The Master and Margarita is split into three different, yet intertwined, stories. There are events in Moscow, including the adventures of satanic visitors, events concerning the crucifixion of Yeshua Ha-Notsri or Jesus Christ, in first-century Yershalaim, and the love story of the Master and Margarita. All three stories are told from Wednesday until the night between Saturday and Sunday of the Holy Week.
Mikhail Alexandrovitch Berlioz, an «important literary personality» as chairman of the board of MASSOLIT, one of the major literary associations, and Ivan Nikolayevitch Ponyryov, a poet who wrote under the pseudonym of Bezdomny, which means Homeless, meet each other at the Patriarch's Ponds in Moscow to discuss a poem that Ivan had to write for Berlioz. Berlioz had wanted Ivan to rewrite the poem because he thought that it presented the Jesus character way too realisticly. He explains why he believes that Jesus never existed, while he teaches Ivan a lesson in religion history. After a while Berlioz is interrupted by a mysterious man, Professor Woland, who ensures him that Jesus really existed. When Berlioz protests, Woland starts to tell the story of Pontius Pilate, without forgetting to tell Berlioz that his head would be cut off by a Komsomol girl before the evening of the same day.
The story shifts to Yershalaim or Jerusalem, where Pilate is hearing the case of Yeshua Ha-Notsri or Jesus of Nazareth. Yeshua is accused of inciting the people to burn down the temple and to resist to the emperor Tiberius. Pilate has to judge on him, and Yeshua is sentenced to death.
Back in Moscow, Berlioz is indeed decapitated while he was leaving Patriarch's Ponds. He slipped away over spilt sunflower oil and was thrown on to the rails of a tram-car. Ivan remembers the prediction of the strange professor and tries to follow Woland and his weird companions - the «choirmaster» Korovyev and the giant black cat Behemoth through the streets of Moscow, without results. During this chase via Spiridanovka, the Nikitsky Gate, Kropotkin street and Ostozhenkastreet he raises hell in an apartment and ends up at the «the granite steps of the Moscow River amphitheatre», but the threesome has disappeared. He takes off his clothes to search in the water, but when he gives up his attempts he finds out that his clothes have been stolen. Only a pair of striped drawers and a torn Tolstoy blouse,have been left.
For some unexplicable reason Ivan thinks that the professor must be at the Griboedov House, MASSOLIT's homebase. In a not unnoticed way - because of his underwear - he runs to that place. He tries to give a logical explanation to the writers present for his strange dress by telling the story of the day but he gets tied up and transported to the psychiatric hospital of doctor Stravinski.
Styopa Likhodeev, Berlioz's roommate in apartment 50 of a building in Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa no. 302-bis, and director of the Variety Theatre, had come to his senses that morning at home and sees Woland waiting for him. Number 50 was called the «evil apartment» because former tenants disappeared mysteriously.
Woland reminds Likhodeev that he had promised him to organise seven performances of black magic in his theatre. Likhodeev doesn't recall such agreement. But Woland shows him a contract with his signature; it seems that Woland is manipulating the situation but Likhodeev is bounded by the agreement. When he realises that he should authorize Woland to perform in his theatre, Woland introduces him to his gang - Behemoth, Korovyev, and the small red-haired Azazello - and he tells him that they will need apartment number 50. Woland and his companions don't like people like Styopa Likhodeev. People like him, on high level functions, are scum to them - «Availing hisself of a government car!» the cat snitched, chewing a mushroom. «My retinue requires room,» Woland continued, «so there's just one too many of us in the apartment. And it seems to us that this one too many is precisely you.»
One second later Styopa finds himself far away in Yalta. Variety's financial director Grigori Danilovitch Rimsky and administrator Ivan Savelevichtch Varenukha notice that their director has disappeared, while the satanic gang causes confusion in the building at Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa no. 302-bis. The greedy chairman of the tenants of the building, Nikanor Ivanovitch Bosoy, appears to be in the posession of foreign currency and is therefor arrested by the police. Ivan Savelevichtch Varenukha localises Styopa Likhodeev, after a desperate correspondence by telegramme from Yalta. At the same time he tries, with the help of others, to find out the identity of the mysterious professor Woland. In order to avoid embarassing questions from Varenukha, Woland sends a new demonic creature. It's Hella, a «completely naked girl», she is red-haired, and her eyes are «burning with a phosphorescent gleam». «"Let me give you a kiss», the girl said tenderly to Varenukha, but he fainted and «never felt the kiss».
In the Variety Theatre Woland and his helpers present a black magic show, in which compère George Bengalski is decapitated. After that, the ladies in the theatre got a possibility to satisfy to the whole extend their desires, coming from the depth of their hearts, in free of charge purchasing of luxury clothes and jewellery, which leads to chaotic and hilarious scenes, in which chervontsi bills whirl down on the audience, and in which the guest of honour of that night, Arkady Appolonovitch Sempleyarov, chairman of the Acoustics Commission of the Moscow theatres, in the presence of his wife was exposed as an adulterer in public. Briefly: «something like Babel broke loose in the Variety».
Meanwhile, back in the hospital, Ivan meets the patient staying in the room next to his. We are introduced to the novel's hero, the master. Ivan tells him what happened the last few days, and the master tells Ivan that he's met the devil. Then the master tells his own story to Ivan. He was once an historian (the same profession that Ivan will start at the end of the story), but when he won hundred-thousand roubles in a lottery connected to a state loan, he quit his job to work on a book. One day he met Margarita, and fell desperately in love with her. When he presented the book to a publisher, he was asked who had incited him to write about such strange subject. The book was rejected and, although it was never published, different critics started to assault it in the newspapers. Especially the critic Latunski was merciless. In a fit of insanity the Master was imagining that an octopus entered his room. It suddenly seemed to him that «the autumn darkness would push through the glass and pour into the room, and he would drown in it as in ink». The master burned his book. Margarita saved a piece and kept it, but the master, persuaded that he was incurably sick, had gone to the hospital. He was there now for four months, and had no longer met Margarita again.
The show in the Variety Theatre came to an end and in Moscow «shameful and disgusting» things were happening. All ladies who had rummaged clothes during the spectacle, are now running in the street completely naked or in underwear. And Rimski get unexpected visit of Varenukha and Hella.
Nikanor Ivanovich, the president of the tenants of the building in Bolshaya Sadovaya ulitsa no. 302-bis, ended up in the hospital too and has a weird dream about Pushkin's poems and foreign currency. His tossing and turning causes some commotion among the other guests. It affects Ivan too. He gets a shot to calm down, and starts dreaming the continuation of Pilate's story: three condemned men, one of which is Yeshuah Ha-Nozri, are walking to the place where they will be executed. Matthew Levi watches them dying and feels responsible for it. He gets angry and curses God. A heavy storm bursts and Matthew Levi disappears with Yeshua's body.
Annotations per chapter
In this section are explained, per chapter, all typical notions, names of people and places, quotations and expressions from the novel with a description of the political, social, economical and cultural context.
Have a look at the most important places from the novel at a single glance on a clickable map of Moscow.