A. Skaftymov (essay date 1948)
SOURCE: "Principles of Structure in Chekhov's Plays," in Chekhov: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Louis Jackson, Prentice-Hall, 1967, pp. 69-87.
[The following is an abridged version of an essay that was first published in Russian in 1948. Skaftymov addresses the "question of the unity of form and content" in Chekhov's plays.]
There is a rather large and in many respects substantial body of secondary literature on Chekhov's dramaturgy.
Contemporaries noted a peculiarity in Chekhov's plays at the time of the first productions. At first they interpreted this peculiarity as Chekhov's inability to manage the problems of continuous living dramatic movement. Reviewers spoke of "prolixity," of the lack of "stage-craft," of "insufficient action" and weakness of plot. In reproaching Chekhov, contemporaries wrote that "he himself does not know what he wants," that "he does not know the laws of drama," that, he does not fulfill the "most elementary demands of the stage," that he writes some sort of "reports," that he gives little pictures with all the chance accidentality of photography, without any thought, and without expressing his own attitude.
K. S. Stanislavsky and V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko noted the so-called "undercurrent,"1 the most essential principle in the dramatic movement of Chekhov's plays. They revealed the presence of a continuous,...
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Hingley, Ronald (essay date 1950)
SOURCE: "Chekhov's Last Years: His Approach to Drama," in Chekhov: A Biographical and Critical Study, George Allen & Unwin, 1966, pp. 219-44.
[In the following excerpt from a work that was first published in 1950, Hingley examines the essential characteristics of Chekhovian drama.]
A 'Revolutionary' Dramatist
Chekhov was admirably fitted to become the leading dramatist of the Moscow Art Theatre because he thoroughly agreed with Nemirovich-Danchenko and Stanislavsky in wanting to get away from the conventions and atmosphere of the existing Russian stage. His four major plays—The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard—mark a break with tradition so startling that many critics call him a 'revolutionary' dramatist. In defining the revolution which he accomplished it is impossible to avoid paradoxical language—he is frequently said to have 'purged the theatre of theatricality', to have written 'undramatic drama' and 'tragedies, the essence of which consists in the absence of tragedy'.
Like the directors of the Art Theatre he objected to an over-concentration on a small number of characters, and seems to have been feeling his way towards this position as early as 1887 when he wrote Ivanov, in which he claimed that there was not a single hero or villain. Though Ivanov certainly lacked...
(The entire section is 4854 words.)
David Magarshack (essay date 1960)
SOURCE: "Introductory," in Chekhov the Dramatist, Hill and Wang, 1960, pp. 13-49.
[In this essay, Magarshack explores Chekhov's views on art and the Russian theater of his day, as expressed in his letters and occasional writings.]
The plays of Chekhov, like those of any other great dramatist, follow a certain pattern of development which can be traced through all its various stages. His last four plays, moreover, conform to certain general principles which are characteristic of the type of indirect-action drama to which they belong. Chekhov himself was fully aware of that. Already on November 3rd, 1888, in a letter to Alexey Suvorin, he clearly stated that all works of art must conform to certain laws. "It is possible to collect in a heap the best that has been created by the artists in all ages," he wrote, "and, making use of the scientific method, discover the general principles which are characteristic of them all and which lie at the very basis of their value as works of art. These general principles will constitute their law. Works of art which are immortal possess a great deal in common; if one were to extract that which is common to them all from any of them, it would lose its value and its charm. This means "that what is common to them all is necessary and is a conditio sine qua non of every work which lays claim to immortality."
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Charles B. Timmer (essay date 1960)
SOURCE: "The Bizarre Element in Čechov's Art," in Anton Cechov, 1860-1960: Some Essays, edited by T. Eekman, E. J. Brill, 1960, pp. 277-92.
