Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 865
Arkady Sergeyitch Islayev
Arkady Sergeyitch Islayev (ahr-KAH-dihy sehr-GEH-ihch ihs-lah-YEHF), a wealthy landowner interested in the details of work on his estate and unwilling to trust his peasants to work without supervision. His discovery of his wife and his friend together and their resultant embarrassment make him feel that he has been too trusting. Although he agrees that Rakitin should leave, at least for a time, he is apologetic about sending away an old friend. Unperceptive as he has been, he is completely surprised later when Rakitin tells him of Natalya’s love for Belyayev.
Natalya Petrovna (nah-TAHL-yah peht-ROV-nah), called Natasha (nah-TAH-shah), his wife. Intelligent and observant, she is sometimes mischievous toward Rakitin, who accuses her of playing with him as a cat does with a mouse. Early in the play, it is obvious that although she cares for Rakitin, she is restlessly looking for some new excitement. Attracted to Belyayev, her son’s tutor, because of his youth, appearance, and winning personality, she tries to draw him out. Seeing Vera’s interest in him, she becomes jealous. She is also a little ashamed of herself for both the love and the jealousy, and she berates herself for slyly eliciting Vera’s confession of love and then reporting it so bluntly and cruelly to Belyayev. At the end, she is overcome by the almost simultaneous departures of Belyayev and Rakitin.
Kolya (KOH-lyah), the ten-year-old son of Arkady and Natalya, a high-spirited boy who idolizes Belyayev.
Vera (VEH-rah), an orphaned ward of the Islayevs. Lonely for the companionship of young people, she falls romantically in love with Belyayev, with whom she feels a kinship because he is also motherless. She is fond of Natalya but a little afraid of her. Upon her discovery of Natalya’s duplicity in trapping her into a confession of love, and after her realization that she and Natalya are rivals, her fear is replaced by anger. When she learns that Belyayev has no thought of marrying her and that he has regarded her as simply a charming girl, she impulsively decides to marry the ludicrous though good Bolshintsov simply to get away from Natalya.
Mihail Alexandrovitch Rakitin
Mihail Alexandrovitch Rakitin (mih-hah-IHL ah-lehk-SAHN-dro-vihch rah-KIH-tihn), a longtime friend of the Islayevs, a man fond of studying people and analyzing them. He has been in love with Natalya for several years, but the affair has hovered only between the platonic and the adulterous. Natalya finds him sympathetic, affectionate, constant, peaceful, and comforting. His manner with her shifts with his moods and hers, being alternately jesting, romantic, poetic, and philosophical. The relationship between the two closely resembles that of the playwright and Madame Viardot, an opera singer who was taught by Franz Liszt and loved by Alfred de Musset and Hector Berlioz as well as by Turgenev.
Alexey Nikolayevitch Belyayev
Alexey Nikolayevitch Belyayev (ah-lehk-SAY nih-koh-LAH-yeh-vihch beh-LYAH-ehf), a university student and Kolya’s tutor. He is diffident and embarrassed when Natalya talks to him, but he talks freely with Vera and appears boyish and enthusiastic when he is with Vera and Kolya. He is confused and ill at ease because of the difference between his station and that of the aristocratic Natalya, and he is both flattered and frightened to find that she loves him. Unwilling to hurt anyone, he flees from involvement with either Natalya or Vera.
Ignaty Ilyitch Shpigelsky
Ignaty Ilyitch Shpigelsky (ih-GNAH-tihy IH-lyihch shpih-GEHL -skih), a doctor and a close friend...
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of the Islayevs. Having told a story of a girl with two suitors who knew she was in love but did not know with whom, he draws from Natalya the question whether it is possible to love two people at once. He perceives Natalya’s relationship with Rakitin. At times, he seems like a basso buffo in a comic opera, but his serious side is made evident in the long conversation during which he proposes to Lizaveta. He confesses that although he plays the clown, it is a calculated playing, and he is in reality ingratiating himself with the rich people from whom he may gain rewards without revealing what he thinks of them. He serves as a marriage broker for Bolshintsov.
Adam Ivanitch Schaaf
Adam Ivanitch Schaaf (ah-DAHM ih-VAHN-ihch schahf), a phlegmatic, rather grumpy German tutor. He is ridiculous in his attempts to be romantic with Katya, who spurns him.
Afanasy Ivanovitch Bolshintsov
Afanasy Ivanovitch Bolshintsov (ah-fah-NAH-sihy ih-VAH-no-vihch bohl-SHIHN-tsof), a neighbor. Shy with women, he promises Shpigelsky three horses if the doctor can arrange for him a marriage with Vera. Rakitin thinks him fat, foolish, and tedious, and to Vera he is laughable, though she finally agrees to marry him.
Anna Semyonovna Islayev
Anna Semyonovna Islayev (AHN-nah seh-MYOH-nov-nah ihs-lah-YEHF), Arkady’s mother. She is disturbed by the belief that Natalya and Rakitin are more than friends and at the end by the news that Lizaveta may soon be leaving her.
