Places: The Seagull

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1904 as Chayka, (English translation, 1909)

First produced: 1896; revised, 1898

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Impressionistic realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedSorin farm

Sorin Seagull, Thefarm. Setting for the entire play. Chekhov carefully crafts the setting of his play so that the action of the work gradually moves from the outside into the confined spaces of an interior room. The play begins on the back lawn of the Sorin farm. A small stage has been set up in the middle of a path leading down to a lake. The curtain is drawn so that the lake cannot be seen.

During the first act, a young aspiring writer named Konstantin puts on an avant-garde play which confuses the audience (particularly his mother, Irina Arkadina, a famous actress). He uses the natural setting of the moon rising over the lake to add a dramatic touch to the arid, overly intellectual verbiage of the play itself. A young woman named Nina Zarechnaya (her surname means “beyond the river”) delivers Konstantin’s words. She has spent her whole life by the lake and now yearns to become an actress.

In the second act, Konstantin presents her with the body of a seagull he has just killed, and this bird becomes an emblem of Nina’s future destiny. She is drawn to Arkadina’s lover, the writer Trigorin. He too finds Nina attractive, and he makes a note to write a story about a girl who loves the lake like a seagull, when along comes a man with nothing better to do but to destroy her life, just as the seagull was destroyed. Trigorin subsequently seduces Nina, but abandons her to remain with Arkadina.

The final act takes place in a parlor which Konstantin has converted into a study. Two years have passed, and the main characters have reassembled. Konstantin, however, has never left the farm. Nina arrives unannounced, drenched by a cold autumn rain. After she describes to Konstantin her difficulties, her nostalgia for her simple life by the lake, and her renewed determination to continue her acting career, she leaves him, and the young man kills himself out of despair. It is characteristic of Chekhov that the suicide occurs offstage while the other characters are engaged in mundane pursuits such as playing lotto.

BibliographyBristow, Eugene K., ed. Anton Chekhov’s Plays. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977. An anthology of Chekhov’s major plays, accompanied by thirteen critical articles. Of special interest is Thomas G. Winner’s “Chekhov’s Sea Gull and Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Study of a Dramatic Device.”Hingley, Ronald. Chekhov: A Biographical and Critical Study. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1950. A thoughtful study of all aspects of Chekhov’s art, emphasizing his life. Chapters on Chekhov’s connections with the Moscow Art Theater and his approach to drama are of special significance for understanding of The Seagull.Jackson, Robert Louis, ed. Chekhov: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. Of the sixteen essays, nine are devoted to the theater of Chekhov, including the editor’s “The Seagull: The Empty Well, the Dry Lake, and the Cold Cave.”Magarshak, David. Chekhov the Dramatist. New York: Hill & Wang, 1960. A thorough discussion of all Chekhov’s plays on such topics as plays of direct action, transition, and plays of indirect action. References to The Seagull place the play in a proper perspective within the playwright’s general dramatic output.Valency, Maurice. The Breaking String: The Plays of Anton Chekhov. London: Oxford University Press, 1966. One of the best treatments of Chekhov’s plays. Analyzes the general aspects of Chekhov’s approach to theater and provides detailed discussion of all plays, including The Seagull.
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