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Act II begins at night with the professor and Yelena asleep and sitting next to each other in the dining room. A night watchman can be heard tapping in the garden. The two awaken, Serebryakov complains of his gout and rheumatism. He damns old age, declaring that he has become detestable to himself and those around him. He accuses Yelena in particular of hating him; how could such a young beauty not resent the corpse to which she is attached? Claiming weariness, Yelena begs him to be quiet. Serebryakov sarcastically replies that it seems he has worn everyone out; he, on the other hand, is having a great time.
Continuing his lament, Serebryakov (ironically) complains that while everyone listens to Voynitsky and Maria, they find his own voice abhorrent. In his old age, he has a right to egoism, and people must attend to him. He has spent his life in scholarship and suddenly finds himself in a "tomb," plagued by the "good-for-nothing talk, talk, talk" of fools. Serebryakov feels as if in "exile" and spends his days yearning for the past and fearing death. With deep resignation, Yelena consoles him: soon she too will be old.
Sonya then enters and reproaches her father for abusing Dr. Astrov—apparently Serebryakov holds him in nothing but contempt. Voynitsky then enters, noting the storm brewing outside. He has come to relieve Yelena and Sonya of their night watch over the professor; the professor reacts in terror—"He'll talk my head off!" he exclaims.
Marina then enters and, speaking of her own aches, tenderly takes Serebryakov to bed. She recalls the years when his first wife, Vera Petrovna, slaved away to care for him; deeply moved, the professor exits the dining room with Sonya and Marina, leaving Yelena and Voynitsky alone.
Complaining of yet another sleepless night with the professor, Yelena cries that the house is "going to rack and ruin" and enjoins Voynitsky to help bring its members together. Much to her dismay, he bends to kiss her hand. When Yelena recoils, Voynitsky once again laments the many wasted years, during which he has had nothing to do with his life and love. Whereas the storm will renew nature, it will not help Voynitsky. His thoughts will haunt him like an "evil spirit." "My feelings are wasting away in vain," he cries, "like a ray of sunlight failing into a pit, and I too am wasting away."
Yelena is numb to his entreaty. When Voynitsky persists, she accuses him of being a drunken bore; Voynitsky rejoins that at least drink makes one feel alive. Yelena leaves, and Voynitsky makes a soliloquy that mourns what might have been had he married Yelena when they first met ten years ago. He also reveals that he once worshipped the professor and has worked the estate to provide him with an income, the summation of his wasted life.
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