Vsevolod Meyerhold preparing for his role as Konstantin in Chekhov’s The Seagull (via Idea | The Seagull’s Two Premieres | Headlong)
When I was a windy boy and a bit
And the black spit of the chapel fold,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of women),
I tiptoed shy in the gooseberry wood,
The rude owl cried like a tell-tale tit,
I skipped in a blush as the big girls rolled
Nine-pin down on donkey’s common,
And on seesaw sunday nights I wooed
Whoever I would with my wicked eyes,
The whole of the moon I could love and leave
All the green leaved little weddings’ wives
In the coal black bush and let them grieve.
Whenever the word gooseberry comes up, I think of Lament by Dylan Thomas (read here by a late friend with a rich voice). The correct answer to your question, by the way, is jam.
polvosederia asked: yes in original script it's given that lopakhin is in love with varya. i think it's like everywhere in chekhov works - a person feel something but can't show it, he can't make a decision or he didn't really want it. Lopakhin's words for Varya"Ohmelia, go to the monastery!" also mean something.
About Ranevskaya - his words when he tells that the cherry orchard is now his property. it's not love. it's victory. Well may be there is no love at all.
Can you point me to where he explicitly says that he is in love with Varya? (Act, Scene, Line reference if you can, please) There is a big difference between what a character says about himself and what others say about him. I’m just curious because this seems to have always escaped me.
You are quite right about the significance of the line about the monastery you mention - it is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (III.1. 129 and following). In the original context it is charged with a number of different meanings: Hamlet may want to protect Ophelia, or to chastise her; to mock her; to reject her affections - whether for her own good or not; to provoke her to reveal her part in Polonius’ set-up, etc. It is also generally interpreted as a manifestation of Hamlet’s latent misogyny (although personally I think things are a little more complex in the early modern view of women than we assume).
Lopakhin actually misquotes that line - perhaps because, as he repeatedly points out, he is uneducated (and proud of it, although his insistence that it’s ok to be uneducated betrays some anxiety). He may be using this quotation to prove a point (that he is just as knowledgeable as Trofimov, or that all this intellectual wisdom is pointless in the face of current circumstances), to make a joke (perhaps aimed at Varya’s monastic seriousness but also at her mother’s promiscuity), or to reveal the inner conflict of his feelings for women - attraction and repulsion at the same time.
I agree with you that his revelation to Ranevskaya is a victory speech. I have seen that played convincingly as both a socio-economical victory, and a success in repressing his nostalgia for the past (think of the symbolic weight of chopping down the orchard, literally cutting off the roots), which, as I have argued, is one and the same as love for the Countess, but would also equate - in metaphorical terms - to a return to a situation in which he is bound to the estate and the family through a contract, only this time it’s a contract of marriage rather than serfdom. In this respect, I would be happy to see a version of the play in which he buys the orchard and doesn’t marry Varya because he doesn’t want to be tied to the family anymore. I would find this logical (albeit sad).
Personally (and it is only a personal preference) I think the idea that Lopakhin is really in love with Varya but can’t propose to her because he’s clumsy or something doesn’t really do justice to the depth and layers with which Chekhov works.
Chekhov’s characters are full of contradictions and open-ended possibilites, which makes them so interesting to watch (and to play). Very little is explained, but to what extent can we *explain* ourselves, our feelings, our actions? Of course part of the joy is in the difference of interpretation, and I can tell you that years and years ago, when I first read the play, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to think in these terms.
Maybe there is no love at all, but let’s keep an open mind (there is a lot of love in Chekhov’s short stories, although it’s rarely the love we see in Hollywood films).
Thank you for this interesting discussion :)
polvosederia asked: hey lopakhin loves varya, not ranevskaya, he only remembered that she was kind with him or it was first love.
Subtext. Subtext. Subtext.
My point is that it may not be said explicitly, but subtextually it is all there; many productions play it that way (including the one I wrote about). If you think of it, it makes a lot of sense. He is torn between the past and the future just as much as every other character in the play: the memory of his fondness for Ranyevskaya as a child/young man, and his desire to disenfranchise himself from any kind of bond to her, her family and her estate.
The actor playing him in this production was almost the same age as Ranyevskaya, something which for me strengthened the sense that he had been desperately in love with her (or with an embellished, idealised memory of her) for a long, long time.
Besides, nothing in the play (at least in the English language translations of it with which I am familiar) indicates that he is indeed in love with Varya, only that everybody is pushing him to propose to her (who, on the other hand, clearly loves him). Do you have any evidence to the contrary in the original script?