[In this essay, Timmer traces Chekhov's use of the "bizarre, " defined as "a statement, or a situation, which has no logical place in the context or in the sequence of events, the resulting effect being one of sudden bewilderment. "]
A study in literature, whether on Gogol', Dostoevskij or Cechov is bound to involve a study in anti-reason: it cannot limit itself to a study of aesthetic laws only, unless we are prepared to assume that the grotesque, the bizarre, the absurd elements in the works of these authors are unexplainable phenomena.
The grotesque, the bizarre, the absurd,—by using these words I realize that I am bringing to the foreground certain aspects of Čechov's art, which to my knowledge did not thus far have the attention they undoubtedly deserve. It is certainly not my ambition to exhaust the subject in these notes; my purpose is merely to outline it and to make an attempt to trace the difference between the technique of the bizarre in Čechov's last works and his use of the bizarre element in his early stories; for example, between a little scene like this in The Cherry Orchard (1903-04):
Varja: The estate will be up for sale in August.
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Maurice Valency (essay date 1966)
SOURCE: "The Sound of the Breaking String," in The Breaking String: The Plays of Anton Chekhov, Schocken Books, 1983, pp. 289-301.
[In the following excerpt from a work that was first published in 1966, Valency places Chekhov in the context of the social and cultural upheavals of his time.]
Chekhov's drama, like Ibsen's, represents a world in transition. In Ibsen's Norway, wherever that might be, the impact of modern thought in the latter half of the nineteenth century brought about a relatively peaceful revolution. In Russia the idea of the state was formulated along particularly rigid lines, and the transition from the old to the new was accompanied by impressive rites of passage. In his Autobiography, Gorky speaks with something like awe of an old policeman's description of the invisible thread that issued from the heart of the Tsar and wound through his ministers down to the least of his soldiers in a web that encompassed the nation.1 To many, life under these conditions seemed intolerable; but the thought of breaking the tie caused much uneasiness.
One of the constant complaints of the time centered on the breakdown of communication between fathers and sons, and the abyss that divided the older generation from the younger. This is, no doubt, a universal complaint in all periods, but the social and economic situation of Russia in the latter half of the nineteenth...
(The entire section is 4558 words.)
Kenneth Rexroth (essay date 1967)
SOURCE: "Chekhov's Plays," in Saturday Review, Vol. L, No. 27, 8 July 1967, p. 18.
[In this essay, Rexroth comments on the profound change in the nature of drama brought about by Chekhov.]
It comes as a bit of a shock to sit yourself down and deliberately think, "In the first half of the twentieth century, the position once occupied in ancient Greece by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides was held, in the estimation of those who sought serious satisfaction in the modern theater, by Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov." What had happened in two thousand years? Had it happened to the audiences, or to the playwrights, or to the self-evolving art of drama? Or was the change more profound than this, more profound even than a change in the meaning of civilization—was it a change in the very nature of man? We still say we enjoy Antigone; but if we go directly from a performance of that play to Chekhov's Three Sisters, it is difficult not to believe that the men of Classic times were different from us, a different kind of men.
In certain plays, both Ibsen and Strindberg set out deliberately to compete with the great past, with Shakespeare or Schiller or Sophocles or Aeschylus. The results are hardly competition. Peer Gynt or Damascus bears little resemblance to the past, though certain Strindberg plays do contain distorted reflections of Euripides. But...
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J. B. Priestley (essay date 1970)
SOURCE: "Chapter 7," in Anton Chekhov, A. S. Barnes & Co., 1970, pp. 70-82.
[In the essay below, Priestley admires the psychological depth of Chekhov's characters, arguing: "It is this depth, where consciousness dissolves into the fathomless unconscious, where new half-realized meanings gleam and then vanish like fish in some deep lake, that constantly renews for us the fascination of [Chekhov's] drama. "]
The first Chekhov play I ever saw was The Cherry Orchard. This was in 1925 when it had its first London run. (There had been a single Stage Society performance as far back as 1911.) I took a girl with me, an intelligent girl who was a newly qualified doctor, and I remember that she left the theatre feeling bewildered and rather resentful. But the play, even in this faulty production, had enchanted me. The magic of it lingered for days. Since then I have seen many different productions of The Cherry Orchard. The best I ever saw was when I was in Russia in 1945, in a performance beginning at the curious hour of noon on Sunday, and it was of course being given by the Moscow Art Theatre, largely by players who had been trained and directed by Stanislavsky. Compared with that, the performance given by the Moscow Art Theatre during its visit to London in 1958 was disappointing. Incidentally, almost all the earlier British and American productions of Chekhov were too slow,...
