Myth in Čexov’s Plays: Isomorphisms and Deviations

Vera Zubarev, University of Pennsylvania

There are some names in Čexov’s plays, which may suggest references to mythology. For instance, the name Arkadina in The Seagull can be interpreted as derived from Arcadia and the names Elena and Sonja in Uncle Vanja allude to mythological Sophia and Helen who in the cosmogonic myth represent an opposition between murderous chaos and divine order. As the further analysis reveals, it is not only their structure, but functioning, as well, that suggest possible allusions to mythology.

The question arises: to what extent mythological paradigms represented in Čexov’s plays are isomorphic to the classic myth and what is the meaning of deviations observed in his mythological structures? At this point, I would like to talk about the technique of establishing of isomorphisms between the literary and mythological texts. My analysis will be based on predispositioning theory by Aron Kacenelinbojgen in which he discusses styles and methods of establishing correspondences between the parts of the system: programming, predispositioning, and randomness.

Programming is a formation of complete and consistent linkages between all the stages of the systems’ development. Predispositioning is a formation of semi-efficient linkages between the stages of the system’s development. Randomness is a formation of inconsistent linkages between the stages of the system’s development. All methods are combined in the process of creation/interpretation.

Thus, some mythological allusions, such as Arkadina-Arcadia or Elena-Helen, can be made directly (programming), others, such as Marina-Marena in Uncle Vanja, require a more sophisticated multi-stage analysis (predispositioning). After isomorphic structures are established one can talk about deviations in order to see the peculiarity of the artistic system. Deviations may link to either a modification or a reconstruction of a mythological paradigm. The latter appears when the change of the sign of the classic paradigm is observed. For instance, one can talk about a decaying Arcadia in The Seagull, for the sign of the mythological paradigm is changed from positive (blossoming) to negative (degradation). This may also clarify the peculiarity of dramatic genre of Čexov’s plays some of which he subtitled as comedy.