In response to my earlier posts about Nina and Treplev, I got the following email (in italics). I responded while I was reading (in boldface):
The Nina/Act IV question was particularly interesting. It makes me wonder what Konstantine has gone through over the course of the play (especially given the Seagull question you fielded). What happens to him in the three years between Act III and IV?
Does he stay, perfectly crystalized in that environment, shut up in the room, writing away? And so, when Nina comes back, maybe that's part of what's so interesting about it. He's another relic of her former life that she comes across.
Look at the moment when she first comes in and says to him, “Let me look at you.” In that moment, what does each of them see? Literally, what? In contrast to the young person each of them was (Describe those in detail too). The audience will be remembering that Nina and that Kostya of the first three acts too.
I think it must be more interesting than that, because that would make the gunshot a forgone conclusion. Him not changing at all is also impossible, because he's getting older.
And what does the play say happens to the seagull within us as we get older? Sorin is a Treplev who didn't actually kill himself, but what happened to his dreams?
I wonder if he could both be changed and stay the same, like, what would happen if she showed up and he was still wearing the same suit. (Or, if some clever costumer could make him an identical suit that was slightly smaller and shabbier.) "You've found your way..." something about Konstantine's stagnation is killing him. I wonder so much about what he sees in her, and how that's totally different from what she sees in herself. Every character has a way of explaining the world to themselves (I think you used to say this), and Chekhov puts them in situations outside of their vocabulary. I need to read the play again, but I think Act IV must be in some part about this.
[just FYI, at this point in the email, I started trying to figure out what I was talking about while I was writing it, so it might not track too cleanly...]
What happens to Kostya in the three years between Act III and IV? He becomes successful. He's getting published. He wears a new suit in Act IV. But what's happening to him? What's happening to the artist within him? Nina has discovered: “What's important is to endure.” To pick yourself up and get on with it. To compromise.
Nina will make it.
Konstantin won't. Why?
What is the seagull? Isn't it that passion within young people, that desire to soar, to reach for stars, to believe in possibility, that is youth? At the end of the play it's stuffed and sitting on a shelf. At the end of the play Nina has grown out of/abandons her dreams. She’s not a seagull, she’s an actress. (What's the mordant irony here?)
She’s found her way.
In seeing her now, Kostya finally utterly realizes he won't.
Look at who are the successful adults in the play. By Act IV Trigorin’s voice is even flatter and shallower than it ever was. Dr. Dorn just smiles and smokes his cigar and watches with detached amusement the human drama happening around him (and he's a doctor!). And Arkadina wins at lotto and at life as she always will. Why? What is the play saying about growing up? about succeeding? making it?
I wonder about the Hamlet reference in the play. I don't think Chekhov would ever give his characters the self-knowledge that Hamlet approaches... or, I don't think that knowledge would ever become as important to the drama of the story, because Nina has her own self-knowledge, is a Hamlet is her own right. There's something so unusual about Chekhov's work, something highlighted by the irony of the Hamlet reference. Konstantine is a "real-life" Hamlet. Something about seeing NOT the play that Konstantine writes, but the people who are putting on the play. I always imagine Chekhov's characters running around in a world too big for them, trying to make everything work out. Some of his humor must come from a paradox: "They're scared of ghosts, but they're language doesn't have the word "ghost" in it."
What is Hamlet's tragedy? He's a gifted creative passionate young man who simply cannot/will not adjust to the world of corruption, vice, hypocrisy, changing allegiances, spying, lying--All the things you have to do to survive and thrive in the world. (And the two women in his life simply do not get it either.) Where's the tragedy?
Ah yes. That's it. It's that Chekhov writes characters that have no way to talk about spirits. That's what Konstantine is doing in Act I: talking about spirits, and everyone thinks it's ridiculous.
Chekhov is parodying the Decadent Theatre of the time; e.g., Maeterlink’s plays. Kostya’s play isn’t very good. And Nina has no idea what she’s saying when she recites the lines in Act I. The contrast between how she says the lines then and how she says them with meaning and understanding in Act IV after life has done its job on her is part of the great grief of the play.
Nina comes in, a ghost from the past. I've always felt like Chekhov is laughing at people for having no idea what really governs their lives, like deeper fears and passions, but he brilliantly wrote it all in their everyday language and situations. Konstantine and Nina are then marvelous partly because they come closest to expressing more of their humanity than anyone around them. Partly what's tricky about playing Treplev must be that he doesn't know how to express himself. He's talking about his love for her, and all he can say is "I killed this seagull." Or, all he can say is to kill a seagull.
"I've hit bottom. I can't go any lower. And today I shot this seagull. I lay it at your feet". That offering of the dead seagull is his last despairing attempt to get across to her how much he is suffering in his frustration at trying to find his way into the adult world of art/commerce and even the woman who should understand him the most seems to be completely blind and deaf to his pain and fears and utter hopelessness.
(Why does Hamlet go postal with Ophelia? It's not just because he loves her and she wants to return his remembrances.)
The audience should be weeping through the last scene, but not sentimental tears. Not just for young love lost. There is deep loss, great grief. What should your audience be recognizing in their own lives? What has each of them had to give up, abandon, stuff and put on a shelf, in order to make their way in the world and through life?
Kostya slowly tears up all his writing and walks out of the room. The stage is empty.
The rest is silence.
Konstantine is a "real-life" Hamlet, which is a Hamlet without a ghost, without a crown, without revenge, without a Claudius... Konstantine is the drama of someone who is a Hamlet, in real life.
Anyway. Thank you for starting your blog. I think these thoughts may bode well for a future production of the Seagull.