Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449
Madame Arkadina, an aging but accomplished actress, entertains assorted friends and relatives at her country estate; her guests include the famous novelist Trigorin and a lovely neighborhood girl named Nina. Arkadina’s son Treplev has written a play in the new Symbolist style. When it is presented with Nina in the lead role, the visitors laugh, sending Treplev into fits of rage and artistic despair. Nina, disenchanted with Treplev, falls in love with the dissipated Trigorin, already Arkadina’s lover, and elicits from him a promise to sponsor her acting career in the city in exchange for becoming his mistress.
Chekhov draws his portraits in great detail, mercilessly revealing flaws and showing the fragile, exposed egos beneath the surface. The penultimate scene, between a broken Treplev and a fallen Nina, stands for man’s inability to regain the zeal and passionate integrity of youth.
After one false start, the play was successfully staged by the Moscow Art Theatre, which took the sea gull as its symbol in honor of the playwright and the new dramatic approach the play initiated. All of today’s realistic drama owes a debt to the innovations of Chekhov’s work: naturalistic dialogue without obvious construction, a loosening of strictly Aristotelian rules of dramatic structure, and condensed, psychologically convincing characterization.
Bristow, Eugene K., ed. Anton Chekhov’s Plays. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977. An anthology of Chekhov’s major plays, accompanied by thirteen critical articles. Of special interest is Thomas G. Winner’s “Chekhov’s Sea Gull and Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Study of a Dramatic Device.”
Hingley, Ronald. Chekhov: A Biographical and Critical Study. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1950. A thoughtful study of all aspects of Chekhov’s art, emphasizing his life. Chapters on Chekhov’s connections with the Moscow Art Theater and his approach to drama are of special significance for understanding of The Seagull.
Jackson, Robert Louis, ed. Chekhov: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. Of the sixteen essays, nine are devoted to the theater of Chekhov, including the editor’s “The Seagull: The Empty Well, the Dry Lake, and the Cold Cave.”
Magarshak, David. Chekhov the Dramatist. New York: Hill & Wang, 1960. A thorough discussion of all Chekhov’s plays on such topics as plays of direct action, transition, and plays of indirect action. References to The Seagull place the play in a proper perspective within the playwright’s general dramatic output.
Valency, Maurice. The Breaking String: The Plays of Anton Chekhov. London: Oxford University Press, 1966. One of the best treatments of Chekhov’s plays. Analyzes the general aspects of Chekhov’s approach to theater and provides detailed discussion of all plays, including The Seagull.