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David Magarshack (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: "Introduction," in The Real Chekhov: An Introduction to Chekhov's Last Plays, George Allen & Unwin, 1972, pp. 9-18.
[In the following, Magarshack examines misinterpretations of Chekhov's plays by theater directors, translators, and others.]
The stage is a scaffold on which the playwright is executed.
Chekhov's chief executioners both in Russia and England (not to mention the United States) have been the directors, who quite consistently disregard Chekhov's intention in writing his plays, inevitably producing a crude distortion of their characters and a travesty of their themes. 'It is highly necessary', Mr Basil Ashton declared in a letter to the New Statesman (II September 1970)
for anyone who really cares about the classics to insist on the theatre providing a few directors who respect their author, rather than seeking, solely, to air their egos.… It is only by the writings of dramatists that the theatre survives, and directors should consider this fact as strongly as modern conductors seem able to consider the importance of the composer. As I happen to be a director myself, I cannot be accused of self-interest when I repeat that a director is only of any use when he serves the dramatist and allows the public to see and understand what...
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Siegfried Melchinger (essay date 1972)
SOURCE: "Chekhov and the Craft of Theater," in Anton Chekhov, translated by Edith Tarcov, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1972, pp. 62-84.
[In the essay below, Melchinger investigates the ways Chekhov overthrew the theatrical conventions of his day.]
In 1902, Chekhov wrote to Alexander Tikhonov:
You say you wept over my plays. You are not the only one. But I did not write them for this. It was Stanislavsky who made them so tearful. I intended something quite different.
Chekhov's judgment of Stanislavsky's productions of the Chekhov plays—as numerous passages from letters and witnesses' observations testify—can be summarized in a sentence he wrote about the production of The Cherry Orchard a few weeks before his death: "Stanislavsky has ruined my play."
It is said that dramatists cannot judge the productions of their plays. That may be true of those who do not understand the theater, but not of Chekhov, who knew and understood the stage. When he was still an adolescent in Taganrog his favorite pastime was attending the theater. When he went to Moscow as a nineteen-year-old, to study medicine and to rescue his family from their poverty-stricken life, the theater attracted him more than anything else. He wrote his stories to earn a living. Now that a heavily edited draft of Play without a...
(The entire section is 6485 words.)
Janko Lavrin (essay date 1973)
SOURCE: "Anton Chekhov," in A Panorama of Russian Literature, Barnes & Noble, 1973, pp. 175-86.
[In the following excerpt, Lavrin investigates Chekhov's "method of showing the tragic nature of everyday existence in its ordinary everyday conditions. "]
The impact of Chekhov on world literature seems in some respects stronger than that of any other modern Russian author after Dostoevsky. This applies to his plays even more than to his stories,1 since he happens to be one of the reformers of the modern theatre and drama. Chekhov himself proclaimed (in one of his letters) the theatre of his time a 'skin disease, a world of muddle, of stupidity and high-falutin' which should be swept away with a broom.' He did not mind being such a broom even in the late 1880s when the only conspicuous reformer in this respect was Henrik Ibsen. Chekhov's inauguration of drama devoid of traditional plot and big theatrical gestures, not to mention the old declamatory pathos, was a courageous feat in those days, although he may have faltered now and then under the weight of his own experiments. His Ivánov, for example, was given a brilliant first performance in the Alexandrinsky theatre at St Petersburg on 31 January, 1889. Its reception was favourable, which, however, could not be said of his next play, The Seagull (Cháika), produced in October 1896. Chekhov felt so depressed by its...
