Anton Chekhov

Abstract

The purpose of the research paper will be to discuss Anton Chekhov who was a Russian playwright and a literary figure. The research paper will examine the relevant literature with regards to Anton Chekhov and also examine his various literary works.

Playwrights and short stories that have been written by the famous author will also be explored in the discussion by introducing his works and playwrights. The paper will also look at the various issues that Anton Chekhov chose to explore in his literature works such as his playwrights and how these issues influenced his writing in his depictions of the Russian contemporary society.

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Introduction

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov who was born in 1860 was a Russian playwright and short story writer considered to be one of the greatest literary writers in the world of literature. For most of his literary career, Chekhov was a physician and he therefore wrote short stories for some financial gain but as his ability to write literary works grew, he focus became centered on writing short stories.

Chekhov mostly used the “stream-of-consciousness technique” in producing many of his stories where he mostly asked questions rather than answered them. In his whole career as a playwright, he was able to produce four classic short stories with the rest-becoming world re-known amongst playwrights and short story writers (Craig et al, 2009).

In 1896, Anton Chekhov renounced the theater after the terrible reception he got for his play, the Seagull. However, the play was revived two years later by a playwright known as Constantin Stanislavski in the Moscow Art Theatre that would later feature two of Chekhov’s plays known as the Three Sisters and the Cherry Orchard.

His four classical plays offered the audience with a different feel to theater acting as he emphasized more on offering a theatre mood that would submerge the audience into a life within the play’s script.

Chekhov’s plays became world re-known and they revolutionized the playwright field as well as theater acting. His playwright techniques were seen by many as an art as they provided scattered glimpses into the lives of his characters in what were termed as trivial conversations which existed in the Russian urban life during the 1800s (Craig et al, 2009).

Early Writings and Influences of Anton Chekhov

Chekhov’s venture into the world of literature began in 1876 when he started writing short comedy sketches for the local newspapers in Taganrog so that he could sustain his family after his father left with his two brothers because of debt problems. Anton performed various jobs such as selling goldfinches and private tutoring to support his mother and also pay for his education in medicine.

He also sold short sketches to the local newspapers in Taganrog to earn an extra income which he sent to his family in Moscow to help them with the financial situation. Chekhov also read widely and he analyzed various works by famous Russian writers such as Turgenev, Cervantes and Goncharov which enabled him to write his first full-length comedy drama known as the Fatherless (Whyman, 2010).

Chekhov later moved to Moscow after gaining admission to the medical school of Moscow University in 1879. He continued to support his family as well as pay for his tuition fees by writing short comedy sketches that portrayed the contemporary Russian life during the 1800s.

He distributed these sketches to the various newspapers and publication houses in Moscow where his reputation as a satirical writer of Russian contemporary life continued to grow. Chekhov later completed his studies in 1884 after which he qualified to be a professional physician though this career did not allow him to earn as much as he would have wanted (Whyman, 2010).

Some of the works that he wrote for Russian newspapers during this time included the Man without a Spleen, Antosha Chekhonte and the Huntsman which all earned him literary acclaim from famous Russian writers such as Dmitry Grigorovich and Alexey Suvorin who was the millionaire owner of the St. Petersburg.

The year 1887 saw him produce a short length story known as the Steppe which revolves around a young boy who has been sent away from home. Chekhov focuses on the boy’s journey across a steppe as well as his companions throughout the journey who include a priest and a merchant. The Steppe represented a significant advancement from Chekhov’s previous works as it allowed him to demonstrate his maturity in the field of literature and fiction which later saw him winning a publication in a literary journal (Bartlett, 2004).

Chekhov was later commissioned in 1887 to write a play which saw him produce Ivanov which became a hit in the Moscow theater world. The play was a demonstration of how he had developed intellectually in his literary career and many playwright critics viewed his play, Ivanov, to be a work of originality.

In 1889, Chekhov wrote a short story known as A Dreary Story after the death of his brother Nikolai Chekhov. The short story was meant to portray the life of a man who was nearing his death by confronting his past, only to discover that his life had lacked meaning. The following year, Chekhov went to Sakhalin Island in the northern part of Japan where he went to conduct a census on the prison life of thousands of convicts in the Sakhalin region (Bartlett, 2004).

