The lawn in front of SORIN'S house. The house stands in the
background, on a broad terrace. The lake, brightly reflecting the
rays of the sun, lies to the left. There are flower-beds here and
there. It is noon; the day is hot. ARKADINA, DORN, and MASHA are
sitting on a bench on the lawn, in the shade of an old linden. An
open book is lying on DORN'S knees.
ARKADINA [To MASHA] Come, get up. [They both get up] Stand
beside me. You are twenty-two and I am almost twice your age.
Tell me, Doctor, which of us is the younger looking?
You see! Now why is it? Because I work; my heart and
mind are always busy, whereas you never move off the same spot.
You don't live. It is a maxim of mine never to look into the
future. I never admit the thought of old age or death, and just
accept what comes to me.
I feel as if I had been in the world a thousand years, and
I trail my life behind me like an endless scarf. Often I have no
desire to live at all. Of course that is foolish. One ought to
pull oneself together and shake off such nonsense.
And then I keep myself as correct-looking as an
Englishman. I am always well-groomed, as the saying is, and
carefully dressed, with my hair neatly arranged. Do you think I
should ever permit myself to leave the house half-dressed, with
untidy hair? Certainly not! I have kept my looks by never letting
myself slump as some women do. [She puts her arms akimbo, and
walks up and down on the lawn] See me, tripping on tiptoe like a
I see. Nevertheless, I shall continue my reading. [He takes
up his book] Let me see, we had come to the grain-dealer and the
And the rats. Go on. [She sits down] No, give me the
book, it is my turn to read. [She takes the book and looks for
the place] And the rats. Ah, here it is. [She reads] "It is as
dangerous for society to attract and indulge authors as it is for
grain-dealers to raise rats in their granaries. Yet society loves
authors. And so, when a woman has found one whom she wishes to
make her own, she lays siege to him by indulging and flattering
him." That may be so in France, but it certainly is not so in
Russia. We do not carry out a programme like that. With us, a
woman is usually head over ears in love with an author before she
attempts to lay siege to him. You have an example before your
eyes, in me and Trigorin.
SORIN comes in leaning on a cane, with NINA beside him.
MEDVIEDENKO follows, pushing an arm-chair.
SORIN [In a caressing voice, as if speaking to a child] So we
are happy now, eh? We are enjoying ourselves to-day, are we?
Father and stepmother have gone away to Tv er, and we are free
for three whole days!
NINA [Sits down beside ARKADINA, and embraces her] I am so
happy. I belong to you now.
SORIN [Sits down in his arm-chair] She looks lovely to-day.
Yes, she has put on her prettiest dress, and looks
sweet. That was nice of you. [She kisses NINA] But we mustn't
praise her too much; we shall spoil her. Where is Trigorin?
"On the Water," by Maupassant. [She reads a few lines
to herself] But the rest is neither true nor interesting. [She
lays down the book] I am uneasy about my son. Tell me, what is
the matter with him? Why is he so dull and depressed lately? He
spends all his days on the lake, and I scarcely ever see him any
His heart is heavy. [Timidly, to NINA] Please recite
something from his play.
NINA [Shrugging her shoulders] Shall I? Is it so interesting?
MASHA [With suppressed rapture] When he recites, his eyes shine
and his face grows pale. His voice is beautiful and sad, and he
has the ways of a poet.
No, that is not nonsense. Wine and tobacco destroy the
individuality. After a cigar or a glass of vodka you are no
longer Peter Sorin, but Peter Sorin plus somebody else. Your ego
breaks in two: you begin to think of yourself in the third
It is easy for you to condemn smoking and drinking; you
have known what life is, but what about me? I have served in the
Department of Justice for twenty-eight years, but I have never
lived, I have never had any experiences. You are satiated with
life, and that is why you have an inclination for philosophy, but
I want to live, and that is why I drink my wine for dinner and
smoke cigars, and all.
One must take life seriously, and to take a cure at
sixty-five and regret that one did not have more pleasure in
youth is, forgive my saying so, trifling.
It must be lunch-time. [She walks away languidly, with a
dragging step] My foot has gone to sleep.
She is going to have a couple of drinks before lunch.
