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The Seagull is the first of Anton Checkov’s four full-length plays. It explores the romantic and artistic tension in the relationships between a young woman, a fading older lady, her playwright son and a popular story writer. The play references Shakespeare’s Hamlet both in text and content. It has a cast of eclectic characters whose principle dramas play themselves out off stage and in unvoiced subtext.
The scene is laid in the park on SORIN’S estate. A broad avenue of trees leads away from the audience toward a lake which lies lost in the depths of the park. The avenue is obstructed by a rough stage, temporarily erected for the performance of amateur theatricals, and which screens the lake from view. There is a dense growth of bushes to the left and right of the stage. A few chairs and a little table are placed in front of the stage. The sun has just set. JACOB and some other workmen are heard hammering and coughing on the stage behind the lowered curtain.
MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO come in from the left, returning from a walk.
MEDVIEDENKO. Why do you always wear mourning?
MASHA. I dress in black to match my life. I am unhappy.
MEDVIEDENKO. Why should you be unhappy? [Thinking it over] I don’t understand it. You are healthy, and though your father is not rich, he has a good competency. My life is far harder than yours. I only have twenty-three roubles a month to live on, but I don’t wear mourning. [They sit down].
MASHA. Happiness does not depend on riches; poor men are often happy.
MEDVIEDENKO. In theory, yes, but not in reality. Take my case, for instance; my mother, my two sisters, my little brother and I must all live somehow on my salary of twenty-three roubles a month. We have to eat and drink, I take it. You wouldn’t have us go without tea and sugar, would you? Or tobacco? Answer me that, if you can.
MASHA. [Looking in the direction of the stage] The play will soon begin.
MEDVIEDENKO. Yes, Nina Zarietchnaya is going to act in Treplieff’s play. They love one another, and their two souls will unite to-night in the effort to interpret the same idea by different means. There is no ground on which your soul and mine can meet. I love you. Too restless and sad to stay at home, I tramp here every day, six miles and back, to be met only by your indifference. I am poor, my family is large, you can have no inducement to marry a man who cannot even find sufficient food for his own mouth.
MASHA. It is not that. [She takes snuff] I am touched by your affection, but I cannot return it, that is all. [She offers him the snuff-box] Will you take some?
MEDVIEDENKO. No, thank you. [A pause.]
MASHA. The air is sultry; a storm is brewing for to-night. You do nothing but moralise or else talk about money. To you, poverty is the greatest misfortune that can befall a man, but I think it is a thousand times easier to go begging in rags than to–You wouldn’t understand that, though.
SORIN leaning on a cane, and TREPLIEFF come in.
SORIN. For some reason, my boy, country life doesn’t suit me, and I am sure I shall never get used to it. Last night I went to bed at ten and woke at nine this morning, feeling as if, from oversleep, my brain had stuck to my skull. [Laughing] And yet I accidentally dropped off to sleep again after dinner, and feel utterly done up at this moment. It is like a nightmare.
TREPLIEFF. There is no doubt that you should live in town. [He catches sight of MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO] You shall be called when the play begins, my friends, but you must not stay here now. Go away, please.
SORIN. Miss Masha, will you kindly ask your father to leave the dog unchained? It howled so last night that my sister was unable to sleep.
MASHA. You must speak to my father yourself. Please excuse me; I can’t do so. [To MEDVIEDENKO] Come, let us go.
MEDVIEDENKO. You will let us know when the play begins?
MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO go out.
SORIN. I foresee that that dog is going to howl all night again. It is always this way in the country; I have never been able to live as I like here. I come down for a month’s holiday, to rest and all, and am plagued so by their nonsense that I long to escape after the first day. [Laughing] I have always been glad to get away from this place, but I have been retired now, and this was the only place I had to come to. Willy-nilly, one must live somewhere.
JACOB. [To TREPLIEFF] We are going to take a swim, Mr. Constantine.
TREPLIEFF. Very well, but you must be back in ten minutes.
JACOB. We will, sir.
TREPLIEFF. [Looking at the stage] Just like a real theatre! See, there we have the curtain, the foreground, the background, and all. No artificial scenery is needed. The eye travels direct to the lake, and rests on the horizon. The curtain will be raised as the moon rises at half-past eight.