The results of his census findings enabled him to produce his long short story known as the Murder where he used his literary expression of the census findings to portray the prison conditions of convicts in Sakhalin. Chekhov explored the issue of politics and humanity in the Murder by demonstrating the poor conditions that prison convicts were subjected to.

Chekhov began writing his second play, the Seagull, in 1894 which was later released to the commercial theater in Petersburg in 1896. The play was not however received well by theater audiences who booed during most of the acting. This reaction to the Seagull saw Chekhov renouncing playwrights and the theatre for two years during which he mostly focused on writing short stories and long short stories (Whyman, 2010).

The theater director in the Alexandrinsky theatre based in Petersburg, Vladimir Danchenko, was however impressed with the play. He convinced Constantin Stanislavski to direct the play in the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898 with a different approach from that used by Chekhov. Stanislavski involved the use of psychological realism and ensemble playing to evoke the buried message in the Seagull’s script thereby restoring the play to its intended reputation.

The successful reception that the play got with Stanislavski’s direction restored Chekhov’s interest in writing plays which saw the Art Theatre commissioning him to write more plays such as Uncle Vanya. Chekhov later completed two more plays in 1901 known as the Three Sisters and the Cherry Orchard. The Cherry Orchard was Chekhov’s final play as it was produced just before his death in May 1904 (Whyman, 2010).

Analysis of Chekhov’s Playwright Works

Many literary writers and critics of Chekhov’s works have agreed that he was the best dramatist and writer of short stories the world has ever known. His subtle writing of plays and short stories enabled his works to have elements of drama that were eventually seen to be original pieces of literary work. In an analysis of Chekhov’s first play the Seagull, Bloom (2009) views Chekhov’s portrayal of the characters in the play as well as the overall script to be magnificently written the famous playwright.

He terms the Seagull as a pure comedy play where Chekhov brings various comedy aspects out of the play’s characters. Despite having a perfect storyline, the Seagull had various flaws and limitations that made it get a negative reception during its first launch. One of these flaws was the character of Konstantin, a bad writer in the play, when he delayed shooting himself until the very end of the play (Bloom, 2009).

This was seen as an inconsiderate part of the play given the irrelevance of Konstantin’s character as a mother’s boy. Another flaw of the Seagull was the character of Nina, an aspiring actress and a victim of the main character, Trigorin. The portrayal of Nina as a naive and sincere actress who is ready to be ruined by Trigorin throughout the play gave out a negative portrayal of female actresses who wanted to join the theater and acting business.

Nina’s character showed that female actresses would do anything to get into the acting business even if it meant having the integrity and morals being to the test. The Seagull mainly focused on societal issues that affected actors and actresses who wanted to venture into the entertainment world (Bloom, 2009).

An analysis of Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya, shows that his writings for the playwright were formless given that the play mostly focused on the vicarious living of the various characters in the play that included Uncle Vanya, Yelena, Sonya, Astrov and Professor Serebriakov. The professor brings out various aspects and qualities in the play to explain Uncle Vanya’s precarious life such has ignorance, vanity, obtrusiveness and arrogance.

Professor Serebriakov reveals to Vanya, Sonya, Astrov and Yelena their own different versions of emotion and consciousness which serves to make their already bad lives even worse. Chekhov therefore focuses on the aspect of revealing truth which he terms as making his characters despair even further (Bloom, 2009).

Uncle Vanya was viewed to be a success by many playwrights and literary writers because of its exploration of the madness that exists in great artistic works. Describing the playwright would be a depressing affair but the aesthetic dignity that the play offered in its dramatic scenes was able to produce a different effect that was somber rather than depressing. The playwrights and literary critics viewed Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya to surpass the type of writing and characterization that was incorporated in the Seagull.

Three Sisters was however deemed to be Chekhov’s masterpiece in the playwright area as he explored an even more depressing storyline than Uncle Vanya. The characters in the Three sisters who include the three sisters themselves, Masha, Olga and Irina and their brother Andrey represent a fourfold parody of the prince of Denmark in the play (Bloom, 2009).

In the play, the characters of Masha and Irina come out to be more interesting than the character of Olga because they are more at home on the idealist reality than their sister is. Olga however has her own fascinating moments in the play as she encompasses the character of a playgoer and reader as well as a motherly figure and a fragile human being who is able to demonstrate the good nature of human beings but is unable to defend it in herself and in others.

