Jovan Sterija Popovic (1806-56) is revered as the father of Serbian drama, and is especially renowned for his comedies, even though he mainly earned his living as a teacher, educationalist and intellectual. He was already an experienced playwright when he wrote the play that gives him a claim on our attention, Zla Zena (1838), which might be loosely translated as Nasty Woman.
The title character is named Sultana, who has been married to Count Strific for a fortnight and finds herself deeply dissatisfied with her new wifely life – a dissatisfaction that manifests itself as aggression towards all and sundry. Her servants and her husband feel the rough edge of her tongue, and she also insults the proud, dignified bootmaker Sreta. The comic action really gets going when her chambermaid tries to get some peace by putting opium into her lemonade, to make her sleep. But a complicated sequence of events means that she ends up swapping places with Sreta’s wife. So when Sreta arrives home, there follows a case of mistaken identity concerning the woman asleep in his bed. When he asks her to clean a pair of boots, Sultana behaves in her usual disagreeable way, and discovers that the bootmaker is less inclined than the Count to let his wife get away with it.
The script specifies that Sreta beats her with his razor strap, but it’s not always done with quite such elegant OTK positioning. Here’s an example from Vitez in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2015:
The play continues to be produced in Serbia, as witness this version at a 2016 village festival in Backi Gracac:
And here’s another production from 2016 with Ljubica Milinovic as Sultana, being spanked by Nikola Pistalovic as Sreta:
And in case you’re wondering, the ending sees a less shrewish Sultana restored to her real husband.