The scene is laid in the park on SORIN'S estate. A broad avenue
of trees leads away from the audience toward a lake which lies
lost in the depths of the park. The avenue is obstructed by a
rough stage, temporarily erected for the performance of amateur
theatricals, and which screens the lake from view. There is a
dense growth of bushes to the left and right of the stage. A few
chairs and a little table are placed in front of the stage. The
sun has just set. JACOB and some other workmen are heard
hammering and coughing on the stage behind the lowered curtain.
MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO come in from the left, returning from a
I dress in black to match my life. I am unhappy.
Why should you be unhappy? [Thinking it over] I
don't understand it. You are healthy, and though your father is
not rich, he has a good competency. My life is far harder than
yours. I only have twenty-three roubles a month to live on, but I
don't wear mourning. [They sit down].
Happiness does not depend on riches; poor men are often
In theory, yes, but not in reality. Take my case,
for instance; my mother, my two sisters, my little brother and I
must all live somehow on my salary of twenty-three roubles a
month. We have to eat and drink, I take it. You wouldn't have us
go without tea and sugar, would you? Or tobacco? Answer me that,
if you can.
MASHA [Looking in the direction of the stage] The play will soon
Yes, Nina Zarietchnaya is going to act in
Treplieff's play. They love one another, and their two souls will
unite to-night in the effort to interpret the same idea by
different means. There is no ground on which your soul and mine
can meet. I love you. Too restless and sad to stay at home, I
tramp here every day, six miles and back, to be met only by your
indifference. I am poor, my family is large, you can have no
inducement to marry a man who cannot even find sufficient food
for his own mouth.
It is not that. [She takes snuff] I am touched by your
affection, but I cannot return it, that is all. [She offers him
the snuff-box] Will you take some?
The air is sultry; a storm is brewing for to-night. You do
nothing but moralise or else talk about money. To you, poverty is
the greatest misfortune that can befall a man, but I think it is
a thousand times easier to go begging in rags than to-- You
wouldn't understand that, though.
For some reason, my boy, country life doesn't suit me, and
I am sure I shall never get used to it. Last night I went to bed
at ten and woke at nine this morning, feeling as if, from
oversleep, my brain had stuck to my skull. [Laughing] And yet I
accidentally dropped off to sleep again after dinner, and feel
utterly done up at this moment. It is like a nightmare.
There is no doubt that you should live in town. [He
catches sight of MASHA and MEDVIEDENKO] You shall be called when
the play begins, my friends, but you must not stay here now. Go
Miss Masha, will you kindly ask your father to leave the
dog unchained? It howled so last night that my sister was unable
You must speak to my father yourself. Please excuse me; I
can't do so. [To MEDVIEDENKO] Come, let us go.
I foresee that that dog is going to howl all night again.
It is always this way in the country; I have never been able to
live as I like here. I come down for a month's holiday, to rest
and all, and am plagued so by their nonsense that I long to
escape after the first day. [Laughing] I have always been glad to
get away from this place, but I have been retired now, and this
was the only place I had to come to. Willy-nilly, one must live
JACOB [To TREPLIEFF] We are going to take a swim, Mr.
Very well, but you must be back in ten minutes.
TREPLIEFF [Looking at the stage] Just like a real theatre! See,
there we have the curtain, the foreground, the background, and
all. No artificial scenery is needed. The eye travels direct to
the lake, and rests on the horizon. The curtain will be raised as
the moon rises at half-past eight.
Of course the whole effect will be ruined if Nina is
late. She should be here by now, but her father and stepmother
watch her so closely that it is like stealing her from a prison
to get her away from home. [He straightens SORIN'S collar] Your
hair and beard are all on end. Oughtn't you to have them trimmed?
SORIN [Smoothing his beard] They are the tragedy of my
existence. Even when I was young I always looked as if I were
drunk, and all. Women have never liked me. [Sitting down] Why is
my sister out of temper?
Why? Because she is jealous and bored. [Sitting down
beside SORIN] She is not acting this evening, but Nina is, and so
she has set herself against me, and against the performance of
the play, and against the play itself, which she hates without
ever having read it.
Yes, she is furious because Nina is going to have a
success on this little stage. [Looking at his watch] My mother is
a psychological curiosity. Without doubt brilliant and talented,
capable of sobbing over a novel, of reciting all Nekrasoff's
poetry by heart, and of nursing the sick like an angel of heaven,
you should see what happens if any one begins praising Duse to
her! She alone must be praised and written about, raved over, her
marvellous acting in "La Dame aux Camelias" extolled to the
skies. As she cannot get all that rubbish in the country, she
grows peevish and cross, and thinks we are all against her, and
to blame for it all. She is superstitious, too. She dreads
burning three candles, and fears the thirteenth day of the month.
