Q. Discuss Anton Chekhov’s play, The Cherry Orchard, as a tragicomedy.
In the early 17th century, an English playwright, John Fletcher, cultivated a fresh concept. He introduced the term “tragicomedy” to the theatrical landscape, blending the poignant sorrow of tragedy with the uplifting joy of comedy.
Just like that, a new kind of drama was born – one that had both the serious stuff from tragedies and the laugh-out-loud moments from comedies. Thanks to Fletcher, we have a new way of storytelling on stage.
Tragicomedy is a vibrant, multidimensional genre of storytelling, a kaleidoscope of emotions where laughter and tears coexist and intertwine. It’s like a dance where sad and funny moments take turns leading the show, making each other stand out even more in an amazing performance.
Tragicomedy is often described as ‘laughter through tears.’
In a tragicomedy, the solemn echoes of heartache blend harmoniously with the lighthearted tunes of delight. It presents a full-bodied representation of life in all its complexities.
It’s a storytelling technique that embraces the dichotomy of the human experience. It captures the poignant reality that even in our darkest moments, a flicker of humour emerges, and traces of sorrow may linger amidst laughter.
The Cherry Orchard as a Tragicomedy
Anton Chekhov‘s “The Cherry Orchard” is a theater piece that brilliantly interlaces components of both tragedy and comedy. The Cherry Orchard is abundant with instances of joy and delight, as well as melancholy and distress.
In “The Cherry Orchard,” characters grapple with grave dilemmas – the disheartening loss of their cherished estate, love that finds no reciprocation, and the severe implications of societal transformation.
These are the tragic threads that add depth and weight to the story. But Chekhov doesn’t let us dwell in sorrow. He injects humour through clumsy characters, absurd conversations, and ironic situations, lightening the mood and bringing smiles.
Anton Chekhov’s View About The Cherry Orchard
Chekhov often described “The Cherry Orchard” as a comedy in correspondence. He wrote a letter to his wife, Olga Knipper, who played the role of Madame Ranevskaya in the original Moscow Art Theatre production. The letter is dated October 25, 1903:
In spite of all my entreaties, in spite of my assurances, you will not believe that ‘The Cherry Orchard’ is not a drama but a comedy, even, in places, a farce…
Chekhov was known to dispute with Konstantin Stanislavski, co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre and the director of the original production, over the portrayal of “The Cherry Orchard.”
Chekhov insisted it was a comedy, while Stanislavski staged it as a tragedy, a source of significant tension between the two. This dichotomy and the resulting complexity have been defining aspects of the play’s production and interpretation over the years.
This mix of comedy and tragedy makes the characters feel deeply human as they reflect the joy and pain, the absurdity and seriousness we all experience. This is the beauty of “The Cherry Orchard” as a tragicomedy – it’s like holding up a mirror to life itself, with all its complexities and contradictions.
The Sale of the Cherry Orchard
The cherry orchard is not just a piece of real estate but a symbol of the past and its associated memories. The orchard holds significant sentimental value for its owners, particularly for Madame Ranevskaya. It’s a link to her childhood, family history, and happier days before personal and financial tragedies befell her.
Therefore, the sale of the cherry orchard represents the painful loss of this connection to the past. It’s a tangible reminder of the relentless march of time that leaves no room for nostalgia.
The sale also epitomizes the societal changes in Russia during this period. The displacement of the aristocracy by the rising merchant class is embodied in the character of Lopakhin, a former serf who can buy the orchard.
His pragmatic view of the orchard as a source of economic profit starkly contrasts with Madame Ranevskaya’s romanticized perspective. The sale of the orchard to Lopakhin, who plans to cut down the trees and build villas, is a tragic symbol of the old order being swept away by new economic and social realities.
For the characters, the cherry orchard is not just a home but also an integral part of their identities. The loss of the orchard implies a loss of self. For instance, Firs, the old servant, cannot conceive of a life outside the orchard.
He is so rooted in his way of life that he is left behind, an overlooked casualty of change when the family leaves. This personal tragedy of displacement and loss of identity is a direct consequence of the orchard’s sale.
The sale is tragic because it signifies the failure of the characters to adapt to changing circumstances. Despite multiple warnings and concrete proposals to save the estate, Ranevskaya and her brother Gaev cannot escape their past and take the necessary actions to avert the impending disaster. Their inertia and inability to face reality contribute to their downfall, adding to the tragedy of the sale.
Firs, the Forgotten Servant
In the play’s final scene, Fiers, the old manservant, is forgotten and left behind as the family leaves the estate. This poignant scene symbolizes the tragic abandonment of the old ways and the people who were part of them.
The characters in the play experience unreturned love, adding a touch of personal tragedy to their stories.
A case in point is Lopakhin, who, despite his recent financial success, cannot declare his love for Varya, the adopted daughter of Madame Ranevsky, who silently harbours similar feelings for him.
Their failure to articulate their affection leads to a lost chance for shared joy.
Madame Ranevsky’s Denial
Madame Ranevsky’s refusal to acknowledge the family’s financial situation until it’s too late is a tragic flaw leading to the cherry orchard’s loss. Her inability to adapt to change and her clinging to the past contribute to her downfall.
While Yepikhodov’s continual accidents and misfortunes provide comic relief, they also add a tragic element to his character. His unrequited love for Dunyasha, the maid, and his lack of luck and success make him a tragic figure.
These instances highlight the tragic elements in “The Cherry Orchard,” showing how Chekhov masterfully blends personal and societal tragedies in his depiction of the lives of ordinary people.
“The Cherry Orchard” also contains many elements of comedy, often in the form of absurdity, irony, and ridiculous situations. Here are some instances from the text:
Yepikhodov, a clerk, is a source of comic relief in the play. People call him “Twenty-Two Misfortunes” because he frequently gets involved in accidents and mishaps. Though tragic for him, his continuous misfortune and clumsiness generate laughter in the play.
Trofimov, a perpetual student, brings comedy through his lofty speeches about philosophy and progress. His idealism is often contrasted humorously with the more practical concerns of the other characters.
Charlotta, the governess, is another comic character. She often tells strange stories and performs magic tricks, creating moments of humour and absurdity. In Act II, for instance, she humorously presents a ventriloquist act, creating a lighthearted and surreal scene.
Lopakhin’s Lack of Sophistication
Despite his wealth, Lopakhin often lacks sophistication and manners, providing a source of comedy. For example, in Act III, he humorously struggles to find the right way to announce the sale of the cherry orchard, showing his discomfort in high society.
Irony and Misunderstandings
The play is replete with ironic situations and misunderstandings that create comedy. For instance, Madame Ranevsky is unaware that Lopakhin, the son of a serf who belonged to her family, is now wealthy enough to buy her estate. This reversal of fortune is a source of dramatic irony in the play.
In conclusion, the tragicomedy of “The Cherry Orchard” lies in its complex portrayal of life, characterized by both the sorrow of inevitable change and the absurdity of human behaviour. Chekhov presents a poignant reflection on the human condition by blending tragic and comic elements.