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 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...
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