"I am describing life, ordinary life, and not blank despondency.
They either make me into a cry-baby or into a bore. They invent something about me
out of their own heads, anything they like, something I never thought of or dreamed
about. This is beginning to make me angry"
Chekhov understood his plays to be comedies. By
this he meant a particular delicate mixture of optimism and pessimism that focused on the
humor that ordinary people exemplify in real life situations.
He rejected the theatre of action for a more
character-centered and impressionistic work of plot and dialogue. Such an emphasis
can be seen in 1) emotionally-charged moments where characters react to their
circumstances or 2) atmospheric moments where a certain wistfulness, despair, loss, and/or
He believed in a high form of verisimilitude that
included the random and muted action of actual life. In his later plays, this
resulted in a form of drama that tended to stress compressed, tight plays. They
always tended to climax in the third act, but not so much that the fourth lacked any power
to still move.
As a result of all of the above, Chekhov's later
plays have often been labeled "lyrical".
"In accordance with your orders I hasten to
reply to your letter where you ask about the last scene of Astrov and Elena. You
write that Astrov in that scene behaves with Elena as with someone madly in love, that he
clutches at his feeling as a drowning man for straw. But this is incorrect,
completely incorrect. Astrov likes Elena, she overwhelms him with her beauty, but in
the last act he already knows that nothing will come of it, that Elena will disappear from
him forever -- and he talks with her in this last scene in the same tone of voice as the
heat of Africa, and kisses her, just simply out of nothing to do. If Astrov plays
this scene violently, then, the entire mood of the fourth act will be destroyed"
-- Letter to Stanislavsky, Sept. 30, 1899.
Do you find Uncle Vanya comic? How
should we define "the comic" in this play?
What moods predominant in each act of the play?
How should one perform certain key dialogues? (cf.
355-56 -- Astroff and Helena confront Vanya about the woods, 366-367 -- Sonia's loss,
372-374 -- Astroff's attraction to Helena, 386-387 -- The departures and Sonia's last
poshlost: "[N]ot only the obviously
trashy but also the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the
falsely attractive" (Vladmir Nabokov)
What is true and false beauty in this work? (c/c
355-356 -- Vanya and Astroff's exchange over the forests, 365 -- Astroff's view of beauty,
367 -- Helena's estimation of Astroff, 383- Astroff's offer of consummation in the woods
as poetic) What are we to feel for Sonia's lack of physical beauty? (369)
What kind of power does Helena have over Vanya and
Astroff? (361) Is she entirely admirable? (363-364, 384)
What role does beauty have in the construction of the
Compare Uncle Vanya with Chekhov's earlier
version The Wood Demon. Why has Chekhov chosen to make the changes he has?
What makes the new version more impressionistic?
What role does class play among the characters?
What kind of control does Serebrakoff have over the other characters? Why
does Vanya react the way he does?
Is work a positive or negative pursuit in the play?
(c/c 348, 354, 358, 368, 385-386)
Is intelligence and culture held up as admirable?
Why or why not? (353, 376-378, 382)