Cover image for Three plays
Three plays
Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich, 1860-1904.
Uniform Title:
Plays. Selections. English
2001 Modern Library edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Modern Library, 2001.
Physical Description:
xiv, 187 pages ; 21 cm
The Sea-gull -- Three sisters -- The cherry orchard.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PG3456 .A19 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PG3456 .A19 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PG3456 .A19 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Anton Chekhov, the first great dramatist of the twentieth century, forged his theater from the tumultuous society in which he lived and worked, the pre-Revolutionary Russia of decadent aristocrats, restless intellectuals, and ambitious peasants; in the process, he liberated the stage from the arch fustiness of nineteenth-century conventions and presented life onstage as it had never been seen before: life as it is lived. His characters, from the yearning Irina ofThree Sistersand the vain, self-centered Arkadina in The Sea-gull to the crude but tenderhearted Lopahin in The Cherry Orchard, are riveting embodiments of the frailty of the human condition, presented with stunning clarity and naturalism, that have fascinated actors, playgoers, and readers for more than a century. As Kenneth Rexroth writes in his Introduction, "We accept these tragic comedies... the way we would accept life itself if we were gifted with sudden wisdom." Three Plays contains those works many consider the apex of Chekhov's dramatic achievement:The Sea-gull,Three Sisters, andThe Cherry Orchard. Presented here in classic translations by Constance Garnett, these plays testify to Chekhov's enduring influence on the modern drama.

Author Notes

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the provincial town of Taganrog, Ukraine, in 1860. In the mid-1880s, Chekhov became a physician, and shortly thereafter he began to write short stories.

Chekhov started writing plays a few years later, mainly short comic sketches he called vaudvilles. The first collection of his humorous writings, Motley Stories, appeared in 1886, and his first play, Ivanov, was produced in Moscow the next year. In 1896, the Alexandrinsky Theater in St. Petersburg performed his first full- length drama, The Seagull. Some of Chekhov's most successful plays include The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya, and Three Sisters. Chekhov brought believable but complex personalizations to his characters, while exploring the conflict between the landed gentry and the oppressed peasant classes. Chekhov voiced a need for serious, even revolutionary, action, and the social stresses he described prefigured the Communist Revolution in Russia by twenty years. He is considered one of Russia's greatest playwrights.

Chekhov contracted tuberculosis in 1884, and was certain he would die an early death. In 1901, he married Olga Knipper, an actress who had played leading roles in several of his plays. Chekhov died in 1904, spending his final years in Yalta.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Act 1 Part of the park on Sorin's estate. Wide avenue leading away from the spectators into the depths of the park towards the lake is blocked up by a platform roughly put together for private theatricals, so that the lake is not visible. To right and left of the platform, bushes. A few chairs, a little table. The sun has just set. Yakov and other labourers are at work on the platform behind the curtain; there is the sound of coughing and hammering. Masha and Medvedenko enter on the left, returning from a walk. Medvedenko. Why do you always wear black? Masha. I am in mourning for my life. I am unhappy. Medvedenko. Why? (Pondering) I don't understand . . . You are in good health; though your father is not very well off, he has got enough. My life is much harder than yours. I only get twenty-three roubles a month, and from that they deduct something for the pension fund, and yet I don't wear mourning. (They sit down.) Masha. It isn't money that matters. A poor man may be happy. Medvedenko. Theoretically, yes; but in practice it's like this: there are my two sisters and my mother and my little brother and I, and my salary is only twenty-three roubles. We must eat and drink, mustn't we? One must have tea and sugar. One must have tobacco. It's a tight fit. Masha (looking round at the platform). The play will soon begin. Medvedenko. Yes. Miss Zaretchny will act: it is Konstantin Gavrilitch's play. They are in love with each other and to-day their souls will be united in the effort to realise the same artistic effect. But your soul and mine have not a common point of contact. I love you. I am so wretched I can't stay at home. Every day I walk four miles here and four miles back and I meet with nothing but indifference from you. I can quite understand it. I am without means and have a big family to keep. . . . Who would care to marry a man who hasn't a penny to bless himself with? Masha. Oh, nonsense! (Takes a pinch of snuff) Your love touches me, but I can't reciprocate it--that's