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Peter Mudford (essay date 1979)
SOURCE: "Anton Chekhov," in The Art of Celebration, Faber and Faber, 1979, pp. 110-22.
[In this excerpt, Mudford explores how Chekhov's characters struggle between present despair and hope for the future.]
What beautiful trees—and how beautiful, when you think of it, life ought to be with trees like these!
Three Sisters, Act Four
Tolstoy once complained to Chekov in conversation: 'You know I cannot abide Shakespeare, but your plays are even worse.1 Chekov's plays lacked, in his opinion, a point of view. Chekov, who felt an unequalled love and affection for Tolstoy, admitted the truth in what he was saying; but could not do anything about it.
I have often been blamed, even by Tolstoy, for writing about trifles, for not having any positive heroes … but where am I to get them! Our life is provincial, the cities unpaved, the villages poor, the masses abused. In our youth we all chirp rapturously like sparrows on a dung-heap, but when we are forty, we are already old and begin to think of death. Fine heroes we are!2
In Chekov's view, the life of the individual was all too often unfulfilled and impoverished, spiritually as well as materially. If he had probed more deeply, he might have reached a view of character not unlike Ibsen's...
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Irina Kirk (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "Chekhov's Plays," in Anton Chekhov, Twayne Publishers, 1981, pp. 126-56.
[Kirk provides a detailed examination of each of Chekhov's full-length plays.]
Chekhov wrote his first plays at the age of eighteen, but all that survived of those efforts are the titles: a drama Without Fathers, a comedy Laugh It Off If You Can, and a one-act comedy "Diamond Cuts Diamond." (These titles are mentioned by Chekhov's eldest brother, Aleksandr, in a letter of October 14, 1878.) The manuscript of the earliest preserved play by Chekhov was discovered after his death and published in 1923. Because of the missing title page it was published as A Play without a Title,1 but later it was named Platonov after the play's main character. Although the manuscript is undated there is evidence that the play was written in 1881, since Chekhov's brother Mikhail refers to it in his introduction to the second volume of Chekhov's letters. Apparently Chekhov took this play to the then-famous actress Mariya Yermolova with hopes that it would be performed at the Maly Theatre, and its rejection caused him great disappointment.
The play lacks artistic merit. It is too long, melodramatic, and as Mikhail wrote, "unwieldly," but it does offer interesting material for a study tracing some of Chekhov's themes and characters to their original sources. It is...
(The entire section is 12790 words.)
J. L. Styan (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "Chekhov's Contribution to Realism," in Modern Drama in Theory and Practice, Volume 1: Realism and Naturalism, Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp. 81-91.
[In the excerpt below, Styan views the inducement of ironic detachment in the audience as Chekhov's most important contribution to realist theater. Styan states: "It is this effect of distancing, together with the troubling relevance of his human and social themes and the elusive lyricism of his stage, which has made Chekhov an immeasurably pervasive influence on the form and style of realistic drama in the twentieth century."]
The Moscow Art Theatre went on to produce the last plays of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), each with a structure more fragile than that of The Seagull with its comparatively conventional plotting. These were Chekhov's masterpieces, Uncle Vanya (1899), Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904). Whereas Stanislavsky largely developed his thinking about the art of the theatre after Chekhov's death, it was during the production of these plays that Chekhov increased his understanding of stage realism. He learned by experience and largely taught himself.
Three Sisters was the first play he wrote knowing who might play the parts. This factor might be thought to make it easier to write 'to the life', but in practice the availability of...
(The entire section is 4128 words.)
Richard Peace (essay date 1983)
SOURCE: "Introduction," in Chekhov: A Study of the Four Major Plays, Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 1-15.
[In the following essay, Peace focuses on the "emotional atmosphere" or "mood" Chekhov evokes in his plays.]
