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What major events happen offstage? What kind of play would The Seagull become were these events to occur on stage? Why do you think Chekhov chose to keep these events offstage? What effect does his choice create?
In The Seagull all of the major events take place offstage. Major events include marriage, birth, death, and lovers uniting and breaking up. Almost all of the major events of The Seagull occur between Act Three and Act Four. These events are Masha's marriage to Medvedenko and the birth of their son; Trigorin and Nina's affair; the birth and death of their child; Nina becoming an actress; and Treplev becoming a published writer. If these events were to occur onstage the play would turn into a much longer play and perhaps a melodrama like the plays Arkadina performs in on the Russian stage. Before Chekhov, at least some of these events would have taken place on stage. Consider Hamlet, La Boheme, Antigone, Much Ado About Nothing or any other play or opera previous to Chekhov. In all of these theatrical works, people die, get sick, married, or fight on stage. Chekhov was more interested in the way major events effect and do not effect people's character.
What is dramatic about the characters in The Seagull is not what we see them do, but what we hear them say and how they change forever because of what they decide to say or cannot say to each other. Treplev takes a huge leap of faith in Act Four when he professes his undying love for Nina to her even though she still loves Trigorin. He expresses how he feels which is something he could not do when we saw him in the previous act, two years ago, and he could not do when he saw her at her failed performances over the two years since. Our heart goes out to Treplev who takes a risk because we know how hard it has been for him to suffer through Nina's affair with Trigorin. When Nina turns Treplev down it becomes a dramatic moment to the audience because we know about the major events that occurred beforehand that led up to this moment. We know how badly Trigorin treated Nina and how much Treplev loves her and therefore, how hard a blow this will be to Treplev. This informs the audience minutes later when we hear Treplev's gun shot. The sound becomes meaningful to us because we understand why he killed himself. The suicide becomes about his character's inner thoughts, not a spectacle onstage. In this way, we as an audience can think about Treplev's life—his mistakes and struggles and compare them to our own lives without focusing on how well an actor is dying or bleeding onstage.
Is Arkadina a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
Arkadina can be a sympathetic character, but she is not entirely so and in fact, leans more toward an unsympathetic definition. Very few, if any Chekhovian characters, except perhaps Natasha in The Three Sisters is entirely unsympathetic. Chekhov chooses not to place judgment on his characters. Instead of depicting them as evil vs. good, he presents several different ways people may handle themselves in the same situation and allows the audience to decide for themselves what they think of the characters' actions. Arkadina can be described as vain, selfish, competitive, and an egoist. She loves being the center of attention at the expense of her son's self-confidence. She ruins his play and has little sense of how hard he worked on it or how important the production was to Treplev. Arkadina is miserly, tipping the workers on the estate only one ruble to share between them. Though she later admits to having money, when Sorin asks her to lend money to Treplev and later, when Treplev asks her to lend Sorin money, she refuses, lying about her finances, claiming she does not have any money.
Arkadina is a jealous character. She does not want Treplev to outshine her and does not want anyone to compliment Nina excessively, the way she desires to be complimented herself. However, perhaps she is rightfully jealous in the case of Nina, who does win the desire of her lover, Trigorin. Glimpses of Arkadina's goodness expose themselves from time to time for instance when Treplev remembers the time she helped a poor neighbor or when she lovingly wraps Treplev's bandage. She reveals a heart when she witnesses her brother Sorin fall sick on the ground and when she begs Trigorin not to leave. These moments of compassion and need prevent Arkadina from having entirely unsympathetic characteristics.
How does Nina change over the course of the play?
Nina enters with enthusiasm, hope, fear, and faith in Treplev's ideas. After Treplev's play receives poor reception from the members of Sorin's estate Nina claims she did not understand the play. Sharing company with Arkadina and Trigorin boosts her confidence and inspires her to raise her stakes. She falls in love with Trigorin and boldly expresses her feelings for him through the medallion gift she gives him when she believes he is leaving with Arkadina to Moscow. Trigorin's attention and the hope of a future with him propels Nina's ambitions further. She decides to make a leap and move to Moscow to try her luck at acting on the professional stage and to have an affair with Trigorin. Between Act Three and Act Four Nina loses almost everything she has: Trigorin, the hope of a bright career, a baby and her father and stepmother guard their home by the lake from her entrance.
Homeless, impoverished, and without family or a lover, Nina returns to Treplev on Sorin's estate. She is almost completely destroyed as Trigorin predicts in his metaphor comparing Nina to the dead seagull in Act Two. Though Nina lost a lot, she returns with a new faith in herself that defies money, success and love. She loves herself and has faith in her will to endure the hardships life brings her and the disappointments she faces. She appears ragged, weak, and depressed. Her speech is broken and at times, seemingly sub-conscious. But several times Nina's thoughts are direct and full of clarity. Even in her weakness she will not stay to be with Treplev. She makes a different choice than Masha who marries Medvedenko out of boredom and an attempt to heal her heart. Nina would rather go on living for herself without her unrequited love for Trigorin or her goals for becoming a major star fulfilled. She takes pride in her willingness and strength to persevere though her survival through hardships obviously takes its toll.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Seagull!