Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Irina Arkadina (ihr-IHN-uh ahr-kah-DIH-nuh), an aging, famous Russian actress who is vain, egotistical, and selfish. Living only for public acclaim of her art, Irina is neither willing nor able to establish a warm human relationship with her lover, Boris Trigorin, or with her son, Constantine Treplieff. Her disregard for her son helps to drive him to self-destruction.
Constantine Treplieff (kohn-stahn-TIHN trehp-LYEHF), a struggling young writer, the son of Irina Arkadina. He is an extreme idealist, both in his love for Nina Zarietchnaya and in his art. Constantly seeking new forms in his writing, he ignores literary conventions and believes that life must be represented not as it is but as it ought to be. In a moment of despair over his work, he shoots a seagull (which symbolizes human aspiration) and then makes an unsuccessful attempt on his own life. Near the end of the play, deserted by Nina, misunderstood by his mother, and ignored by more successful literary men, he finds himself unable to believe in anything, and he commits suicide.
Boris Trigorin (boh-RIHS trih-GOH-rihn), a successful author and Irina Arkadina’s lover. Although his writing has...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
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Eugene Sergeevich Dorn
Dorn is a doctor, like Chekhov himself, and as such is a familiar figure in the playwright's dramas. He is a rather world-weary man, seemingly indifferent to his calling. After years of practicing medicine, he is virtually penniless, having spent his life's earnings on foreign travel. As if resentful towards his profession, he seems almost unwilling any longer to attempt to help the sick, notably Sorin.
Like some men, Dorn in his life has had no trouble attracting the interest of the opposite sex, and in this fact he contrasts with Sorin who complains that he has had no luck at all with women. The doctor is ardently pursued by Pauline, Shamreyeff s wife, but he resists her efforts to get him to run off with her. He does not openly repel her love but instead waits for time to wear it away.
Curiously enough, only Dorn gets excited over Konstantine's work, first his play and then his fiction, about which he is most effusive in his praise. He shares Treplyov's belief that something like a literature of ‘‘new forms’’ is needed to sweep out the old.
(The entire section is 187 words.)
Daughter of Ilya and Pauline Shamreyeff, Masha (also called Maria Ilyinishna) is a young woman who assumes a melancholic demeanor, though it may be more fashionable than real. She dresses in mourning black, the outward reflection of her inner sorrow—or at least that is what she tells Medvedenko, the schoolmaster who dotes on her. She seems to luxuriate in his misery, however, and her posturing borders on the ridiculous.
Masha's problem is her unrequited love for Konstantine Treplyov, who seems utterly blind to her desire and considers her a pest. He is in love with Nina and has his own problems with unrequited love. Although Masha does not love Medvedenko, who is a rather bland and unimaginative fellow, she ends up marrying him. They have a child, towards whom she reveals not the slightest maternal interest. She is ill tempered and cold towards her well-meaning husband, as is her mother, Pauline, who has been privy to Masha's hopes for a love liaison with Treplyov. At the last, she can only hope that her dull husband will be assigned to a new district so that she might put her painful love for Konstantine behind her.
(The entire section is 195 words.)
Semyon Semyonovich Medvedenko
A rather unassuming and placid schoolmaster, Medvedenko diligently woos Masha, a woman whose passionate nature and eccentric manner simply seem puzzling to him. Because his own needs are so mundane and simple, he is unable to understand why she is so sad. As he observes, unlike him, she is hardly lacking in creature comforts. That her sorrow might spring from a despised love or some other nonmaterial cause simply escapes his understanding or sympathy.
Though she does not love or admire Medvedenko, Masha marries him, then behaves badly towards both him and their child. Medvedenko suffers her abuse without complaint, unwilling, perhaps, to risk the loss of her.
(The entire section is 108 words.)
Ilya Afanasevich Sharmreyeff
Ilya Shamreyeff, a retired army lieutenant, is Peter Sorin's irascible and tyrannical steward. As the inept Sorin complains, Ilya runs the estate, which, in truth, Sorin permits because rural life bores him. Peter is content to let Shamreyeff take charge, though the man is rather insolent and moody. At times he is also rude to Sorin's guests, especially when he feels put upon. He seems to resent the fact that he is a retainer and not their social equal.
Ilya is married to Pauline, and Masha is their daughter. He seldom seems to be in their company, busy as he is sorting out such matters as how the horses are to be used at any particular moment. He seems blissfully unaware of his wife's infatuation with the physician, Eugene Dorn, and indifferent towards his daughter, who complains that she is unable to talk to him. With her, he seems much more gruff and short-tempered than loving. He has, in fact, some of the insularity that is characteristic of many career military men, and he has clearly alienated both his wife and daughter.
In a few instances, Shamreyeff talks at length about the theater, recalling what he considers great moments in Russian stage history. His nostalgia for the low comedy that was part of the traditional theater offers a contrast with Treplyov's attack upon traditional works as cliche ridden and formulaic.
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Peter Nikolaevich Sorin
Peter Sorin, brother to Madame Arkadina, is a retired magistrate in his early sixties. He is also the host and owner of the country estate that is the play's setting.
Although easy-going and genial, Sorin constantly complains about the tedium of country living. He thinks of himself as a man of the town, miscast in his retirement role as rural squire. There is about him the smell of mortality, and in the course of the play he seems to wither away as his sense of boredom saps his energy. Towards the end of the play, he is confined to a wheel chair where he dozes and snores as life continues around him. Once an important man and the embodiment of authority, he can no longer curb the insubordination of his estate steward, Shamreyeff, or even of ordinary workmen. He has trouble with others as well, the physician Dorn, for example, who seems unwilling to heed his request for medicine. Towards him and other guests, Sorin seem pathetically deferential.