Chekhov, as a playwright, is the inheritor of a Russian tradition which, deeply indebted to Western models, nevertheless has its own recognisable idiom; in the words of one critic it exhibits 'a magnificent picture gallery, but no great narrative ingenuity'.1 Although this characterisation specifically refers to the 'comedic tradition that leads from Griboyedov to Chekhov, the observation is broadly true for Russian literature as a whole, with its emphasis on character (i.e. psychology) at the expense of the neatly tailored plot.
Chekhov is also the inheritor of another Russian tradition, according to which seminal plays were written by authors excelling in other genres (Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, Turgenev, Tolstoy). Chekhov only achieved success in the theatre towards the end of his life, when he already enjoyed an established reputation as a writer of short stories. This fact undoubtedly conditioned his approach to dramatic art; his stage settings at times contain evidence of a striving for total authorial control more appropriate to description in the short story than to the business-like deployment of properties and scenery for a producer and actors. Thus in...
(The entire section is 6214 words.)
Leslie Kane (essay date 1984)
SOURCE: "Chekhov," in The Language of Silence: On the Unspoken and the Unspeakable in Modern Drama, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984, pp. 50-76.
[In the following essay, Kane investigates Chekhov's use of language and silence in his plays, arguing: "Aware that speech, like time, is an anthropocentric effort to limit, control, and elucidate the chaos of experience, Chekhov relies on the unspoken to expose and examine the elusive and the enigmatic both within and beyond man. "]
Anton Chekhov, respected for the concision, objectivity, sensitivity, and humanity of his short stories, began writing for the theatre in the 1880s. He was, in the opinion of Robert Corrigan, "the first playwright who sought to create in his plays a situation which would reveal the private drama that each man has inside himself and which is enacted everyday in the random, apparently meaningless and undramatic events of our common routine."1The Sea Gull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard, written at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, represent perfection of the Chekhovian dramatic form: the subtle, complex interplay of expression and suggestion.
Chekhov achieves the coalescence of phenomenal and psychological experience by fusing thought and technique.2 His experimentation with dramatic form, content, and...
(The entire section is 12970 words.)
Pyotr Palievsky (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Chekhov's Realism," in Soviet Literature, No. 1 (442), 1985, pp. 154-60.
[In the following essay Palievsky discusses Chekhov's positive depiction of the common people, maintaining that the writer "formed an invisible link between a high ideal and the perceptions, requirements, tastes and foibles of the ordinary man. "]
Chekhov, viewed in historical perspective, gives the ideal of Russian literature a new impetus or, perhaps, considering the distinctive features of his work, one should say that he gives it new substance. In him, literature regains its primary solidity, restores and develops its sovereign mode of thought and image of life, and its objectivity is strengthened. Life (in all its fullness and through artistic imagery) comes into its own, asserting its primacy over dreams, negations, fantasies, impulses of the moment and projects no matter how wonderful they may be. Much more wonderful than all this is Chekhov's infinite truth of reality.
However, Chekhov, like other Russian classics, is inconceivable and puzzling outside the common ideal of Russian literature. Not to be aware of this in Chekhov is like failing to see the light that snatches Nikolai Gogol's exaggerated, grotesque characters out of unfathomable darkness or the underlying positive thrust of all the ideas that crowd Fyodor Dostoevsky's works.
And yet Chekhov's realist writing uncannily...
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Martin Esslin (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Chekhov and the Modern Drama," in A Chekhov Companion, edited by Toby W. Clyman, Green-wood Press, 1985, pp. 135-45.
[In the essay below, Esslin assesses the impact of Chekhov's revolutionary dramatic technique on the history of Western theater.]
Anton Chekhov was one of the major influences in the emergence of a wholly new approach to the subject matter, structure, and technique of dramatic writing at the end of the nineteenth century. It can be argued that he, in fact, occupies a key position at the point of transition between a millennial convention of "traditional" and the emergence of "modern" drama.
What was it that the "modern" drama replaced? What was it that the multifarious types of traditional dramatic fiction, however different they might appear, had fundamentally in common—from Greek tragedy and comedy to the well-made play of the nineteenth century; what were the characteristics that all these shared that were so decisively displaced by the new elements of the "modern"?
