Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

(1860 - 1904)

by Trevor Jones
(October 1999)

At the turn of the century, the writing of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov exposed the frailties and selfish extravagance of the Russian nobility and incited skepticism in the desperate and frustrated Russian public. Unlike the majority of his predecessors, Chekhov paid little attention to plot, emphasizing imagery and themes relevant to the time of escalating civil unrest. He left the characters in his plays and stories ambiguous and open to interpretation, always emphasizing their elusive search for meaning and pattern in their lives. Chekhov began his career as a writer by contributing short pieces, usually less that 1000 words, to humor magazines to support his family and to finance his studies in medicine. As his writing became more widely recognized and critically acclaimed, Chekhov began focusing on more serious themes. The themes of these later works were varied. The short stories for which Chekhov eventually gained greatest renown were those whose themes examined social and philosophical issues including human isolation, the fear of loneliness and lost opportunity and the hopelessness of communication.

Chekhov's writing as a dramatist made his works ideally suited for the artistic purposes of the celebrated Russian director and producer Konstantin Stanislavski. Not unlike his short stories, Chekhov's plays place little emphasis on plot. They are more concerned with the minutiae of daily life and with the hopelessness of human communication familiar in Chekhov's short stories. A confounded Tolstoy demanded of Chekhov, " Where does one get to with your heroes? From the sofa to the privy, and from the privy back to the sofa." The dialogue in Chekhov's drama is discontinuous and interruptions and long pauses often preclude the existence of a central character in Chevov's drama. Both his plays and short stories underline the same ambiguous conclusion through the representation of unresolved social and internal conflict of their characters.

Although it is conceivable that Stanislavski's innovative ideas about theatrical direction and production developed independently of the work of Chekhov, it seems more than likely that Chekhov's writing style was in fact inspiration for what would become Stanislavski's untried method of theatrical direction and production. If not, Stanislavski's ideas collided with the writing of Chekhov in a most graceful and fortunate coincidence. In any case, their collaboration (and often conflict) led to a more significant role for drama in the Western world and Chekhov's assurance of a place among the most original and talented playwrights in the history of modern theatre. Some of Chekhov's most notable works as a dramatist include "The Seagull" (1896), "Uncle Vanya" (1899) and "The Cherry Orchard" (1904).

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