Anton Chekhov as a Dramatist

Anton Chekhov as a Dramatist

Q. Discuss Anton Chekhov as a dramatist.


Anton Chekhov is one of the most prominent playwrights in Russian literature. His contributions to the theatre world extend beyond regional boundaries, resonating with universal appeal. Chekhov’s unique dramaturgy has forever changed our understanding of theatrical narrative.

It is characterized by subtlety, psychological depth, and a focus on internal drama rather than conventional plot progression. He rejected traditional dramatic structure, creating instead what he referred to as “indirect action.”

This approach involved placing significant events offstage, allowing them to manifest through the characters’ reactions. Thus, it highlights the internal and emotional facets of human existence. His famous plays like The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard testify to his enduring influence.

Chekhov’s Unique Approach to Dramaturgy

Anton Chekhov, the esteemed Russian playwright and master of short stories, brought a remarkable transformation to modern drama with his distinct narrative style. Chekhov tossed away the overblown, melodramatic methods typical of 19th-century theatre.

He replaced them with a pioneering approach that mirrored everyday life. He breathed a new level of authenticity into his works by highlighting the subtleties of human behaviour, relationships, and societal concerns. His masterpiece, ‘ The Cherry Orchard,’ is a shining example of this innovative narrative technique.

Indirect Action and Subtext: Traditional dramaturgy often structures itself around a clear plot with dramatic events and climaxes. In contrast, Chekhov’s plays are known for their indirect action and extensive use of subtext.

In ‘The Cherry Orchard’, the plot often appears offstage or in the background. For instance, the sale of the cherry orchard, the main plot point, occurs offstage and is reported to the characters. The crucial events are not always the focus of the scenes but are often implied in dialogues and the characters’ reactions to them.
Character Complexity: Chekhov’s characters are never one-dimensional. They are multifaceted and deeply flawed, reflecting the complexity of real human beings. For instance, Madame Ranevskaya, in ‘The Cherry Orchard’, is loving, generous, and nostalgic, yet she is also impulsive and financially irresponsible.
Lopakhin, a serf’s son turned wealthy businessman, is hard-working and ambitious but also deeply conflicted and unable to express his feelings.
Internal Struggles: Chekhov’s characters often wrestle with their desires, fears, memories, and contradictions, resulting in an inner conflict that drives the drama. This struggle is often more compelling than the actual events of the play.

Madame Ranevskaya in ‘The Cherry Orchard’ finds herself torn between her attachment to her childhood home. Simultaneously, she struggles with the need to let go of the past. Her refusal to face reality and make difficult decisions leads to losing her beloved cherry orchard.

Lopakhin, despite his economic success, struggles with his lower-class origins and his unrequited love for Ranevskaya’s adopted daughter, Varya. He cannot propose to Varya due to his internal conflict regarding his social status and self-worth.

Tragicomedy: Chekhov famously described his plays as comedies, a classification that directors and audiences have often found puzzling given the sombre themes and tragic undertones. However, Chekhov’s plays embody a blend of humour and pathos, of the ridiculous and the poignant.
‘The Cherry Orchard’ illustrates this approach; it is a tragicomedy that captures the absurdity and tragedy of its characters’ lives. The humour often arises from the characters’ quirks, denial of reality, and inability to express their emotions.
Social Commentary: Chekhov’s plays, while deeply personal, are also societal in scope. His work often exposes the contradictions and flaws of the society in which his characters live. ‘The Cherry Orchard’ is a poignant critique of the obsolete Russian aristocracy and a commentary on the rapidly changing society in the wake of the Emancipation Reform of 1861 in Russia.
Symbolism and Metaphor: Chekhov often used symbols and metaphors to reveal deeper truths about his characters and their society. The cherry orchard itself is a powerful symbol in the play. It represents the past glory of the aristocracy, the beauty and transience of life, and the inevitability of change.
Character Complexity and Internal Struggles

Anton Chekhov’s plays are renowned for their complex characters and internal struggles, which form the crux of the drama more often than external events. This emphasis on internal dynamics is visible in ‘The Cherry Orchard’.

Unresolved Endings: In many of Chekhov’s plays, the endings do not neatly resolve the central conflicts or tie up loose ends. This was a significant departure from his time’s more conventional narrative arcs. Instead, Chekhov sought to reflect the complexities and uncertainties of real life.

Instead of the traditional resolution, Chekhov portrays the rawness and complexities of real life on stage. His endings tend to leave audience members with a sense of uncertainty, mirroring the unpredictability and the often unresolved nature of human life.

By intentionally leaving threads untied, he could more accurately reflect the ambiguities and intricacies of the human experience. Thus, it offers a deeper exploration of life’s uncertainties.

In ‘The Cherry Orchard‘, the fate of the orchard is resolved – it is sold to pay off the family’s debts – but the characters’ lives remain uncertain. For instance, we do not know what will become of Madame Ranevskaya and her family after they leave the estate.

Similarly, the fate of the serf-turned-merchant, Lopakhin, who purchases the orchard, is also uncertain. While he achieves his financial goal, his social and emotional future remains unresolved.

The final scene, featuring Firs, the old servant, left behind alone as the cherry orchard is being cut down, underscores this sense of uncertainty and unresolved loss. It is a poignant reminder of the transience of life and the inevitability of change.


In conclusion, as a dramatist, Anton Chekhov skillfully created a mirror. This mirror enables us to see ourselves with more clarity. He stripped away the grandiosity of action, revealing the poignant serenity of existence.

His stage is not populated by heroes or villains but by us, – real, flawed humans, muddling through life’s contradictions and yearning for meaning.

Chekhov’s work is not merely a page in a dusty history book of theatre but a living, pulsing ethos that continues to redefine and enrich our understanding of drama.

His ‘indirect action’ compels us to listen to the silences, to find meaning not only in what is spoken but in what is left unsaid, in what is done and what is merely dreamt.


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