Then she is stingy. I know for a fact that she has seventy
thousand roubles in a bank at Odessa, but she is ready to burst
into tears if you ask her to lend you a penny.
You have taken it into your head that your mother dislikes
your play, and the thought of it has excited you, and all. Keep
calm; your mother adores you.
TREPLIEFF [Pulling a flower to pieces] She loves me, loves me
not; loves--loves me not; loves--loves me not! [Laughing] You
see, she doesn't love me, and why should she? She likes life and
love and gay clothes, and I am already twenty-five years old; a
sufficient reminder to her that she is no longer young. When I am
away she is only thirty-two, in my presence she is forty-three,
and she hates me for it. She knows, too, that I despise the
modern stage. She adores it, and imagines that she is working on
it for the benefit of humanity and her sacred art, but to me the
theatre is merely the vehicle of convention and prejudice. When
the curtain rises on that little thr ee-walled room, when those
mighty geniuses, those high-priests of art, show us people in the
act of eating, drinking, loving, walking, and wearing their
coats, and attempt to extract a moral from their insipid talk;
when playwrights give us under a thousand different guises the
same, same, same old stuff, then I must needs run from it, as
Maupassant ran from the Eiffel Tower that was about to crush him
by its vulgarity.
No, but we must have it under a new form. If we can't
do that, let us rather not have it at all. [Looking at his watch]
I love my mother, I love her devotedly, but I think she leads a
stupid life. She always has this man of letters of hers on her
mind, and the newspapers are always frightening her to death, and
I am tired of it. Plain, human egoism sometimes speaks in my
heart, and I regret that my mother is a famous actress. If she
were an ordinary woman I think I should be a happier man. What
could be more intolerable and foolish than my position, Uncle,
when I find myself the only nonentity among a crowd of her
guests, all celebrated authors and artists? I feel that they only
endure me because I am her son. Personally I am nothing, nobody.
I pulled through my third year at college by the skin of my
teeth, as they say. I have neither money nor brains, and on my
passport you may read that I am simply a citizen of Kiev. So was
my father, but he was a well-known actor. When the celebrities
that frequent my mother's drawing-room deign to notice me at all,
I know they only look at me to measure my insignificance; I read
their thoughts, and suffer from humiliation.
Tell me, by the way, what is Trigorin like? I can't
understand him, he is always so silent.
Trigorin is clever, simple, well-mannered, and a
little, I might say, melancholic in disposition. Though still
under forty, he is surfeited with praise. As for his stories,
they are--how shall I put it?--pleasing, full of talent, but if
you have read Tolstoi or Zola you somehow don't enjoy Trigorin.
Do you know, my boy, I like literary men. I once
passionately desired two things: to marry, and to become an
author. I have succeeded in neither. It must be pleasant to be
even an insignificant author.
TREPLIEFF [Listening] I hear footsteps! [He embraces his uncle]
I cannot live without her; even the sound of her footsteps is
music to me. I am madly happy. [He goes quickly to meet NINA, who
comes in at that moment] My enchantress! My girl of dreams!
NINA [Excitedly] It can't be that I am late? No, I am not late.
I have been in a fever all day, I was so afraid my father
would prevent my coming, but he and my stepmother have just gone
driving. The sky is clear, the moon is rising. How I hurried to
get here! How I urged my horse to go faster and faster!
[Laughing] I am _so_ glad to see you! [She shakes hands with
Oho! Your eyes look as if you had been crying. You mustn't
It is nothing, nothing. Do let us hurry. I must go in half
an hour. No, no, for heaven's sake do not urge me to stay. My
father doesn't know I am here.
As a matter of fact, it is time to begin now. I must
call the audience.
Let me call them--and all--I am going this minute. [He
goes toward the right, begins to sing "The Two Grenadiers," then
stops.] I was singing that once when a fellow-lawyer said to me:
"You have a powerful voice, sir." Then he thought a moment and
added, "But it is a disagreeable one!" [He goes out laughing.]
My father and his wife never will let me come here; they
call this place Bohemia and are afraid I shall become an actress.
But this lake attracts me as it does the gulls. My heart is full
of you. [She glances about her.]
You never will take care of yourself; you are quite
obstinate about it, and yet you are a doctor, and know quite well
that damp air is bad for you. You like to see me suffer, that's
what it is. You sat out on the terrace all yesterday evening on
It is only right that artists should be made much of by society
and treated differently from, let us say, merchants. It is a kind
When women have loved you and thrown themselves at your
head, has that been idealism?
DORN [Shrugging his shoulders] I can't say. There has been a
great deal that was admirable in my relations with women. In me
they liked, above all, the superior doctor. Ten years ago, you
remember, I was the only decent doctor they had in this part of
the country--and then, I have always acted like a man of honour.
