Chekhov's Plays


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An Opening into Eternity

Richard Gilman

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The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and other plays of Anton Chekhov have been acclaimed by audiences and readers since they first began appearing in the late nineteenth century. In this eloquent and insightful book, an eminent critic explores the reasons behind the enduring power of Chekhov's works.

Richard Gilman examines each of Chekhov's full-length plays, showing how they relate to each other, to Chekhov's short stories, and to his life. He also places the plays in the context of Russian and European drama and the larger culture of the period. Gilman interweaves biographical narrative with textual commentary and with a discussion of stagecraft and dramaturgy—Chekhov's techniques for influencing viewers, the scenic framing of the action, and issues of genre and temporal structuring. Although previous critics of Chekhov have tended to view him as an essentially social dramatist or as an observer of the smaller aspects of existence, Gilman asserts that Chekhov was far more of an innovative playwright, a revolutionary, than has been seen. His book—the most complete, acute, and elegant study of this master playwright ever written—will appeal to all those who care about Chekhov, theater, and the life of the mind.

Richard Gilman is professor of playwriting and dramatic literature at Yale University's School of Drama. He has been drama critic for Newsweek, Commonweal, and The Nation and was a contributing editor of Partisan Review for many years. 

"This is the Chekhov celebration we've been waiting for, an accounting of Chekhov's diamond-hard technique as it unfolds itself in quiet detail throughout the major plays. Gilman's eloquent criticism splashes cleansing water over Chekhov's work."—Gordon Rogoff, Yale University

"A landmark work. Gilman seeks to discover why Chekhov's plays affect us as they do, how we can get even closer to them, what misconceptions are impeding us, and what further verities of life and art await us in them."—Stanley Kauffmann

"Richard Gilman has written a brilliant, thrilling, and modern work of criticism. He has done for Chekhov what Jan Kott did for Shakespeare. He has shown us that Chekhov could have written his plays yesterday—that they are immediate, contemporary, and totally relevant for the times in which we live. I recommend this book to anyone who loves Chekhov."—Andre Gregory

"An immensely vivid and illuminating study of the worlds of Chekhov as reflected in his plays."—Patricia Bosworth

"Gilman virtually reinvents the genre of criticism infusing it with light, color and humanity. His understanding of Chekhov is breathtaking in its intelligence, imagination and sweep. He falls neither into hagiography nor reductive interpretation. His comments on Chekhov's art are works of art in their own right."—Mary Gordon

"This work should be eagerly received not only by admirers of Chekhov but by serious devotees of the theatre."—Publishers Weekly

"This brilliant study . . . is wonderfully stimulating to read, and a fitting successor to Mr. Gilman's admirable earlier book on the theater, The Making of Modern Drama. He forces you to see Chekhov's plays in a fresh light, and makes you hunger both to read them and see them performed anew."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

"I could praise Richard Gilman's Chekhov's Plays for grace and wisdom and subtlety and a dozen other virtues, but I admire him most not only for extolling the Chekhovian qualities of authorial generosity and narrative open-mindedness but also for exemplifying them in his own prose. . . . Gilman, for all the modesty of his approach, at the same time has the audacity to virtually invent a new critical vocabulary and new critical categories the better to apprehend Chekhov. . . . The elusiveness of Chekhov's plays, their amplitude, their temper, have always been invoked by critics, but only a critic with this kind of affinity could so lovingly, so adoringly demonstrate them."—Ross Wetzsteon, Village Voice

"[Gilman] makes a deeply persuasive case for the universal humanity of Chekhov's characters and links the innovation of his historically underestimated craft all the way, bless him, to Beckett."—Linda Winer, Nation

"Chekhov's Plays is wonderfully stimulating to read, and a fitting successor to Gilman's admirable earlier book on the Theatre. . . . Gilman forces you to see Chekhov's plays in a fresh light, and makes you hunger both to read them and see them performed anew."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, International Herald Tribune

"This book should change the way Chekhov is staged. . . . Gilman has written the best kind of criticism, a lively reinterpretation that invigorates its subject by celebrating the potential of the imagination."—Bill Marx, Boston Globe

"Gilman always expresses himself beautifully. Packed with provocative thoughts, his book will be particularly edifying to anyone under the impression that Chekhov's plays all take place on the same decaying estate, frequented by droves of aimless gentry, where, beyond a long avenue of fir trees, an offstage pistol shot from time to time reminds us that we are all even worse off than we'd thought."—Celia Wren, Commonweal

"Gilman brings an infectious enthusiasm and a host of telling insights to this study of Chekhov's major works for the stage."—Chris Floyd, Moscow Times

"Gilman's book on Chekhov's plays will delight those who wish to locate Chekhov's work beyond the critical clichés of bittersweet mood and atmosphere, inconclusiveness, and lack of traditional action or sensation, for Gilman offers new and different ways of understanding, performing, and directing these plays."—Eileen Fischer, Modern Drama

"Gilman has a greater affinity for Chekhov and a surer grasp of his dramatic innovations and method than any predecessor who has written on the subject in English. . . . [His] book will remain the one indispensable source on Anton Chekhov's plays that we have in English"—Simon Karlinsky, Times Literary Supplement

"Gilman relates Chekhov's major plays to the context of Russian and European drama, and the larger culture of the period. All this is done elegantly enough. But the most valuable thing about this work, beyond its admirable familiarity with its subject, is Gilman's portrayal of Chekhov as our contemporary."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"What we have here is something Gilman probably never intended-best introduction to Chekhov ever written. Gilman has such empathy with Chekhov, and such an exceptional capacity to sense the emotional cross-currents of scenes and micro-scenes, that people who read his book and then see the plays for the first time can understand their technique as never before."—James M. Curtis, Slavic and East European Journal

"A fine study. . . . Gilman's exposition of the relation between Chekhov's ideas and his dramatic techniques should be required reading for the producers and critics who persist in interpreting the plays as studies in failure and despair."—Aileen Kelly, New York Review of Books

Winner of 1996 Outstanding Academic Book Award given by Choice Magazine
ISBN: 9780300072563
Publication Date: September 23, 1997
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
The Making of Modern Drama

A Study of Büchner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Pirandello, Brecht, Beckett, Handke

Richard Gilman; With a new introduction by the author

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