You judge her like a man who has obtained all he wants in
Oh, what could be duller than this dear tedium of the
country? The air is hot and still, nobody does anything but sit
and philosophise about life. It is pleasant, my friends, to sit
and listen to you here, but I had rather a thousand times sit
alone in the room of a hotel learning a role by heart.
NINA [With enthusiasm] You are quite right. I understand how you
Of course it is pleasanter to live in town. One can sit in
one's library with a telephone at one's elbow, no one comes in
without being first announced by the footman, the streets are
full of cabs, and all---
Here they are. How do you do? [He kisses ARKADINA'S
hand and then NINA'S] I am delighted to see you looking so well.
[To ARKADINA] My wife tells me that you mean to go to town with
her to-day. Is that so?
The carriage horses! And where am I to find the
harness for them? This is astonishing! My dear madam, I have the
greatest respect for your talents, and would gladly sacrifice ten
years of my life for you, but I cannot let you have any horses
But if I must go to town? What an extraordinary state
You do not know, madam, what it is to run a farm.
ARKADINA [In a burst of anger] That is an old story! Under these
circumstances I shall go back to Moscow this very day. Order a
carriage for me from the village, or I shall go to the station on
SHAMRAEFF [losing his temper] Under these circumstances I resign
my position. You must find yourself another manager. [He goes
It is like this every summer: every summer I am
insulted here. I shall never set foot here again.
She goes out to the left, in the direction of the wharf. In a few
minutes she is seen entering the house, followed by TRIGORIN, who
carries a bucket and fishing-rod.
SORIN [Losing his temper] What the deuce did he mean by his
impudence? I want all the horses brought here at once!
NINA [To PAULINA] How could he refuse anything to Madame
Arkadina, the famous actress? Is not every wish, every caprice
even, of hers, more important than any farm work? This is
PAULINA [In despair] What can I do about it? Put yourself in my
place and tell me what I can do.
SORIN [To NINA] Let us go and find my sister, and all beg her
not to go. [He looks in the direction in which SHAMRAEFF went
out] That man is insufferable; a regular tyrant.
NINA [Preventing him from getting up] Sit still, sit still, and
let us wheel you. [She and MEDVIEDENKO push the chair before
them] This is terrible!
Yes, yes, it is terrible; but he won't leave. I shall have
a talk with him in a moment. [They go out. Only DORN and PAULINA
How tiresome people are! Your husband deserves to be thrown
out of here neck and crop, but it will all end by this old granny
Sorin and his sister asking the man's pardon. See if it doesn't.
He has sent the carriage horses into the fields too.
These misunderstandings occur every day. If you only knew how
they excite me! I am ill; see! I am trembling all over! I cannot
endure his rough ways. [Imploringly] Eugene, my darling, my
beloved, take me to you. Our time is short; we are no longer
young; let us end deception and concealment, even though it is
only at the end of our lives. [A pause.]
I am fifty-five years old. It is too late now for me to
change my ways of living.
I know that you refuse me because there are other women
who are near to you, and you cannot take everybody. I understand.
Excuse me--I see I am only bothering you.
NINA is seen near the house picking a bunch of flowers.
PAULINA [Following him] What pretty flowers! [As they reach the
house she says in a low voice] Give me those flowers! Give them
DORN hands her the flowers; she tears them to pieces and flings
them away. They both go into the house.
NINA [Alone] How strange to see a famous actress weeping, and
for such a trifle! Is it not strange, too, that a famous author
should sit fishing all day? He is the idol of the public, the
papers are full of him, his photograph is for sale everywhere,
his works have been translated into many foreign languages, and
yet he is overjoyed if he catches a couple of minnows. I always
thought famous people were distant and proud; I thought they
despised the common crowd which exalts riches and birth, and
aveng ed themselves on it by dazzling it with the
inextinguishable honour and glory of their fame. But here I see
them weeping and playing cards and flying into passions like
TREPLIEFF comes in without a hat on, carrying a gun and a dead
I was base enough to-day to kill this gull. I lay it
at your feet.
What is happening to you? [She picks up the gull and stands
looking at it.]
TREPLIEFF [After a pause] So shall I soon end my own life.
