Anton Chekhov and The Seagull

Biography

Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress” – Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is known as the father of modern theatre.  Anton was born in Taganrog in 1860.  Chekhov is best known for his works such as The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard and The Three Sisters.  Taganrog is a seaport town, located south of Russia near the Black Sea, and was home to Chekhov and his five siblings.  His father, Pavel Yegorovich Chekhov, was a grocer, and a devout Orthodox Christian.  Pavel was physically abusive, and often terrorized his family during Chekhov’s childhood.  But his mother, Yevgeniya was a storyteller to her children.  It is said that Anton gained his gift of storytelling and creative inspiration from his mother.  While growing up, Chekhov was an average student and soon gained the reputation of being a prankster and having a wild imagination.  Pavel soon found himself in bankruptcy and left his family for Moscow to find work, leaving Chekhov to take care of his family and fend for himself.  After graduation from school, Chekhov soon began to study medicine at the University of Moscow and balanced his life between student, caretaker and writer.  He began writing for extra money to support his family.  He graduated from university and began his practice in medicine in 1892.  He often wrote about the street life of Russia in humorous ways and was becoming a success. He was soon approached to start writing plays, in which he became a huge success. Chekhov dramatically changed how the world saw the stage by writing by displaying fully developed characters, dramatic off-stage moments and the use of subtext.  In 1901, he married Russian actress, Olga Knipper.  In 1904, Chekhov was terminally ill with tuberculosis and later succumbed to the illness.  He was buried next to his father in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

 The Seagull

The Seagull was the first of four major plays that Anton Chekhov wrote in his writing career for the theatre.  The Seagull was seen as a truly innovative piece of work that set the stage for modern theatre as we see it today.  The Seagull spoke the mind of Chekhov through the character, Trigorin.  The play also addressed the inner workings of the human soul and its interaction with the emotion of love. In 1896, the premiere of The Seagull in St. Petersburg was a near failure and almost turned Chekhov away from theatre due to its poor reception.  The play was the first of its kind at the time that went against the social norms of drama by introducing complex plots, and complex characters and the audience did not receive it well.  But the play caught the attention of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, who was a friend and playwright himself.  He urged Chekhov to bring the play to Moscow Art Theatre and brought in Constantin Stanislavski to direct.  The play became an extraordinary success.  Had The Seagull not caught the attention of Nemirovich-Danchenko, it would not have been put back on the stage and become a huge success that it was.  It was the play’s newfound success that gave Chekhov motivation to give theatre another try, and the drive to continue to write plays.  If The Seagull had not been a success at Moscow Art Theatre, the world would have never been given the great pieces of work such as The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters.

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