It was not what had so long been regarded as the hall-marks of the truly correct and classical form of drama: the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action. After all, medieval drama, the Elizabethans, and the Romantics had superseded those by constructing rambling, epic plot-lines. But Greek drama and the French classical tradition, the medieval mystery plays and the...
(The entire section is 5144 words.)
J. L. Styan (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Chekhov's Dramatic Technique," in A Chekhov Companion, edited by Toby W. Clyman, Greenwood Press, 1985, pp. 107-22.
[In the following essay, Styan looks at the characters, settings, plots, and moods of Chekhov's plays.]
As the years pass and as Chekhov's plays are given different treatments and exposed to new and larger audiences, it grows increasingly clear that Chekhov was the complete playwright. In his awareness of the needs of the stage and its actors it might be said that he was also a complete man of the theatre. He held to a minimum of rules for writing a play, and he ruthlessly abandoned others that had been sanctified by centuries of tradition, but he could only do this because he enjoyed a full sense of the theatre. A sense of the theatre embraces not so much its mechanics of acting and staging, plotting, and character-drawing as the way a playwright may exactly manipulate an audience for its strongest, yet its subtlest and most rewarding, response. This account of the method by which Chekhov put his major plays together, therefore, will emphasize how he made them work in performance. Only once before in the story of the theatre, in the plays of Shakespeare, do we find such a bold sequence of experiments to secure an audience's maximum participation in the workings of the stage. On these grounds alone it is arguable that not only is Chekhov Russia's greatest dramatist...
(The entire section is 8021 words.)
Péter Egri (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "The Mosaic Design," in Chekhov and O'Neill: The Uses of the Short Story in Chekhov's and O 'Neill 's Plays, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1986, pp. 68-117.
[In the following excerpt, Egri demonstrates how themes and motifs from Chekhov's short stories are incorporated into "mosaic patterns " in Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard.]
The most intricate and refined strategy of composing a dramatic whole out of short-story-like units is the application of the mosaic design. It represents a total integration of short-story-oriented elements, minor motifs, even fragmentary motives, into a dramatic pattern. How conscious Chekhov was of the nature and merits of the procedure is witnessed by his letter of May 8, 1889, to his brother, Alexander Pavlovich: "The large number of re-visions need not trouble you, for the more of a mosaic a work is, the better. The characters stand to gain by this. The play will be worthless if all the characters resemble you.… Give people people, and not yourself."1 It is worth bearing in mind that for Chekhov the plasticity, objectivity and variety of the characters in a play can be obtained by the dramatic adoption of the mosaic technique, and conversely, the mosaic principle is applied to reach these very effects. Describing The Wood Denton (then a play in progress) in a letter of May 14, 1889, to A. S. Suvorin, Chekhov calls it "something of a...
(The entire section is 12790 words.)
Richard Peace (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: "Chekhov's 'Modern Classicism,'" in The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 65, No. 1, January 1987, pp. 13-25.
[In this essay, Peace uncovers elements of Greek classical tragedy in The Seagull and Three Sisters.]
Chekhov's real career as a dramatist may be seen as having begun with The Seagull: it marks the onset of the truly Chekhovian theatre. In this play the young writer Treplev issues something in the nature of a manifesto with his denunciation of the conventional theatre of his day and the staging of his own play, designed to impress (and to reproach) his mother—a pillar of that theatre, and her lover—the established writer Trigorin.
It is tempting to see in Treplev's demands for new forms in the theatre a manifesto launched by Chekhov himself. Indeed his fellow writer Potapenko (whose own life, as we know, provided material for Chekhov's plot) records that at the time of writing The Seagull Chekhov was himself constantly talking of the need for 'new forms'.1 Nevertheless Treplev's playlet is obviously far removed from Chekhov's own innovatory achievements. But it is only, perhaps, a matter of degree: for if we consider that Chekhov's own revolutionary theatre was a subtle combination of naturalism and symbolism, in which speech and poetic mood replaced overt action, then all these elements, but in a extreme and...
