Friday, 20 November 2015

The Bear by Anton Chekhov (3/5)

First published: 1888
Original title: Медведь: Шутка в одном действии
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Julius West
GoodReads says: Although The Bear is one of Anton Chekhov’s lesser-known plays, this “Farce in One-Act," as it is subtitled, is an excellent representative of its genre. This is one of Chekhov's very short plays, an unquestionable comedy, as opposed to the author's full length dramas which he considered comedies, but which are certainly of a more serious ilk. Written, published, and performed in 1888, Chekhov’s play reflects on and pokes fun of liberal discourses in mid- to late-nineteenth-century Russia, in particular those concerned with "The Woman Question." The Bear is engaged in dialogue with Chekhov's contemporaries and earlier Russian literature on women’s emancipation, such as Ivan Turgenev’s On the Eve (1859) and Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? (1863). The play condenses so much of human nature into this short, comical, bizarre, and ultimately triumphant act. Chekhov demonstrates how close (at times) is the relationship between anger and passion, and how strange and wonderful is the human condition.

I say: I am starting to sense a theme of the absurd in Chekhov’s plays, and I, in some cases, am loving it, while in others it’s leaving me unimpressed. 

The Bear falls somewhere in between. 

We’ve got Popova, a widow who locked herself up in the house after her husband’s passing and refuses to see anyone until Smirnov appears demanding money that the late husband owes him and refuses to leave without it. Popova informs him that she has no money in the house but can produce it in two days, which he will not accept and they start to quarrel about men and women; how they are expected to behave and how they actually do behave. 

It all becomes a bizarre battle of wits and offence.
The part of the play that I loved Smirnov challenging Popova to a duel regardless of her being a woman, and Popova directly going off to get her late husband’s pistols. What happens after that is the main reason why I didn’t really like the play. Yes, I do realise that this is a farce, and knowing Chekhov’s frame of mind when writing it makes me admire him more, but not the play. According to Wikipedia, Chekhov wrote of the play in a letter as such:

Just to while away the time, I wrote a trivial little vaudeville [vodevilchik] in the French manner, called The Bear . . . Alas! when they out on New Times find out that I write vaudevilles they will excommunicate me. What am I to do? I plan something worthwhile — and — it is all tra-la-la! In spite of all my attempts at being serious the result is nothing; with me the serious alternates with the trivial!

Furthermore, about its success he remarked: "I've managed to write a stupid vaudeville which, owing to the fact that it is stupid, is enjoying surprising success."

I mean, how can you not love him for that?

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