Although The Bear is one of Anton Chekhov’s lesser-known plays, this “Farce in One-Act," as it is subtitled, is an excellent representative of its genre. Dedicating the play to N. N. Solovtsov, Chekhov is said to have been inspired by his friend’s boorish performance in a French vaudeville. Indeed, with its fast-paced, biting dialogue alluding to popular song lyrics, accidentally broken furniture, and exaggerated emotions that quickly turn into their opposite, this three-character drama resembles an act from a vaudeville.
The action begins at Elena Ivanovna Popova’s house, as she is seen bending over a photograph of her dead husband with a look of “deep mourning” on her face. Her servant, Luka, tries to comfort her and encourage her to finally leave the house, seven months after her husband’s death. Popova stubbornly refuses, citing the pretext that she must remain forever faithful to her husband—as he had never been to her. By locking herself up in her house for the rest of her life, she intends to show her deceased husband what true love and faithfulness mean.
A bell interrupts Popova’s mournful sobbing, and Gregorii Stepanovich Smirnov enters the scene. Naturally, Popova refuses to see him—after all, she has sworn to not see anyone until her death. Smirnov does not give up, claiming that he has come on urgent business. Without the excessive show of courtesy characteristic of his social class—a sign of his alleged disillusionment with high-society life and women—Smirnov demands that Popova return the money owed to him by her late husband. As she does not have money at the...
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