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The genius of Rustaveli

Friday, April 23
Shota Rustaveli, the famous Georgian poet, lived in the 12th century during Queen Tamar’s reign (1184-1213) when Georgia achieved its greatest power and influence. Despite being acclaimed as the greatest Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli is still an enigmatic figure. Even his full name remains unknown, since Rustaveli means “from Rustavi,” indicating that he was either from Rustavi or owned an estate in Rustavi, a town near Tbilisi. There is no reliable information about his origins or dates of birth or death. Very few details about his life are recorded but his epic poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin (Vepkhistkaosani) has remained the symbol of Georgian traditions throughout the centuries.

There are many legends about Rustaveli’s varied education and travels in Arabia, Byzantium and Greece, but his epic poem clearly shows that he was very well educated. He was the royal treasurer of Queen Tamar, to whom he dedicated his epic poem as a sign of his desperate love for the Queen. Some say he went to Jerusalem as a pilgrim when he grew old and died in a Georgian monastery, the Monastery of the Holy Cross, in Jerusalem. His appearance is known from a fresco on one of the walls of the Monastery. Unfortunately the fresco was severely damaged when an unknown vandal scraped it off the wall in June 2004, though it was later restored.

The greatness of The Knight in the Panther's Skin, an epic tale of adventure, friendship and courtly love, helped create the Georgian literary language. Containing a total of over 1,600 verses, it is written in a unique style with sixteen syllables in each line, whose rhymes and rhythms remain unsurpassed to this day in Georgian literature. The 1,576 quatrains of The Knight in the Panther's Skin are written in a particularly difficult form - the shairi, a 4-line stanza with monorhyme and long lines of 15 or 16 syllables, but the poem is one of the masterpieces of medieval European literature and has been translated into many languages. Indeed some scholars regard it as a precursor to renaissance literature, as many of the ideas later to be found in Dante and Petrarch make their first appearance a century earlier in The Knight in the Panther's Skin.

As in most epics the characters of the poem are brave, generous, fair-minded and constantly battling the powers of evil in the name of loyalty, friendship and love. The poem is concerned with the romantic constants of literature. Rustaveli himself considered poetry one of the oldest branches of wisdom, and saw it as the poet's duty to evoke strong emotions and inflame the heart. The epic has two storylines, one about the knight Tariel and his beloved Nestan-Daredjan and the other about the knight Avtandil and his love Tinatin. The reader follows the warriors’ search for Nestan-Daredjan, who is kidnapped and imprisoned in Kadjeti fortress, a symbol of tyranny and wickedness. Throughout his poem, Rustaveli preaches his underlying principle that justice and righteousness prevail over lawlessness and evil.

Vepkhistkaosani combines the elements of Christianity, neo-Platonism and Eastern religions into a unique philosophy that breathes with humanistic ideas. Rustaveli calls for individual freedom as well as freedom of thought and emotion, a life free of predestination.

The Rustaveli State Theatre

The Rustaveli State Theatre is an important part of the Georgian cultural heritage, the home of real art, solemn theatricality and celebration. The unique feature of the theatre is its eternally youthful and searching soul. For over a century new theatrical directions have been embraced here as well as new theatrical forms full of national meaning and expression.

The foundation of the building was laid on 18 February 1898. At first it functioned as a club for the Artistic Society and was used for different purposes. The audience hall was on the first floor and the concert hall, along with the club premises, was on the second. Following a request from the “Blue Horns” (a group of Georgian modernist poets) the basement walls were decorated by famous theatre designer Sergei Sudeikin and some celebrated Georgian artists. Their masterpieces were brutally whitewashed in the Soviet period, and unfortunately the restoration of only a small part of them has been possible.

On 9 June 1949 fire reduced the building to ashes. Only the main facade facing Rustaveli Avenue survived. The building was restored in a year from photos. A further complex reconstruction of the building was undertaken in 1982-1987. Architect Otar Nakhutsrishvili supervised the work and the facade of the theatre regained its modern look. The reconstruction carried out in 2002-2005 concluded the revitalization of the theatre

Today the theatre has three stages technically equipped to modern standards – the Main Stage (783 seats), Minor Stage (263 seats) and Experimental Stage (182 seats). The theatre is also proud of its facilities for conferences and other events – its Large Ballroom, Minor Foyer and Small Guest Room. Exhibits from the Rustaveli Theatre Museum's rich archives portray the history of the theatre.

The outstanding Georgian writers and cultural figures who founded the theatre put a great national and artistic task in front of themselves - the theatre had to be the home of Georgian social thought, national consciousness and culture. Loaded with such a difficult mission, the Rustaveli Theatre began to work on developing its nation's spiritual culture. The theatre is justly known for its excellent actors and professional producers who are now, as they did in the past, creating modern, thought-provoking and alive perfomances. The Rustaveli Theatre is often called the 'theatre of stars' abroad due to the great number of its talented actors. The best modern and classical plays by Georgian and foreign authors have been performed and each director has left their own and unique mark. Each play has been distinguished by its clear aims and aesthetic principles.

Although the theatre captured the rhythm of its epoch from the first it was devoted to the highest principles of art too. This very feature has made the theatre live for a whole century. The Rustaveli Theatre could not avoid historical misfortune and the totalitarian State machine mercilessly suppressed freedom of artistic expression, but the theatre survived and even at that very difficult time compiled a record of excellent achievement, especially by the actors defending the honour of their theatre, who in their own ways and sometimes unintentionally expressed the truth of their untruthful lives.