Olga therefore embodies a character of maternal care in the Three Sisters who is unable to bring defend her good sided nature. Masha’s character on the other hand comes out as being very truthful and honest making her the intellectual among the three sisters while Irina’s character is composed of grim metaphors, delusions and provocations making her the dreamer amongst the three sisters.

Irina takes up the burial place of her mother to be her visual representation within the play despite the disconnection. Andrey’s portrayal in the play is viewed to be less than his three sisters as he comes off as an amiable aesthete that always falls victim to his fierce wife (Bloom, 2009).

Chekhov’s final play, the Cherry Orchard, was of a less intricate and depressing nature than the Three Sisters as it lacked any particular genre. Chekhov’s representation of the Cherry Orchard was viewed by many literalists to be a lyrical meditation that focused on theatrics as well as theater poetry.

In this play, Chekhov focused on the strong elements of farce where the main character, Lopakhin, who was a merchant, was at times portrayed to be in a relative farce while he was at home. The main protagonist of the play, Lyubov, was portrayed to be a figure that ensured that the play was neither a pure farce nor a pure comedy. His lack of focus in any genre ensured that he was able to present his literary works as a means of change within the Russian contemporary life (Bloom, 2009).

Issues Presented in Chekhov’s Works

Chekhov’s plays served as a tool for critiquing the Russian society as they portrayed the various controversial issues that the audiences of the plays would be able to identify and relate with. In his playwrights Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya, Chekhov portrayed dysfunctional families that existed within society and the various issues that affected each member of the family.

The aspect of dysfunctionality was brought out well by Chekhov in Three Sisters where Olga, Masha, Irina and their brother Andrey were portrayed to have different characters that at times conflicted with each other. The Three Sisters presented gender issues as well as the general society’s view of women. In the play Uncle Vanya, Chekhov used the concept of realism to demonstrate the various societal issues that the characters of the play were going through.

Chekhov’s plays therefore demonstrate the various issues that members of the society go through in their daily lives (Whyman, 2010). The contemporary issues that are presented in the Cherry Orchard include sympathy and compassion despite the play being more of a comedy than a depressing depiction of life.

Chekhov focused the play on seminal values that existed in every family unit within the society. In the play, no one wants to see the cherry orchard go despite the fact that the orchard will either be sold or cut down to make way for developments.

The focus on seminal values outweighs the focus on the importance family survival in the difficult world. The play also highlights the aspect if cruelty especially in the character of Lopakhin, who is portrayed as very tough and self-made man (Bloom, 2009). The Cherry Orchard also highlights the various opinions that members of a dysfunctional family hold on a particular subject.

For example in the play, Ranyevskaya is not concerned with the survival of the cherry orchard and sees it as a seminal object that lacks any value. This contradicts with the general view that the society in the play holds of the cherry orchard which is seen to be a means of making a profit. Her childhood memories of the orchard as a playground make it difficult for her to see the truth behind her parent’s reason for keeping the orchard as a business.

Chekhov gave the various characters in the Cherry Orchard different roles so that they could be able to demonstrate the message that was being relayed in the play. The characters were able to portray social issues such as emotions and ideas (the business idea behind the orchard) that formed the integral part of every human being.

The use of comedy in the play represented the various aspects of social life that were reliant on comedy. The play emphasized the importance of comedy in our lives where the most ridiculous moments of the play were viewed to be the most important (Tabachnikova, 2010).

Conclusion

The discussion in the research paper has focused on Antov Chekhov and an analysis of his various literary works. The research paper has examined the various short stories which he wrote throughout his life as well as the playwrights which he was able to write and produce.

In his entire life, Chekhov was able to write four playwrights which went on to receive worldwide critical acclaim because of their focus on various aspects that affected human beings in the social context. The findings of the research have revealed that Anton Chekhov focused on the issues of politics, gender, society and culture in his various works which include the Three Sisters and the Murder.

References

Bartlett, R., (2004). Chekhov: scenes from a life. London, UK: The Free Press

Bloom, H., (2009). Bloom’s modern critical views: Anton Chekhov. New York: Infobase

Publishing

Craig, A.M., Graham, A., Kagan, D., Ozment, S., & Turner, F.M., (2009). The heritage of world civilizations, Volume 2, 8th Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Tabachnikova, O., (2010). Anton Chekhov through the eyes of Russian thinkers. London, UK: Anthem Press Whyman, R., (2010). Anton Chekhov. Oxford, UK: Routledge

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