Shakesperian Images in Čexov’s Works

Margarita Odesskaya, Moscow State University

Shakespeare’s influence on Čexov, as well as on many other Russian writers, is obvious. The subjects, images, and conflicts in Shakespeare’s plays sounded topical and up-to-date to Čexov. Čexov not only quoted Shakespeare extremely widely in his works and letters, but applied the characters, plots, and conflicts as ready-made clichés. It is known that the young Čexov was going to write his own version of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, but the idea never materialized. However, Lopaxin and Varja, characters in Čexov’s last comedy The Cherry Orchard, are like a parody of Hamlet and Ophelia (Lopaxin quotes several lines from Hamlet’s dialogue with Ophelia).

Jesters occupy a very important place in Shakespeare’s plays. Jesters quite often serve as a catalyst for the action. Clowns act in comedies thus creating a comic effect. Clowns and country bumpkins perform buffoonery and entertain the public. But there are single jesters, those professionals that hide a cold mind and evil jokes behind a surface of stupidity and foolish tricks, who are more intelligent than their masters. A jester and a king form a tragicomic pair.

It is interesting that a jester, as the aging professional actor in Čexov’s monologue play The Swan-Song, reads a monologue from King Lear on an empty stage. It naturally causes a parallel to arise between the actor, the king of the stage, rejected by the public and Lear, who lost his kingdom.

A collision of times within the limits of one time period makes the essence of both the tragic King Lear and the comedic The Cherry Orchard. In the both plays jesters serve at courts that have already ceased to exist.

The jester in King Lear is the last of Shakespeare’s jesters, which is why he is unlike the previous jesters. He is nameless and ageless. He changes his role into a bitter jester. The jester tortures Lear with his jokes, and keeps speaking about the buffoonery of his master. The jester is the King’s double.

The Cherry Orchard is Čexov’s last play. Charlotte is an ageless human being without a passport. She is a professional clown, with buffoonery as her role. All the characters in the play, especially Ranevskaja – the owner of the orchard, are mirrored in the character of Charlotte. It was no accident that Čexov wanted to make Charlotte the major character. Everybody becomes homeless with the loss of the orchard.

The image of the orchard plays an important role in Shakespeare’s plays. The orchard is the soul of a man, while man is its gardener. This was said by Iago, a soulless man, the devil in the play Othello. The orchard is an allegory for the state in the play Richard II. The orchard, overgrown with weeds, shows that the government is in trouble.

The image of the orchard is very symbolic in Čexov’s works. The enthusiastic words of Petya Trofimov at the end of The Cherry Orchard, “All Russia is our orchard,” become fateful. The orchard is cut down and sold.

Shakespearian images are not only projected into Čexov’s works at the level of content, but also affect the structure of his plays: a plot, a conflict, and a system of characters. This reveals one of the features of Čexov’s writing, who made well-known images and cliché sound new in his works.