You have changed so that I fail to recognise you.
Yes, I have changed since the time when I ceased to
recognise you. You have failed me; your look is cold; you do not
like to have me near you.
You have grown so irritable lately, and you talk so darkly
and symbolically that you must forgive me if I fail to follow
you. I am too simple to understand you.
All this began when my play failed so dismally. A
woman never can forgive failure. I have burnt the manuscript to
the last page. Oh, if you could only fathom my unhappiness! Your
estrangement is to me terrible, incredible; it is as if I had
suddenly waked to find this lake dried up and sunk into the
earth. You say you are too simple to understand me; but, oh, what
is there to understand? You disliked my play, you have no faith
in my powers, you already think of me as commonplace and
worthless, as many are. [Stamping his foot] How well I can
understand your feelings! And that understanding is to me like a
dagger in the brain. May it be accursed, together with my
stupidity, which sucks my life-blood like a snake! [He sees
TRIGORIN, who approaches reading a book] There comes real genius,
striding along like another Hamlet, and with a book, too.
[Mockingly] "Words, words, words." You feel the warmth of that
sun already, you smile, your eyes melt and glow liquid in its
rays. I shall not disturb you. [He goes out.]
TRIGORIN [Making notes in his book] Takes snuff and drinks
vodka; always wears black dresses; is loved by a schoolteacher--
How are you, Miss Nina? Owing to an unforeseen
development of circumstances, it seems that we are leaving here
today. You and I shall probably never see each other again, and I
am sorry for it. I seldom meet a young and pretty girl now; I can
hardly remember how it feels to be nineteen, and the young girls
in my books are seldom living characters. I should like to change
places with you, if but for an hour, to look out at the world
through your eyes, and so find out what sort of a little person
To find out how a famous genius feels. What is it like to
be famous? What sensations does it give you?
What sensations? I don't believe it gives any.
[Thoughtfully] Either you exaggerate my fame, or else, if it
exists, all I can say is that one simply doesn't feel fame in any
But when you read about yourself in the papers?
If the critics praise me, I am happy; if they condemn
me, I am out of sorts for the next two days.
This is a wonderful world. If you only knew how I envy you!
Men are born to different destinies. Some dully drag a weary,
useless life behind them, lost in the crowd, unhappy, while to
one out of a million, as to you, for instance, comes a bright
destiny full of interest and meaning. You are lucky.
I, lucky? [He shrugs his shoulders] H-m-- I hear you
talking about fame, and happiness, and bright destinies, and
those fine words of yours mean as much to me--forgive my saying
so--as sweetmeats do, which I never eat. You are very young, and
I see nothing especially lovely about it. [He looks at
his watch] Excuse me, I must go at once, and begin writing again.
I am in a hurry. [He laughs] You have stepped on my pet corn, as
they say, and I am getting excited, and a little cross. Let us
discuss this bright and beautiful life of mine, though. [After a
few moments' thought] Violent obsessions sometimes lay hold of a
man: he may, for instance, think day and night of nothing but the
moon. I have such a moon. Day and night I am held in the grip of
one besetting thought, to write, write, write! Hardly have I
finished one book than something urges me to write another, and
then a third, and then a fourth--I write ceaselessly. I am, as it
were, on a treadmill. I hurry for ever from one story to another,
and can't help myself. Do you see anything bright and beautiful
in that? Oh, it is a wild life! Even now, thrilled as I am by
talking to you, I do not forget for an instant that an unfinished
story is awaiting me. My eye falls on that cloud there, which has
the shape of a grand piano; I instantly make a mental note that I
must remember to mention in my story a cloud floating by that
looked like a grand piano. I smell heliotrope; I mutter to
myself: a sickly smell, the colour worn by widows; I must
remember that in writing my next description of a summer evening.
