by Pericles Lewis
The first of Anton Chekhov‘s major dramatic works, The Seagull (1895), features an aspiring dramatist, Konstantin Treplev, who has cast a girl he loves, Nina, in a play to be performed at his mother’s country house. The “play within a play,” though going back to Shakespeare, became a central feature of twentieth-century reflection of the crisis of representation. The symbolist style of Konstantin’s play contrasts sharply with Chekhov’s early realism. Nina complains: “It’s difficult to act in your play, there are no real living characters in it.” Konstantin explains that he wants to portray “life not the way it is, or the way it should be, but the way it is in dreams.” Irina responds: “But nothing happens in your play! It’s all one long speech. And I think a play ought to have a love story….” In fact, more than in Chekhov’s later plays, The Seagull does feature a love story and a traditional plot, ending (like Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler) with a suicide. The plot of The Seagull is fairly conventional; Chekhov’s symbolism and self-conscious reflection on the nature of drama are the main features that distinguish this work from that of earlier realist and naturalist playwrights.
- ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 184.