ARKADINA comes in on SORIN'S arm; also TRIGORIN, SHAMRAEFF,
MEDVIEDENKO, and MASHA.
She acted most beautifully at the Poltava Fair in
1873; she was really magnificent. But tell me, too, where Tchadin
the comedian is now? He was inimitable as Rasplueff, better than
Sadofski. Where is he now?
Don't ask me where all those antediluvians are! I know
nothing about them. [She sits down.]
SHAMRAEFF [Sighing] Pashka Tchadin! There are none left like
him. The stage is not what it was in his time. There were sturdy
oaks growing on it then, where now but stumps remain.
It is true that we have few dazzling geniuses these days,
but, on the other hand, the average of acting is much higher.
I cannot agree with you; however, that is a matter of
taste, _de gustibus._
Attention, ladies and gentlemen! The play is about to
begin. [A pause] I shall
commence. [He taps the door with a stick, and speaks in a loud
voice] O, ye time-honoured, ancient mists that drive at night
across the surface of this lake, blind you our eyes with sleep,
and show us in our dreams that which will be in twice ten
There won't be anything in twice ten thousand years.
Then let them now show us that nothingness.
The curtain rises. A vista opens across the lake. The moon hangs
low above the horizon and is reflected in the water. NINA,
dressed in white, is seen seated on a great rock.
All men and beasts, lions, eagles, and quails, horned
stags, geese, spiders, silent fish that inhabit the waves,
starfish from the sea, and creatures invisible to the eye--in one
word, life--all, all life, completing the dreary round imposed
upon it, has died out at last. A thousand years have passed since
the earth last bore a living creature on her breast, and the
unhappy moon now lights her lamp in vain. No longer are the cries
of storks heard in the meadows, or the drone of beetles in the
groves of limes. All is cold, cold. All is void, void, void. All
is terrible, terrible-- [A pause] The bodies of all living
creatures have dropped to dust, and eternal matter has
transformed them into stones and water and clouds; but their
spirits have flowed together into one, and that great world-soul
am I! In me is the spirit of the great Alexander, the spirit of
Napoleon, of Caesar, of Shakespeare, and of the tiniest leech
that swims. In me the consciousness of man has joined hands with
the instinct of the animal; I understand all, all, all, and each
life lives again in me.
[The will-o-the-wisps flicker out along the lake shore.]
ARKADINA [Whispers] What decadent rubbish is this?
I am alone. Once in a hundred years my lips are opened, my
voice echoes mournfully across the desert earth, and no one
hears. And you, poor lights of the marsh, you do not hear me. You
are engendered at sunset in the putrid mud, and flit wavering
about the lake till dawn, unconscious, unreasoning, unwarmed by
the breath of life. Satan, father of eternal matter, trembling
lest the spark of life should glow in you, has ordered an
unceasing movement of the atoms that compose you, and so you
shift and change for ever. I, the spirit of the universe, I alone
am immutable and eternal. [A pause] Like a captive in a dungeon
deep and void, I know not where I am, nor what awaits me. One
thing only is not hidden from me: in my fierce and obstinate
battle with Satan, the source of the forces of matter, I am
destined to be victorious in the end. Matter and spirit will then
be one at last in glorious harmony, and the reign of freedom will
begin on earth. But this can only come to pass by slow degrees,
when after countless eons the moon and earth and shining Sirius
himself shall fall to dust. Until that hour, oh, horror! horror!
horror! [A pause. Two glowing red points are seen shining across
the lake] Satan, my mighty foe, advances; I see his dread and
I smell sulphur. Is that done on purpose?
Now it appears that he has produced a masterpiece, if
you please! I suppose it was not meant to amuse us at all, but
that he arranged the performance and fumigated us with sulphur to
demonstrate to us how plays should be written, and what is worth
acting. I am tired of him. No one could stand his constant
thrusts and sallies. He is a wilful, egotistic boy.
Is that so? I notice, though, that he did not choose an
ordinary play, but forced his decadent trash on us. I am willing
to listen to any raving, so long as it is not meant seriously,
but in showing us this, he pretended to be introducing us to a
new form of art, and inaugurating a new era. In my opinion, there
was nothing new about it, it was simply an exhibition of bad
Everybody must write as he feels, and as best he may.
Let him write as he feels and can, but let him spare me
I am a woman, not Jove. [She lights a cigarette] And I
am not angry, I am only sorry to see a young man foolishly
wasting his time. I did not mean to hurt him.
No one has any ground for separating life from
matter, as the spirit may well consist of the union of material
atoms. [Excitedly, to TRIGORIN] Some day you should write a play,
and put on the stage the life of a schoolmaster. It is a hard,
I agree with you, but do not let us talk about plays or
atoms now. This is such a lovely evening. Listen to the singing,
friends, how sweet it sounds.