Lizaveta Bogdanovna (lih-zah-VEH-tah bohg-DAH-nov-nah), Anna’s companion. Her remarks to Anna at the end of the play suggest that shortly she will marry Shpigelsky.
Katya (KAH-tyah), a maid courted by both Schaaf and Matvey. She likes Belyayev.
Matvey (maht-VAY), a manservant in love with Katya.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 848
Vera Alexandrovna Vera is Natalya and Islayev's adopted daughter. As a seventeen-year-old, Vera is caught in the precarious situation of still being considered a naive child, when in fact she proves to be a perceptive and precocious young woman. Vera is smitten with Beliayev and when she comes to believe that he loves only Natalya, she agrees to marry Bolshintsov, who had been previously undesirable to her.
Alexei Nikolayich Beliayev Beliayev is a twenty-one-year-old student hired by Natalya to tutor Kolya. In contrast to other characters in the play who profess their honorable nature, Beliayev's honor appears to be genuine when it comes to caring about others. He describes himself as lazy; however, his intelligence and ingenuity contrast with this quality. His translation of a book into French without knowing the language attests either to his facility with languages or his willingness to misrepresent himself and his capabilities.
Lizaveta Bogdanovna Liza is a lady companion who plays cards with Anna and Schaaf, teaches Kolya piano, and becomes involved with Shpigelski. Liza accepts Shpigelski's marriage proposal, although the audience might wonder why she does this. During the proposal scene, she tells him that she is only thirty-years-old when in fact she is thirty-seven. She is apparently self-conscious of her age, and this is perhaps her motivation for accepting Shpigelski as a suitor and a husband.
Afanasy Ivanovich Bolshintsov Bolshintsov is the forty-year-old single neighbor of Islayev and Natalya. He is not highly regarded by most of the characters and is quite nervous throughout the play about his courtship of Vera.
Anna Semyenovna Islayev Anna is Islayev's fifty-eight-year-old mother. She spends her time leisurely and is suspicious of Natalya's behavior. She is concerned for her son and feels that Natalya's youth does not work in his favor.
Arkady Sergeyich Islayev Arkady is a wealthy landowner in his mid-thirties, who spends much of his time working. His work keeps him away from his wife, who develops an interest in Rakitin, a family friend. He is not a jealous man, nor does he handle his wife's behavior with suspicion or malice once he learns of Rakitin's love for her.
Kolya Islayev Kolya is Natalya and Islayev's ten-year-old son. He is an energetic youth who loves to play and is dazzled by his new tutor, Beliayev.
Katya Katya is a twenty-year-old maidservant who acts as Vera's confidant. She entertains advances from Schaaf and seems to always be in the right place to overhear the conversations of the other characters in the play.
Matvey Matvey is a forty-year-old servant who plays a small role introducing characters and announcing meals.
Natalya Petrovna Natalya is the complicated main character of the play. She is a married twenty-nine-year-old who finds herself bored with much of the life and people around her. From childhood she has lived a structured and hence seemingly constrained life from which she would like to break free. Her domineering father kept her in line as a child, and it seems that her choice in marrying Islayev has continued her feeling of confinement. The claustrophobic feeling that she has is replicated in her relationship with Rakitin. When she hires a new tutor for her son; however, she sees a glimpse of a different life. Beliayev is a breath of fresh air for Natalya and through him, she hopes to give her son the fun, happiness, and freedom she never had. In the process, she develops a yearning to capture these things for herself as well. Ultimately she does not attain the freedom that she seeks, and she must accept her life as it is.
Mikhail Alexandrovich Rakitin Rakitin is a thirty-year-old friend of Natalya and Islayev. While Islayev considers Rakitin a close friend to him, Rakitin most certainly has a stronger affinity for Natalya. After admitting his love for Natalya to Islayev, Rakitin departs the estate. In his lecture to Beliayev, Rakitin reveals his belief that a woman's honor is very important; however, his lecture can also be seen as self-serving. Rakitin recognizes his devotion to Natalya and is perplexed by her coolness toward him. He sees only his passion for her and does not understand how such feelings are not mutual. On one level, he does the honorable thing by leaving Natalya; however, he also knows that he is welcome to return.
Adam Ivanich Schaaf Schaaf is a forty-five-year-old German tutor who is playfully smitten with Katya. In the first scene, he demonstrates his skill at the card game Hearts as well as his willingness to attribute his loss to someone else.
Ignaty Ilyich Shpigelski Shpigelski is the forty-year-old doctor who calls on the family and is interested in marrying Lizaveta. Though his public persona is one of an accommodating, thoughtful, and jovial country doctor, his private persona is quite different. He expresses disdain and dislike for the other characters in the play. He uses people for what they can provide for him and does not see himself as particularly kind, talented, or romantic. He has clear views about a wife's and a woman's place in society and prides himself on his honesty.