Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Seagull inaugurates the most significant portion of Chekhov’s career, when his major plays were written, and marks a departure from his earlier dramatic work, chiefly conventionally structured short plays with plots developing onstage climax and resolution. The Seagull and subsequent plays treat onstage the characters’ inner action and lives without typical plot progression, while keeping dramatic events offstage. The play’s production proved a disaster. Masterfully directed two years later at the new Moscow Art Theatre, it was a recognized success as a new dramatic form.
In the play’s first of four acts, a celebrated stage actress, Arkadina, returns to visit her estate with her younger lover and popular writer, Trigorin. There they, with her doddering brother Sorin and visitors, are given a performance of a murky symbolistic play by her son Konstantin. Its sole performer is a neighbor girl, Nina, whom Konstantin adores. When the play is rejected by both Arkadina and Trigorin as decadent, its author is devastated.
The second act reveals the characters’ unhappy lives fueled by unrequited love. Both the estate manager’s wife and her daughter, Masha, are rejected by those they love: respectively, physician Dr. Dorn and Konstantin. The latter jealously loves his dismissive mother, who strives to hold onto the self-absorbed Trigorin. Angry at Nina’s indifference to his play, Konstantin kills a seagull and gives...
(The entire section is 600 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One day Konstantin Treplev kills a seagull and places it at the feet of Nina, the beautiful young actor with whom he is hopelessly in love. He tells her that unless she can love him, he, too, will be lying dead at her feet. Nina, however, is not in love with Konstantin; she is infatuated with Trigorin, the famous novelist, who in turn is in love with Irina Arkadina, an actor and Konstantin’s mother.
Konstantin hates Trigorin, looking upon him as a purveyor of empty phrases, a writer entirely different from what he himself hopes to become. Konstantin’s ambition is to create new and more expressive literary forms, and he wrote a play in which Nina consents to appear. The performance, staged in the open air on the estate of Pyotr Sorin, Konstantin’s uncle, is not exactly a success, although it possesses unquestioned literary merit. Madame Arkadina and Trigorin, who are present, refuse to take the production seriously. Trigorin is most impressed by the performance of nineteen-year-old Nina in the principal role.
Madame Arkadina’s behavior at her son’s play is typical of her attitude toward Konstantin in every aspect of their relationship. As a famous actor, whose popularity depends upon her keeping her youth and her good looks, she naturally is not overjoyed at the constant reminder that she is the mother of a twenty-five-year-old son. Consequently, she keeps Konstantin in the country, where he will not be seen and thus be associated...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)
Act 1 Summary
The Seagull opens on an early summer evening in a park on the estate of Peter Nikolaevich Sorin, brother to Irina Arkadina, a celebrated actress. A small stage blocks a view of the lake that borders the park. Around it are some bushes, a few chairs, and a table. Behind the platform's curtain, Yakov and other laborers are finishing work on the makeshift structure.
Masha and Semyon Medvedenko are returning from a walk. She is the daughter of Sorin's steward, Ilya Shamreyeff. He is a poor schoolmaster, infatuated with her but perplexed by her sorrow, which is overtly revealed in her mournful world view and black clothing. He cannot understand why she is sad, for she is not poor. From their conversation, it is learned that a play written by Konstantine, Madame Treplyov's son, is about to be performed, and that he and Nina Zaryechny, who is to act in it, are in love.
As Masha tries to discourage Semyon's love, Sorin and Konstantine Treplyov enter. Sorin confides that the country does not really suit him. He complains to Masha about the dog that her father keeps chained up, but she curtly dismisses his request that she tell Shamreyeff that the dog's howling bothers Sorin. She and Medvedenko exit, followed by Yakov and the other workers who go off for a swim while Sorin and Treplyov await the appearance of Nina. Sorin, after remarking on his own frumpishness and inadequacies as a lover, asks the cause of Treplyov's mother's bad humor....
(The entire section is 892 words.)