Yes, they are singing across the water. [A pause.]
ARKADINA [To TRIGORIN] Sit down beside me here. Ten or fifteen
years ago we had music and singing on this lake almost all night.
There are six houses on its shores. All was noise and laughter
and romance then, such romance! The young star and idol of them
all in those days was this man here, [Nods toward DORN] Doctor
Eugene Dorn. He is fascinating now, but he was irresistible then.
But my conscience is beginning to prick me. Why did I hurt my
poor boy? I am uneasy about him. [Loudly] Constantine!
Bravo! Bravo! We were quite charmed by your acting.
With your looks and such a lovely voice it is a crime for you to
hide yourself in the country. You must be very talented. It is
your duty to go on the stage, do you hear me?
It is the dream of my life, which will never come true.
Who knows? Perhaps it will. But let me present Monsieur
I am delighted to meet you. [Embarrassed] I have read all
ARKADINA [Drawing NINA down beside her] Don't be afraid of him,
dear. He is a simple, good-natured soul, even if he is a
celebrity. See, he is embarrassed himself.
Couldn't the curtain be raised now? It is depressing to
have it down.
SHAMRAEFF [Loudly] Jacob, my man! Raise the curtain!
NINA [To TRIGORIN] It was a curious play, wasn't it?
Very. I couldn't understand it at all, but I watched it
with the greatest pleasure because you acted with such sincerity,
and the setting was beautiful. [A pause] There must be a lot of
fish in this lake.
I love fishing. I know of nothing pleasanter than to
sit on a lake shore in the evening with one's eyes on a floating
Why, I should think that for one who has tasted the joys of
creation, no other pleasure could exist.
Don't talk like that. He always begins to flounder when
people say nice things to him.
I remember when the famous Silva was singing once in
the Opera House at Moscow, how delighted we all were when he took
the low C. Well,
you can imagine our astonishment when one of the church cantors,
who happened to be sitting in the gallery, suddenly boomed out:
"Bravo, Silva!" a whole octave lower. Like this: [In a deep bass
voice] "Bravo, Silva!" The audience was left breathless. [A
An angel of silence is flying over our heads.
Stay just one hour more, and all. Come now, really, you
NINA [Struggling against her desire to stay; through her tears]
No, no, I can't. [She shakes hands with him and quickly goes
An unlucky girl! They say that her mother left the
whole of an immense fortune to her husband, and now the child is
penniless because the father has already willed everything away
to his second wife. It is pitiful.
Yes, her papa is a perfect beast, and I don't mind saying
so--it is what he deserves.
SORIN [Rubbing his chilled hands] Come, let us go in; the night
is damp, and my legs are aching.
Yes, you act as if they were turned to stone; you can
hardly move them. Come, you unfortunate old man. [She takes his
SHAMRAEFF [Offering his arm to his wife] Permit me, madame.
I hear that dog howling again. Won't you please have it
No, I really can't, sir. The granary is full of
millet, and I am afraid thieves might break in if the dog were
not there. [Walking beside MEDVIEDENKO] Yes, a whole octave
lower: "Bravo, Silva!" and he wasn't a singer either, just a
simple church cantor.
What salary does the church pay its singers? [All go
out except DORN.]
I may have lost my judgment and my wits, but I must confess
I liked that play. There was something in it. When the girl spoke
of her solitude and the Devil's eyes gleamed across the lake, I
felt my hands shaking with excitement. It was so fresh and naive.
But here he comes; let me say something pleasant to him.
Masha has been yelling for me all over the park. An
Constantine, your play delighted me. It was strange, of
course, and I did not hear the end, but it made a deep impression
on me. You have a great deal of talent, and must persevere in
TREPLIEFF seizes his hand and squeezes it hard, then kisses him
Tut, tut! how excited you are. Your eyes are full of tears.
Listen to me. You chose your subject in the realm of abstract
thought, and you did quite right. A work of art should invariably
embody some lofty idea. Only that which is seriously meant can
ever be beautiful. How pale you are!
Yes, but use your talent to express only deep and eternal
truths. I have led a quiet life, as you know, and am a contented
man, but if I should ever experience the exaltation that an
artist feels during his moments of creation, I think I should
spurn this material envelope of my soul and everything connected
with it, and should soar away into heights above this earth.
And yet another thing: every work of art should have a
definite object in view. You should know why you are writing, for
if you follow the road of art without a goal before your eyes,
you will lose yourself, and your genius will be your ruin.
Let me tell you again. I feel like talking. [She grows
more and more excited] I do not love my father, but my heart
turns to you. For some reason, I feel with all my soul that you
are near to me. Help me! Help me, or I shall do something foolish
and mock at my life, and ruin it. I am at the end of my strength.