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

Chapter 6 - Later plays


The four plays Chekhov had produced at the Moscow Art Theatre between 1898 and 1904 represent, arguably, his greatest artistic achievement, as well as one of the most important contributions of any writer to world drama. The Seagull,Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard are unrivalled in their combination of naturalistic detail, psychological insight, and poetic intensity. Chekhov's innovation, as Robert Brustein describes it, was “to achieve a synthesis between theatricality and reality, guiding events which seem to have no visible means of propulsion, and developing a form which seems to be no form at all.” The discussion that follows will proceed act by act through each of the plays, calling attention to key aspects of Chekhov's stagecraft as well as to interpretive cruxes that reveal the plays' complexity and ambiguity. Like the works of Shakespeare, Chekhov's plays lend themselves to multiple legitimate interpretations; as they unfold on the stage, subtle nuances of inflection, gesture, and characterization can send the plays off down myriad avenues of meaning. Yet any successful Chekhov production will highlight the qualities that make Chekhov's plays unique: a balance of interest among a large cast of characters, an attention to the subtleties of social interaction, and an awareness of the powerful submerged longings that animate even the most apparently mundane lives.

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