However, as a critic of Madame Arkadina's treatment of her son Konstantine, Sorin points up important character flaws in his sister, confirming, for example, the selfishness of which Treplyov accuses his mother, but she does not change one iota as a result of his criticism. He does love his nephew and provides him with a home and place to work, revealing a greater sense of concern for his welfare than Konstantine's mother has. Yet Sorin's fatherly love for his nephew is not powerful enough to stay the...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Konstantine Gavrilovich Treplyov
Son to Madame Arkadina and nephew to Peter Sorin, Konstantine Treplyov (also known as Kostya) is an aspiring writer in his early twenties. Moody and often depressed, Treplyov has an antagonistic relationship with his mother. He is an unrelenting critic of the traditional theater, which he considers tired and moribund, while she, having made her successful career in that theater, defends it. It is she who interrupts the performance of his ''new forms'' play on Sorin's estate, mocking its special effects and enraging her son, a signal event that sets in motion the destructive recriminations that further erode the relationship of Konstantine and his mother.
Treplyov's play also manages to alienate Nina Zaryechny, who, although she acts in the play, neither likes it nor understands what it is all about. Although Treplyov loves her, she turns away from him, attracted to the novelist Boris Trigorin and sets out to become an actress. From jealousy and envy, Treplyov verbally attacks Trigorin as a coward and wants to challenge him to duel. He also tries to kill himself, though the effort is suspect because, although he is able to bring down a seagull with a rifle shot, he bungles at least one try at blowing his brains out with a pistol.
In the final part of the play, despite his growing success as a writer, Treplyov remains melancholy and alienated from the other characters. He becomes critical of his own work, observing that it is becoming as...
(The entire section is 292 words.)
Madame Treplyov (also called Irina Nikolaevna Arkadina) is the sister of Peter Sorin and mother of Konstantine Treplyov. She is a very successful and once a strikingly beautiful actress, who, although in her mid forties, still looks much younger, a fact in which she takes great pride. Although a sentimental woman prone to effusive emotional moments, she is a poor parent, stingy with her money and totally disinclined to sacrifice anything for her son. She is, in fact, rather embarrassed around him, in large measure because his presence serves to remind her of her real age. Although she is capable of tender moments with him, there is a strong antagonism between them that may be interpreted as having Oedipal undercurrents. In some of their exchanges, recriminations fly back and forth between them, and from start to finish she remains more hostile than loving towards him. Her antagonism is a major reason for his attempts at suicide.
Madame Treplyov holds the writer Boris Trigorin, her lover, under her spell, and although he is drawn to Nina Zaryechny, he ends up treating her badly and returning to Irina, who at one point plays shamelessly with his emotions and loyalty. Irina's son despises Trigorin, both for his writing and his apparent lack of courage. Irina is not able to make peace between them, though she hardly seems to try very hard. Because she is so selfish and self-centered, she cannot understand her son, and is simply mystified by his attack on the...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
Boris Alexeevich Trigorin
Boris Trigorin, a successful novelist, is the traveling companion and lover of Irina Arkadina. His relationship with her and the acclaim accorded his art gnaw at Konstantine's innards. He holds the older man in contempt, as much from envy and jealousy as any really contemptible character flaws in Boris. The conflict between the two provides a good part of the play's tension.
Trigorin is actually a rather easy-going fellow. His success has made him neither arrogant nor aloof; thus, despite his wretched treatment of Nina, he remains rather likable as a character. His favorite activity at Sorin's estate is fishing in the ‘‘magical’’ lake, something that gives him peace and contentment.
Trigorin's fiction, realistic in nature, also rankles Konstantine, who is preaching a new style and mode in literature. Trigorin is open to new styles, and sees no reason why Treplyov's writing cannot coexist with his own. Konstantine is not so obliging, however, and seems bent on destroying both the man and his work. A central irony of the play is that Trigorin, without even trying, wins the adoration of Nina with whom Treplyov is hopelessly in love.
(The entire section is 188 words.)
Ilya Shamreyeff's wife, Pauline is often found in the company of the physician, Eugene Dorn, with whom she may be carrying on an illicit love affair, though whether her passion for him is being requited or is merely expressed remains one of the play's mysteries. In any case, she is seeking fulfillment outside of her marriage. Dorn, who has always been popular with the opposite sex, seems noncommittal in their relationship, even bored by it. She, meanwhile, is well aware of the deadening effect that time is likely to have on her hopes and tries to push him into running off with her. He seems completely disinterested, however, worn down by his weary life as a physician. He is virtually penniless and no longer feels the stirring of passion, thus nothing really ever comes of their relationship.
Madame Irina Nikolaevna Arkadina
See Madame Treplyov.
See Konstantine Gavrilovich Treplyov.
Nina Mikhailovna Zaryechny
Nina Zaryechny is the pretty daughter of a wealthy landowner living on an estate near Sorin's estate. Her tyrannical father and stepmother disapprove of the ''bohemian'' guests of Sorin and try to prevent her involvement with them, but she is too much a free spirit to bend to their will. At first she seems to be in love with Konstantine, but after her...
(The entire section is 414 words.)