The first dramatic experiments (vaudeville, one-act plays) Chekhov made back in the 80’s, but he wrote great plays only at the turn of the century. He initially set himself the task of creating fundamentally new plays written outside the pre-existing dramatic principles. What is the essence of the innovation of Chekhov’s drama?
Before Chekhov, there were two main dramatic schools: the classical tragedies (and comedies) of V. Shakespeare and the realistic everyday theater of A. Ostrovsky. In Shakespeare’s plays – vivid passions, intrigues, twisted stories, deep philosophical content. Ostrovsky has an open character struggle based on a social and moral conflict that manifests itself as a disruption in the hero’s soul, hence the appearance of internal monologues. In any case, in the pre-Chechen plays, the characters hear each other, openly react to each other, usually express their positions directly, join in an acute conflict action.
about Chekhov? The plot action is simplified. If the story of “Hamlet” or “Bride” can not be told briefly, in a nutshell, for example, the plot of Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard” can be conveyed in one or two sentences, because in Chekhov’s drama it’s not the plot at all. Chekhov is not so important plot intrigue and visible action. The heroes of his plays on the stage basically say, come in and out, wait, eat, talk again. And from the side it seems that nothing seems to happen. However, the reader or the viewer at the same time feels some inexplicable internal tension, which grows from minute to minute and suddenly explodes suddenly.
Researchers have long found a term for this internal stress. This is the so-called “underwater current”. It manifests itself not in open action and boiling passions, but in conversations as if about nothing or each about one’s own, that the characters seem not to hear each other, in subtext, inconsistency, gestures and intonations, author’s remarks, numerous awkward pauses, symbolic sounds or smells, endless dots.
is a small, but characteristic for all Chekhov’s plays, an excerpt from Act I of the Cherry Orchard:
Lopakhin. Yes, time goes by.
Lopakhin. Time, I say, is coming.
Gayev. And here the patchouli smells.
Anya. I’m going to sleep. Good night, Mom.
This is a typical Chekhovian “dialogue about nothing,” but nevertheless, much can be determined on it. So, Lopakhin needs to quickly submit his proposals for the future of the estate. He, as always, is in a hurry, and if he does not look at his watch, as in almost all other scenes, he still talks about time. For him, a business man, time is money.
Gayev does not want to think about anything serious and important. He notices the excitement of Ranevskaya, wants to distract her somehow. At the same time, his remark about patchoulas can be interpreted as a reaction to Lopakhin’s haste: new times – new smells.
Anya is just tired from the road and wants to relax, gently referring to her mother, whom she sympathizes with. The silence of Ranevskaya herself, too, is not difficult to explain. It is still immersed in the past – distant, connected with the estate, and the recent one, connected with Paris and the road.
In general, the situation is quite tense: Lopakhin is getting ready for a decisive conversation with Gayev and Ranevskaya, and they want to postpone an unpleasant moment for them as long as possible.
So Chekhov is interested not so much in the events themselves, as in the internal states and motivations of the participants in these events. Thus, the playwright brought literary situations closer to life. After all, in real life, people tend not to speak out everywhere and always directly and openly, and for the time being to hide their inner state.
Maybe that’s why Chekhov called his not-too-funny plays “comedies”, which constantly reveal inconsistencies between the external and internal, between the thoughts and feelings of the characters and their verbal expression, between external tranquility and inner tension.
In Chekhov’s great plays there are still some common features. All of them – “Ivanov”, “Uncle Vanya”, “Three Sisters”, “Seagull”, “Cherry Orchard” – consist of four acts, and the construction of action in them is very similar: in the 1st act – the arrival of a part of the heroes and the development of relations; in the second – on the example of one day, the relationship is revealed, the essence of the problem is revealed, but no serious excesses have occurred yet; The third act is always the most intense: the hidden drama becomes more pronounced, quarrels, shots, resolutions of the situations expected by all occur; The 4th act is usually quieter (except for the “Seagull” and “Ivanov”): those who first arrived, now leave, the heroes express thoughts about the future, the number of these heroes decreases (in the “Cherry Orchard”