I catch an idea in every sentence of yours or of my own, and
hasten to lock all these treasures in my literary store-room,
thinking that some day they may be useful to me. As soon as I
stop working I rush off to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope
that I may find oblivion there, but no! Some new subject for a
story is sure to come rolling through my brain like an iron
cannonball. I hear my desk calling, and have to go back to it and
begin to write, write, write, once more. And so it goes for
everlasting. I cannot escape myself, though I feel that I am
consuming my life. To prepare the honey I feed to unknown crowds,
I am doomed to brush the bloom from my dearest flowers, to tear
them from their stems, and trample the roots that bore them under
foot. Am I not a madman? Should I not be treated by those who
know me as one mentally diseased? Yet it is always the same, same
old story, till I begin to think that all this praise and
admiration must be a deception, that I am being hoodwinked
because they know I am crazy, and I sometimes tremble lest I
should be grabbed from behind and whisked off to a lunatic
asylum. The best years of my youth were made one continual agony
for me by my writing. A young author, especially if at first he
does not make a success, feels clumsy, ill-at-ease, and
superfluous in the world. His nerves are all on edge and
stretched to the point of breaking; he is irresistibly attracted
to literary and artistic people, and hovers about them unknown
and unnoticed, fearing to look them bravely in the eye, like a
man with a passion for gambling, whose money is all gone. I did
not know my readers, but for some reason I imagined they were
distrustful and unfriendly; I was mortally afraid of the public,
and when my first play appeared, it seemed to me as if all the
dark eyes in the audience were looking at it with enmity, and all
the blue ones with cold indifference. Oh, how terrible it was!
But don't your inspiration and the act of creation give you
moments of lofty happiness?
Yes. Writing is a pleasure to me, and so is reading the
proofs, but no sooner does a book leave the press than it becomes
odious to me; it is not what I meant it to be; I made a mistake
to write it at all; I am provoked and discouraged. Then the
public reads it and says: "Yes, it is clever and pretty, but not
nearly as good as Tolstoi," or "It is a lovely thing, but not as
good as Turgenieff's 'Fathers and Sons,' " and so it will always
be. To my dying day I shall hear people say: "Clever and pretty;
clever and pretty," and nothing more; and when I am gone, those
that knew me will say as they pass my grave: "Here lies Trigorin,
a clever writer, but he was not as good as Turgenieff."
You must excuse me, but I decline to understand what you
are talking about. The fact is, you have been spoilt by your
What success have I had? I have never pleased myself;
as a writer, I do not like myself at all. The trouble is that I
am made giddy , as it were, by the fumes of my brain, and often
hardly know what I am writing. I love this lake, these trees, the
blue heaven; nature's voice speaks to me and wakes a feeling of
passion in my heart, and I am overcome by an uncontrollable
desire to write. But I am not only a painter of landscapes, I am
a man of the city besides. I love my country, too, and her
people; I feel that, as a writer, it is my duty to speak of their
sorrows, of their future, also of science, of the rights of man,
and so forth. So I write on every subject, and the public hounds
me on all sides, sometimes in anger, and I race and dodge like a
fox with a pack of hounds on his trail. I see life and knowledge
flitting away before me. I am left behind them like a peasant who
has missed his train at a station, and finally I come back to the
conclusion that all I am fit for is to describe landscapes, and
that whatever else I attempt rings abominably false.
You work too hard to realise the importance of your
writings. What if you are discontented with yourself? To others
you appear a great and splendid man. If I were a writer like you
I should devote my whole life to the service of the Russian
people, knowing at the same time that their welfare depended on
their power to rise to the heights I had attained, and the people
should send me before them in a chariot of triumph.
In a chariot? Do you think I am Agamemnon? [They both
For the bliss of being a writer or an actress I could
endure want, and disillusionment, and the hatred of my friends,
and the pangs of my own dissatisfaction with myself; but I should
demand in return fame, real, resounding fame! [She covers her
face with her hands] Whew! My head reels!
THE VOICE OF ARKADINA [From inside the house] Boris! Boris!
She is calling me, probably to come and pack, but I
don't want to leave this place. [His eyes rest on the lake] What
a blessing such beauty is!
Do you see that house there, on the far shore?
Nothing much, only an idea that occurred to me. [He
puts the book back in his pocket] An idea for a short story. A
young girl grows up on the shores of a lake, as you have. She
loves the lake as the gulls do, and is as happy and free as they.
But a man sees her who chances to come that way, and he destroys
her out of idleness, as this gull here has been destroyed. [A
pause. ARKADINA appears at one of the windows.]