Non Fiction

Chekhov’s Subtle Humor: Why The Cherry Orchard is a “Comedy in Four Acts”

Anton Chekhov did not arbitrarily deem one of his most famous works, The Cherry Orchard, as a comedy. There are a plethora of theories that essentially misunderstand Chekhov’s impetus for writing The Cherry Orchard in the way that he did. The most disheartening influence on his work after it was written was the director for the first production of his play: Constantin Stanislavski. The renowned director and actor interpreted The Cherry Orchard as a tragedy in the sense that the plot had affected each character’s super objective in a tragic way. Chekhov was adherent to a self-created fundamentalist form of realism that minimalized the importance of plot as an artificial construct- which was why Chekhov thought it was entirely irrelevant in relation to why the characters would act in the ways that they would. This was also the reason why Chekhov detested Henrik Ibsen’s work as too contrived because Ibsen often incorporated exposition. Since Chekhov had no interest in plot development as a primary function in his plays, he considered the way that his characters behaved as the humorous aspect in which a darkly dramatic play such as The Cherry Orchard could be considered a comedy.

As far as character behavior, Liubov Andreyevna was a prime example of how his characters were wrought with tragedy due to plot elements, specifically when Trofimov emerged, Andreyevna “[weeps softly] My little boy drowned, lost forever… Why? What for? My dear boy, why?(pg. 355)” yet Chekhov saw his character’s bemoaning as comedic in that they would not take responsibility for anything that happened: whether it was the death of their child, or the seizure of their estate. Ultimately, irresponsibility was the major theme of The Cherry Orchard in that the characters responded in a self-pitying way, although at times rightfully so. The best example of which was in the last lines, when the culmination of all the preceding irresponsibility was represented by poor old Firs having been trapped and easily accepting the absurdity of his circumstances: “Locked. They’re gone… They forgot about me. That’s all right; I’ll just sit here for a bit…. Should have looked…. He’s still all wet, that one…. Well, it’s all over now, and I never even had a life to live…. (pg. 385). For Chekhov, the hilarity of such an ending was in Firs’ contradicting words, in that he complained that he never had his own life, while simultaneously worrying that his master presumably forgot his coat. Thus, although many have not been able accept Chekhov’s idea of comedy, once a play such as The Cherry Orchard is analyzed in respect to the absurdity of character behavior under dire circumstances, then it must be realized that Chekhov’s objective was a subtle critique on upper-class irresponsibility, and labeling The Cherry Orchard as a tragedy would miss his point.

Anton Chekhov, the vanguard of realism and subtlety in drama.