(The entire section is 6073 words.)
Laurence Senelick (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: "Stuffed Seagulls: Parody and the Reception of Chekhov's Plays," in Poetics Today, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1987, pp. 285-98.
[In the essay below, Senelick surveys works that caricature and satirize Chekhov's dramas.]
Parody, the late Dwight Macdonald has declared, is "an intuitive kind of literary criticism, shorthand for what 'serious' critics must write out at length" (1969:xiii).1 At its most refined, parody speaks to the in-crowd, those who are closely acquainted with the text being parodied, and who can best appreciate the accuracy of the parodist's hits. In its perception of an author's foibles and tics, parody must be as astute and as keen as any literary analysis; often, it is informed by a clear-sighted affection for its object of concern. The best parodist, at the level of a Max Beerbohm or a Marcel Proust, has so alert an ear for the idiosyncrasies of his author that his imitation may be all but indistinguishable from the original.
Generally, however, parody is normative, aiming to prune the excesses and eccentricities from a work of art. It is, in George Kitchin's definition, quoted by Macdonald, "the reaction of centrally-minded persons to the vagaries of the modes … [it is] inveterately social and anti-romantic" (p. 560). But it is only a step from anti-romanticism to philistinism and so, much of what passes for parody falls under the heading of heavy-handed...
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Milton Ehre (essay date 1992)
SOURCE: "Introduction," in Chekhov for the Stage, Northwestern University Press, 1992, pp. 1-16.
[In this essay, Ehre discusses Chekhov's efforts to "capture common reality" in his plays.]
Anton Chekhov was born in the provincial town of Taganrog on the Sea of Azov in 1860. His father was a grocer; his grandfather had been a serf. A difficult childhood—poverty, an ambitious and tyrannical father, a long-suffering mother—left its scars: "In childhood I had no childhood." He was gregarious but had a streak of melancholy in his nature and fled from intimacy. "No one," his friend Ivan Bunin wrote, "not even those closest to him, knew what went on deep inside him. His self-control never deserted him." Neither did his good humor, his decency, his sense of personal dignity. In Chekhov's presence, Gorky remembered, "everyone involuntarily felt a desire to be simpler, more truthful, more oneself."
Chekhov reached maturity at the time when the Industrial Revolution finally hit Russia with full force. The social composition of Russian literature before the age of Chekhov can be summed up by the title of a Tolstoy story, "Master and Man"—or "Landowner and Serf." In Chekhov's works we find the full panoply of modern professions—lawyers, doctors, engineers, industrialists, traveling salesmen, factory workers. The new bourgeois ethos of "making it on your own" was beginning to influence...
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Laurence Senelick (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: "Chekhov and the Bubble Reputation," in Chekhov Then and Now: The Reception of Chekhov in World Culture, edited by J. Douglas Clayton, Peter Lang, 1997, pp. 5-18.
[The following is the text of an address Senelick delivered at a 1994 symposium on Chekhov's reception. Senelick traces shifts in the author's reputation over the years.]
When Douglas Clayton asked me to deliver the keynote address to this illustrious assemblage, my first impulse was to entitle it "Confessions of an Inveterate Chekhovian." From my earliest memories, as the grandchild of Russian émigrés and in particular of an ochen ' kul'turnaia babushka, as a child playgoer and a child actor in a company based on the Method, I was surrounded by people who venerated Chekhov, and who thought nothing in the world more fulfilling than to be associated with a production of his plays. "Hallowed awe" is the term Ivan Voinitsky applies to his mother's infatuation with Professor Serebriakov, and it seems equally applicable here. This veneration persisted in college, three years of Russian classes culminating in the translation of Vishnevy sad. It led me, as a graduate student at Harvard, to learn from Nils Åke Nilsson a more objective, more technical approach to the works. For nearly forty years, I have translated Chekhov, written about him from the standpoint of a theatre historian, a literary critic, a biographer,...
(The entire section is 5762 words.)