Act 2 Summary
The action continues on another part of Sorin's estate, a croquet lawn near the lake. It is noon on a hot day, perhaps a week later. Seated on a tree-shaded bench, Madame Arkadina and Masha engage in idle conversation while Dorn attempts to read a de Maupassant story. Rather vainly, Irina asks Dorn to say which of them, herself or Masha, looks the youngest, then carries on about her fine appearance and flawless grooming. She exclaims that she never looks frumpy, an obvious contrast to her brother, Sorin. She takes the book from Dorn and reads aloud, then, apropos of the author's words, comments on her relationship with Trigorin.
When Sorin enters, accompanied by Nina and Medvedenko, who bring in his wheel chair, the conversation turns to Trigorin and his persistent habit of fishing alone and then to Konstantine, who Madame Arkadina finds ‘‘sad and morose.’’ While Sorin snores in his wheel chair, Masha effusively praises Konstantine's genius and poetic soul. Annoyed, Irina wakes her brother and complains about his failure to take medicine. Dorn, in turn, carps about Sorin's consumption of wine and his smoking. According to the doctor, these habits affect his character, but Sorin only laughs and defends his use of sherry and cigars as a defense against his boring life, which in turn prompts a discourse by his sister on the dullness of country living.
After Shamreyeff and Pauline enter, and Irina confirms that she had hoped to take a...
(The entire section is 706 words.)
Act 3 Summary
The scene shifts now to the interior of Sorin's house, to the dining room. From the conversation, it is made clear that about a week has elapsed since Konstantine shot The Seagull. From the trunk and hat boxes deposited on the floor, it is also clear that preparations for a departure are in progress.
Masha is alone with Trigorin, who sits at a table eating his lunch. She tells him that she is going to marry Medvedenko, even though she does not love him. The fact that she is drinking annoys the writer. He is also upset because Treplyov has been behaving badly. As Boris explains, during the elapsed period between the acts, Konstantine has bungled an attempt to kill himself with a pistol shot to the head. He is reportedly also planning to challenge the novelist to a duel and has been preaching about the need for new art forms, which Boris finds offensively inflexible. As Nina enters, Masha speaks of Medvedenko as a poor and not very clever man, but one who loves her. She plans to marry him from pity as much as anything else.
After she exits, Nina gives Boris a medal that she has had engraved to commemorate their meeting. He recalls the moment when he saw her in her white dress with The Seagull lying at her feet. They are then interrupted by Madame Arkadina and Sorin, who enter followed by Yakov, who is packing for Trigorin and Irina. The novelist goes off to find one of his books, lines from which are referenced on the medal's...
(The entire section is 776 words.)
Act 4 Summary
The action again occurs in Sorin's estate house, in one of his drawing rooms that has been put to use by Treplyov as a study. It is stormy night, a full two years later. At rise, Masha and Medvedenko, now her husband, enter, looking for Konstantine, who, it is soon learned, has become a moderately successful writer. For the moment or so that the couple are alone, they reveal that they have a child, on whom Medvedenko dotes but towards whom Masha seems completely indifferent. The baby and her husband seem merely to annoy her.
They are joined by Treplyov and Pauline, who come in carrying bedding for turning a sofa into a bed for Sorin's use. The old man, now ill, has insisted on being near Konstantine. Medvedenko then leaves, ignored by Masha and rather curtly dismissed by Pauline, who thereafter turns warmer attention to Konstantine, affectionately running her hand through his hair as she discusses his unanticipated acclaim as an author and begs him to be kind to Masha. Without uttering a word, he rises from his desk and exits, leaving Pauline and Masha to discuss Masha's forlorn love for him. Masha's only hope is that her husband's imminent transfer will put her ache behind her.
After Konstantine begins playing a melancholy waltz in another room, Dorn and Medvedenko enter, pushing Sorin in his wheelchair and arguing about money, a constant problem for the school teacher. Dorn says that he has no money either, claiming that his life savings...
(The entire section is 883 words.)