July 23, 2013
The Seagull by Anton Chekhov (Review)
Author: Anton Chekhov
First published: 1895
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I've read quite a few of Chekhov's works, including short stories, novels and plays, but somehow one of his most famous plays has eluded me. The Seagull was a disaster when first staged, and some years had elapsed before it became popular. The reason for this may be that the structure of the play is too difficult for general public and not everybody could understand it.
The difficulty is that the play features a play. I guess this device is called "play-within-a-play", and I've already encountered it quite recently in A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. Treplev is a young apologist of introducing new forms to the theater and he writes an experimental play that stars his sweetheart Nina, who is idealizing theater and is dreaming of becoming an actress. It is staged in the estate of his mother's brother, on an open-air stage. But the play leaves everybody indifferent, including Treplev's mother, an acclaimed actress. Treplev hopes to find understanding in Nina, but she is too infatuated with Trigorin, a well-known writer who is invited for a summer stay by the host.
After the play everything goes awry: Nina leaves with Trigorin and becomes an actress and his lover, Treplev tries to commit suicide, Sorin, in whose estate everything is happening, is getting ill, Masha, the estate manager's daughter, marries without love, some of the old passions surface, and everything falls apart.
We next see the characters of the play two years later, and I will not describe how it all ends, because it will spoil everything for those who have not read the play, but the ending is very powerful and dramatic. The Seagull throws art and feelings together in such a way that one is uncomprehensible without the other, and both are palpable and equally important for the characters of the play.
In my book:
Chekhov has never disappointed me before, and this play is as astonishing as everything else I have read by him. For those who are not familiar with Chekhov, I have two reasons why you should try him: 1) he is a Russian classic and 2) most of his works are less than 100 pages long, which is a rare virtue in Russian literature :) And he is totally amazing, of course.