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The Cherry Orchard

by Anton Chekhov

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Is Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" a comedy or a tragedy?

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The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov has generated much discussion especially with regards to its genre. The author considered the play a comedy while the famous director, Stanislavski considered the plot a tragedy, both with compelling reasons to support their arguments. Stanislavski premiered the play as a tragedy and even delayed the conclusion of the fourth act in order to sustain the suspense. This was done much to the disapproval of the author, who believed this was a poor representation of the play and its plot. Stanislavski asserted the play was a tragedy despite Anton’s attempt at creating a smooth landing for the protagonist in the last act.

The play began with the orchard being in danger of being sold, this situation progressed to it being sold and the situation after it was sold. This simplistic description of the play made it undeniably sad and confirmed there was nothing humorous about an individual losing their property. However, if one looks at how this trail of events occurred and the role of the characters, then the author’s assertions that the play was a comedy would be confirmed. The owner held on to the orchard until it was auctioned, with some of the characters supporting her based on trivial reasons, for instance, the reason given by Gaev, that the orchard appeared in the “Encyclopaedic Dictionary” and thus should be left as is.

Anton offered the audience an opportunity to see the buffoonery and infantilism displayed by the characters, based on the conflict they faced because of the changing times. On one hand, the land owner failed to appreciate the falling aristocracy, while on the other hand, the buyer did not fully recognize the rising social status of former serfs in the new Russia. In this regard, the play should be classified as a comedy based on the depth of reasons presented by the author.

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Is The Cherry Orchard a tragedy or a comedy? What are the comedic or dramatic elements in the play?

Anton Chekhov conceived of this play, which turned out to be his last, as a comedy,designating it “A Comedy in Four Acts” and even emphasizing to the Moscow Art Theatre that the last act should be “merry and frivolous.”  He suggested that some portions were even farcical.  Nevertheless, most interpretations and theatrical productions have emphasized its tragic aspects. It is understandable why the playwright’s intentions have been largely disregarded; the subject is a serious and depressing one including the family’s loss of their ancestral home and removal from it and other sad developments as well.  The destruction of the orchard also represents the destruction of illusions—sad, to be sure, but perhaps hopeful.

Thus, as the inevitable change in society with the dawning of the 20th Century comes, the play represents this time period and portrays an end of an aristocratic era with both tragic and comic elements.  The play is best characterized as a tragicomedy.

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