The Cherry Orchard The Misunderstood Comedy
E.H. 151-2 12/17/1999
When the first production of The Cherry Orchard was performed on
stage in Moscow, there was a significant difference of opinion between the
author and directors. Chekhov strongly faulted the directors interpretation
that the play should be preformed as a tragedy and insisted that what he
had written was a comedy. The famous philosopher Aristotle defined a comedy as “an imitation of characters of a lower type who are not bad in
themselves but whose faults possess something ludicrous in them.”
The misinterpretation of The Cherry Orchard could be mainly due to
a misunderstanding of the comic character. A “comic” character is
generally supposed to keep an audience in fits of laughter, but this does
not always have to be so. The sympathy and compassion the main character’s in The Cherry Orchard bring out in the reader should not blind them to the fact that they are virtually comic characters. For example what character could be more ludicrous then a “typical” patrician like Gayev ,whose main characteristics according to Chekhov were “suavity and elegance,” turning to his sister and demanding that she should choose between him and a footman like Yasha? And is not the fact that Gayev became a “bank official” ludicrous, particularly since it is made quite clear to the reader that he would not be able to hold a job for even a month? Not to mention the love affair of Lyubov, ludicrous from it’s beginning to it’s tragic end? In a letter to his wife Chekhov wrote that “nothing but death could subdue a woman like that.” He also wrote that he saw Lyubov as “tastefully, but not gorgeously dressed; intelligent, very good natured, absent minded; friendly and gracious to everyone, always a smile on her face.(Bloom 1999)” Is this the outward appearance of a women who by the end of Act II has “lost her life,” or in other words thrown it away on trifles? It is this that forms the ludicrous or comic essence of Lyubov’s character. True, Lyubovs character does have her tragic moments. At the end of act four, Ania refers to her mother as to having been crying all morning. Lyubov also expresses a lot of stress from not having money, even though her actions do not show it.
The main theme of the play can be generally taken to be the passing
of the old order of Russian society, symbolized by the sale of the cherry
orchard. Since Chekhov did not belong to the ranks of the Ranevsky family,
unlike other authors who had written plays on the same theme, Chekhov wrote The Cherry Orchard without becoming personally involved. He was able to see the the comedy of the whole situation and give it an artistic form of a play full of comic characters. Nothing was further form Chekhov’s thoughts then that his characters should spread a feeling of gloom or depression on his audience. Therefore the symbolism of the cherry orchard had nothing to do with it’s sale. All it expresses is one of the common reoccurring themes in Chekhov’s plays( Dimmond 1962) : the destruction of beauty by those who are utterly blind to it.
” All Russia is our Garden,” Trofimov says to Anya at the end of
Act II. Then he adds: ” The earth is great and beautiful and there are many
wonderful places in it.” Trofimov’s words are meant as a warning for all
the Ranevsky’s in the world, a warning that can be understood everywhere.
The Cherry Orchard is only a material object meant to symbolize many
things; to Lopakhin is is only an excellent site for development, to Firs
it means the cart loads of dried cherries sent off to town in “the good old
days” and to Lyubov, it means a family history, which she herself never
Every one of the many characters was carefully planned out to show some purpose in the message conveyed in The Cherry Orchard. Chekhov is able to show “the very core of humanity in even the most ridiculous of clowns in the play(Dimmond 1962).” The importance of the use of comedy in the play conveys the importance of comedy in our lives. It shows the reader how the most ridiculous moments and decisions are probably the most important ones.
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