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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Chapter 4 - Early plays


Dramatic sketches and monologues

While Chekhov's reputation as a playwright rests on the four major plays he wrote in the last decade of his life, his earlier dramatic work shows both his developing style and his iconoclastic attitude to the theatre of his time. Chekhov's early plays can be divided into two categories: full-length plays and one-acts. The longer plays lead more directly into the mature works for which Chekhov is best known, and they will be considered last in this chapter; the shorter works relate more closely to Chekhov's stories. Indeed, some of Chekhov's early plays are simply dramatizations of particular stories, such as “Along the Highway,” one of his first dramatic efforts, written in 1884. Subtitled “A Dramatic Sketch in One Act,” it stages the story “In the Autumn,” about a ruined landowner seeking shelter in a wayside tavern. It was rejected by the censor as too squalid and gloomy for performance and never staged in Chekhov's lifetime. Nevertheless, Chekhov persisted with experiments in the short dramatic form, some of which bore fruit as highly successful commercial entertainment.

The one-acts fall into a variety of styles and types, many of which have not always been considered part of Chekhov's dramatic output. While working for comic newspapers like The Alarm Clock and Fragments, Chekhov wrote several short pieces in dramatic form, many of them parodying popular drama of the day.

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