‘The Seagull’ by Anton Chekhov – A Play of Unrequited Lovers


‘The Seagull’ by Anton Chekhov (1898) – 61 pages             Translated from the Russian by David Magarshack

When the one you love loves someone else, it’s a problem that only a play can resolve.

The schoolmaster Simon loves only Masha, but Masha ignores Simon because she has her heart set on aspiring writer Konstantin. However Konstantin is madly in love with and has eyes only for aspiring actress Nina. Nina begins the play in love with Konstantin but when renowned author Trigorin arrives, Nina immediately falls for him. Meanwhile Trigorin hangs around with the famous actress Irina Arkadina who happens also to be the mother of Konstantin, but Trigorin is open to any and all affairs on the side. And the married Paulina, the mother of Masha, is having an affair with the doctor Dorn. Of course women have always fallen for the doctor Dorn. So it goes.

Each of these unrequited love situations resolves itself in its own way.

Anton Chekhov subtitled ‘The Seagull’ as “A Comedy in Three Acts”, but for the life of me I can’t find much of anything humorous about the play. There is a silly play within the play in which Chekhov makes fun of symbolist plays which were coming into vogue in Russia at that time. Also there are plenty of other good-natured people around besides all these unrequited lovers. However I believe most viewers would say this play is a tragedy.

‘The Seagull’ contains a large cast of characters, and the amazing thing is that Chekhov can capture the human qualities of each person on stage with just a few lines of dialogue for each. Although Konstantin and Nina and Trigorin would probably be considered the main characters, Chekhov does not slight any of the more peripheral characters, and their life situations are also rendered with poignancy. I believe that is why I admire Chekhov’s writings so much, his strong empathy for each of his characters. Someone may be off to the side, but their life is just as important to them as it is for the main characters. Chekhov recognizes this fact.

The following introductory lines by the translator David Magarshack go a long way to explain the appeal of ‘The Seagull’:

Chekhov’s attitude toward the characters in his plays is one of profound understanding without any false sentimentality. It is this that explains best of all the marvelous blend of the tragic and the comic that is so characteristic of them.”

Much of ‘The Seagull’ takes place near the lake on the country estate of old man Sorin. Here Chekhov is opening up the stage beyond the restrictions of the drawing room.

And then there is the seagull or, in a fancy literary term, the objective correlative of the play. First Nina mentions the seagull to show how she is drawn to the lake. Later Konstantin shoots the seagull and gives it to Nina who just leaves it lying dead on the stage. Then Trigorin has the seagull stuffed as an ironic token of what he is doing to Nina by entering into a love affair with her. Heavy stuff.


Grade:   A



5 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve only seen this play once, and would love to see it again:)

    Liked by 1 person


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