all. (Holding out the snuff-box to him) Help yourself. Medvedenko. I don't feel like it (a pause). Masha. How stifling it is! There must be a storm coming. . . . You're always discussing theories or talking about money. You think there is no greater misfortune than poverty, but to my mind it is a thousand times better to go in rags and be a beggar than . . . But you wouldn't understand that, though. . . . (Sorin and Treplev enter on the right.) Sorin (leaning on his walking-stick). I am never quite myself in the country, my boy, and, naturally enough, I shall never get used to it. Last night I went to bed at ten and woke up this morning at nine feeling as though my brain were glued to my skull, through sleeping so long (laughs). And after dinner I accidentally dropped off again, and now I am utterly shattered and feel as though I were in a nightmare, in fact. . . . Treplev. Yes, you really ought to live in town. (Catches sight of Masha and Medvedenko) When the show begins, my friends, you will be summoned, but you mustn't be here now. You must please go away. Sorin (to Masha). Marya Ilyinishna, will you be so good as to ask your papa to tell them to take the dog off the chain?--it howls. My sister could not sleep again last night. Masha. Speak to my father yourself; I am not going to. Please don't ask me. (To Medvedenko) Come along! Medvedenko (to Treplev). So you will send and let us know before it begins. (Both go out.) Sorin. So I suppose the dog will be howling all night again. What a business it is! I have never done as I liked in the country. In old days I used to get leave for twenty-eight days and come here for a rest and so on, but they worried me so with all sorts of trifles that before I had been here two days I was longing to be off again (laughs). I've always been glad to get away from here. . . . But now I am on the retired list, and I have nowhere else to go, as a matter of fact. I've got to live here whether I like it or not. . . . Yakov (to Treplev). We are going to have a bathe, Konstantin Gavrilitch. Treplev. Very well; but don't be more than ten minutes (looks at his watch). It will soon begin. Yakov. Yes, sir (goes out). Treplev (looking round the stage). Here is our theatre. The curtain, then the first wing, then the second, and beyond that--open space. No scenery of any sort. There is an open view of the lake and the horizon. We shall raise the curtain at exactly half-past eight, when the moon rises. Sorin. Magnificent. Treplev. If Nina is late it will spoil the whole effect. It is time she was here. Her father and her stepmother keep a sharp eye on her, and it is as hard for her to get out of the house as to escape from prison (puts his uncle's cravat straight). Your hair and your beard are very untidy. They want clipping or something. . . . Sorin (combing out his beard). It's the tragedy of my life. Even as a young man I looked as though I had been drinking for days or something of the sort. I was never a favourite with the ladies (sitting down). Why is your mother out of humour? Treplev. Why? Because she is bored (sitting down beside him). She is jealous. She is set against me, and against the performance, and against my play because Nina is acting in it, and she is not. She does not know my play, but she hates it. Sorin (laughs). What an idea! Treplev. She is annoyed to think that even on this little stage Nina will have a triumph and not she (looks at his watch). My mother is a psychological freak. Unmistakably talented, intelligent, capable of sobbing over a book, she will reel off all Nekrassov by heart; as a sick nurse she is an angel; but just try praising Duse in her presence! O-ho! You must praise no one but herself, you must write about her, make a fuss over her, be in raptures over her extraordinary acting in "La Dame aux Camélias" or the "Ferment of Life"; but she has none of this narcotic in the country, she is bored and cross, and we are all her enemies--we are all in fault. Then she is superstitious--she is afraid of three candles, of the number thirteen. She is stingy. She has got seventy thousand roubles in a bank at Odessa--I know that for a fact--but ask her to lend you some money, and she will burst into tears. Sorin. You imagine your mother does not like your play, and you are already upset and all that. Don't worry; your mother adores you. Treplev (pulling the petals off a flower). Loves me, loves me not; loves me, loves me not; loves me, loves me not (laughs). You see, my mother does not love me. I should think not! She wants to live, to love, to wear light blouses; and I am twenty-five, and I am a continual reminder that she is no longer young. When I am not there she is only thirty-two, but when I am there she is forty-three, and for that she hates me. She knows, too, that I have no belief in the theatre. She loves the stage, she fancies she is working for humanity, for the holy cause of art, while to my mind the modern theatre is nothing but tradition and conventionality. When the curtain goes up, and by artificial light, in a room with three walls, these great geniuses, the devotees of holy art, represent how people eat, drink, love, move about, and