In 1892 the editor of a literary journal which was to publish some of Chekhov’s short stories asked him to send in a short autobiography to accompany his photograph. Chekhov was always reluctant to write about himself in public, so he sent this note:
Do you need my biography? Here it is. In 1860 I was born in Taganrog. In 1879 I finished my studies in the medical school of Moscow University. In 1888 I received the Pushkin Prize. In 1890 I made a trip to Sakhalin across Siberia and back by sea. In 1891 I toured Europe, where I drank splendid wine and ate oysters. In 1892 I strolled with V.A. Tikhonov at [the writer Shcheglov’s] name day party. I began to write in 1879 in Strekosa. My collections of stories are Motley Stories, Twilight, Stories, Gloomy People, and the novella The Duel. I have also sinned in the realm of drama, although moderately. I have been translated into all languages with the exception of the foreign ones. However, I was translated into German quite a while ago. The Czechs and Serbs also approve of me. And the French also relate to me. I grasped the secrets of love at the age of thirteen. I remain on excellent terms with friends, both physicians and writers. I am a bachelor. I would like a pension. I busy myself with medicine to such an extent that this summer I am going to perform some autopsies, something I have not done for two or three years. Among writers I prefer Tolstoy, among physicians Zakharin. However, this is all rubbish. Write what you want. If there are no facts, substitute something lyrical.
Quoted by Janet Malcolm, in “Travels With Chekhov,” The New Yorker, February 21, 2000, p. 242
J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey (Buddy Glass’ letter to Zooey 3.5)
I went to see The Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre last night and remembered these words. The production was competent, smart, energetic; it was genuinely funny and very enjoyable, but yet something of the balance Chekhov carefully wrote into it was lost.
Many critics had trouble with Andrew Upton’s translation, which updated the language of the play with some modern expressions and phrasing, particularly in Lopakhin’s dialogue. Not my problem, I have to say I thought that worked quite well: Lopakhin represents a practical, necessary, somewhat crass future that leaves no space for the flourishing language of well-educated aristocrats like Ranyevskaya or hopeless intellectuals like Trofimov. Lopakhin’s business-like manner and reduced vocabulary inevitably failed him when it came to discuss his feelings, and were accountable for both his inability to propose to Varya (whom he doesn’t love) and to confess his atrocious, unrequited love to Ranyevskaya.
Chekhov weaves into the play a very subtle, delicate, painful conflict between Lopakhin’s desire for social ascent (his grandfather was a serf, his father was a servant, and now he gets to own the estate!) and his emotional attachment to the estate and its people (embodied in the Countess, whom he calls his “mistress”). But more than half of what Lopakhin’s character is about is deliberately subtextual, and must be questioned in production: why does he buy the cherry orchard? Was it a scheme from the start? Is it a grand gesture to gain Ranyevskaya’s love? Does he know that she is intending to return to Paris anyway? Does he deliberately lead Varya on to believe he is interested in her? What is it in him that she loves? Howard Davis’ production made great use of Chekhov’s written humour, but slightly missed his great unwritten depth of emotion. It’s bizarre because usually British productions of Chekhov fail the other way round - too much melancholy and gloom and not enough comedy.
In thinking about this I was also reminded of a great lesson in balancing dramatic swings I once got from watching Mark Rylance play Cleopatra - not his best role and a questionable project in many ways, but he pointed out to me how, before a great tragic moment such as the death of Antony in Cleopatra’s arms, Shakespeare writes in some rather farcical stuff - the bearing of Antony’s body aloft to the monument, and Cleopatra’s line “how heavy weighs my lord!” It is the juxtaposition of the ridiculous and the sublime, if you will, or simply of comedy and tragedy, that generates drama or emotion, the thing that literally moves the spectator.
Chekhov writes high comedy but doesn’t write high tragedy. The comedy is outlined in great detail in his stage directions and dialogues to be rough, loud and visual; on the other hand, the tragedy in his characters’ lives is always subdued, simmering under the surface, and therefore the balancing act is more difficult to pull through. But all the material is there for an actor to juggle, and when it does work (and I have seen it work, particularly in Russian productions) its power is devastating.
A written play is only the tip of an iceberg, really it should be a user’s manual, a guide to an unfamiliar place, but it is not the whole picture. So while some of Chekhov’s plays are practically perfect from a dramaturgical point of view, his great talent as a dramatist can only be put to its intended purpose when it is lifted from the page and onto the stage. We keep going back to watch his plays in the hope that the potential of the page is realised, that its beauty explodes like the cherries in bloom.
Maybe like Zooey I demand too much from art, from theatre in particular. Maybe it’s why I had to get out.