Morshed the Alchemist (حاجی مرشد کیمیاگر).

Unfortunately we do not know much about his early years and background.

Tabrizi’s plays were published anonymously in the Tabriz Newspaper Ettehad in 1908. In 1921-22, three of these plays were published in Berlin under the name of the renowned Iranian diplomat and essayist Mirza Malkom Khan.

Only in 1956, two Azerbaijani researchers revealed through probation into Akhundzadeh’s archives that these plays have been falsely attributed to Mirza Malkom Khan. They confirmed that Mirza Agha Tabrizi has been the real author.

Although many neglect Akhundzadeh while considering the origins of the Iranian dramatic literature, his influence on the genesis of the genre and his inspiration for the Iranian followers cannot be denied.

Source: Encyclopaedia Iranica, McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama



About Mahboube Khalvati 12 Articles
Mahboube Khalvati is a PhD Candidate in English Literature at UNISA.

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