wear their jackets; when from these commonplace sentences and pictures they try to draw a moral--a petty moral, easy of comprehension and convenient for domestic use; when in a thousand variations I am offered the same thing over and over again--I run away as Maupassant ran away from the Eiffel Tower which weighed upon his brain with its vulgarity. Sorin. You can't do without the stage. Treplev. We need new forms of expression. We need new forms, and if we can't have them we had better have nothing (looks at his watch). I love my mother--I love her very much--but she leads a senseless sort of life, always taken up with this literary gentleman, her name is always trotted out in the papers--and that wearies me. And sometimes the simple egoism of an ordinary mortal makes me feel sorry that my mother is a celebrated actress, and I fancy that if she were an ordinary woman I should be happier. Uncle, what could be more hopeless and stupid than my position? She used to have visitors, all celebrities--artists and authors--and among them all I was the only one who was nothing, and they only put up with me because I was her son. Who am I? What am I? I left the University in my third year--owing to circumstances "for which we accept no responsibility," as the editors say; I have no talents, I haven't a penny of my own, and on my passport I am described as an artisan of Kiev. You know my father was an artisan of Kiev, though he too was a well-known actor. So, when in her drawing-room all these artists and authors graciously noticed me, I always fancied from their faces that they were taking the measure of my insignificance--I guessed their thoughts and suffered from the humiliation. . . . Sorin. And, by the way, can you tell me, please, what sort of man this literary gentleman is? There's no making him out. He never says anything. Treplev. He is an intelligent man, good-natured and rather melancholy, you know. A very decent fellow. He is still a good distance off forty, but he is already celebrated and has enough and to spare of everything. As for his writings . . . what shall I say? They are charming, full of talent, but . . . after Tolstoy or Zola you do not care to read Trigorin. Sorin. Well, I am fond of authors, my boy. At one time I had a passionate desire for two things: I wanted to get married, and I wanted to become an author; but I did not succeed in doing either. Yes, it is pleasant to be even a small author, as a matter of fact. Treplev (listens). I hear steps . . . (embraces his uncle). I cannot live without her. . . . The very sound of her footsteps is lovely. . . . I am wildly happy (goes quickly to meet Nina Zaretchny as she enters). My enchantress--my dream. . . . Nina (in agitation). I am not late. . . . Of course I am not late. . . . Treplev (kissing her hands). No, no, no! Nina. I have been uneasy all day. I was so frightened. I was afraid father would not let me come. . . . But he has just gone out with my stepmother. The sky is red, the moon is just rising, and I kept urging on the horse (laughs). But I am glad (shakes Sorin's hand warmly). Sorin (laughs). Your eyes look as though you have been crying. . . . Fie, fie! That's not right! Nina. Oh, it was nothing. . . . You see how out of breath I am. I have to go in half an hour. We must make haste. I can't stay, I can't! For God's sake don't keep me! My father doesn't know I am here. Treplev. It really is time to begin. We must go and call the others. Sorin. I'll go this minute (goes to the right, singing "To France two grenadiers." Looks round.) Once I sang like that, and a deputy prosecutor said to me, "You have a powerful voice, your Excellency"; then he thought a little and added, "but not a pleasant one" (laughs and goes off). Nina. My father and his wife won't let me come here. They say it is so Bohemian here . . . they are afraid I shall go on the stage. . . . But I feel drawn to the lake here like a sea-gull. . . . My heart is full of you (looks round). Treplev. We are alone. Nina. I fancy there is someone there. Treplev. There's nobody. (They kiss.) Nina. What tree is this? Treplev. An elm. Nina. Why is it so dark? Treplev. It's evening; everything is getting dark. Don't go away early, I entreat you! Nina. I must. Treplev. And if I come to you, Nina, I'll stand in the garden all night, watching your window. Nina. You can't; the watchman would notice you. Trésor is not used to you, and he would bark. Treplev. I love you! Nina. Sh-h. . . . Treplev (hearing footsteps). Who is there? You, Yakov? Yakov (behind the stage). Yes, sir. Treplev. Take your places. It's time to begin. Is the moon rising? Yakov. Yes, sir. Treplev. Have you got the methylated spirit? Have you got the sulphur? When the red eyes appear there must be a smell of sulphur. (To Nina) Go, it's all ready. Are you nervous? Nina. Yes, awfully! Your mother is all right--I am not afraid of her--but there's Trigorin . . . I feel frightened and ashamed of acting before him . . . a celebrated author. . . . Is he young? Treplev. Yes. Nina. How wonderful his stories are. Excerpted from Three Plays by Chekhov by Anton Chekhov All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.