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Larry Holderfield RUS313/IGS333 07 December 2009 Wouldst Thou Be a Breeder of Sinners?

1 In The Cherry Orchard, when Liubv announces her daughter Vrya's impending engagement,2 Chekhov has the intended groom, Lopkhin, misquote Hamlet3. The quotation is in response to Vrya's request to not joke about it. Lopkhin gets Ophelia's name wrong, providing some comic relief and emphasizing his lack of education. However, what is more interesting to me is what the unquoted portion of Hamlet's line may reveal about Chekhov's attitude towards marriage. In the Nunnery Scene, Hamlet tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery five times. In this scene, Hamlet is pretending to be deranged and most people interpret his words as cruelty towards Ophelia, who loves him. But the first time his full line is Get thee to a nunnery: wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?. I have always felt that Hamlet was actually trying to protect Ophelia, to send her away from her father's influence and the scandalous atmosphere of the court, as well as the upcoming violence. By having Lopkhin change the subject and quote this scene from Hamlet when marriage to Vrya is mentioned, Chekhov could be implying that Lopkhin does not feel himself worthy of the marriage. Vrya is the adopted daughter of the estate where Lopkhin's family has served 1 Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, Act II, scene I 2 Chekhov, Anton, The Plays of Anton Chekhov. (359-360) 3 In ascribing meaning to the misquotation, I think it is important to look at Chekhov's wording versus the translation. In the original Shakespeare, the relevant lines are Get the to a nunnery and Nymph, in thy orisons, Be all my sins remember'd. Chekhov's Russian literally translates as A(k)melia, go into the monastery/convent (, ....) and A(k)melia, O nymph, mention me in your prayers! (, , !), but the translator has decided to amplify the error of the second misquotation by using Nymph, in thy horizons be all my sins remembered!, making a pun on orisons (orations) rather than using prayers as Chekhov did. Holderfield 1 of 3

for generations,4 and even though he has managed to buy the property, I believe there is a lingering sense of inferiority which keeps him from proposing to Vrya5. Chekhov himself was not opposed to marriage as an institution, but often expressed doubts that he himself was suited to be wed, in letters to his friends and family: I don't intend to get married. I should like to be a little bald old man sitting at a big table in a fine study....6 By all means I will be married if you wish it. But on these conditions: everything must be as it has been hitherto-- that is, she must live in Moscow while I live in the country, and I will come and see her. Happiness continued from day to day, from morning to morning, I cannot stand.7

The family also has marriage plans for Vrya's sister, nya. Vrya and Gyev all have pinned their hopes on marrying her off to a wealthy gentleman to save her from poverty.8. nya herself has other plans, being hopelessly in love with Trofmov, who believes himself above love.9 The other relationships in The Cherry Orchard do not fare much better. Liubv's husband drunk himself to death,10 Dunysha has doubts about Yepikhdov's proposal,11 even old Firs has resisted marriage.12 The only marriage actually existing in The Cherry Orchard is between 4 There is an additional irony to the command, in that Vrya dresses like a nun(335) and has expressed interest in going into a convent (337, 365) 5 Look, I've nothing against it, I... She's a wonderful girl. (Lopkhin 355) 6 Letter to Suvorin. Alexin, 10 May 1891. 7 Letter to his friend Aleksei Suvorin, Melihovo, 23 March 1895. 8 I want to see you married off to somebody rich, then I can rest easy. (Vrya 337) It would be wonderful if we could marry off nya to somebody with a lot of money,...(Gyev 346) 9 I'd never do anything so sordid. (Trofmov 365) 10 I married a man who never paid a bill in his life. He was an alcoholic; he drank himself to death --- on champagne. (Liubv 354) 11 I just don't know what to do about him. (Dunysha 336) 12 They were trying to marry me off way back before your daddy was born. (Firs 355) Holderfield 2 of 3

Pshchik and the never seen Dshenka, and he flirts shamelessly with Carlotta.13 But, I believe Chekhov is offering bad examples. In love, as in many aspects of life, his characters are revealing the errors of the audience's ways. He is not opposed to marriage (although I understand he hated attending weddings), he is opposed to marriage done wrong. To marry is interesting only for love; to marry a girl simply because she is nice is like buying something one does not want at the bazaar solely because it is of good quality. The most important screw in family life is love, sexual attraction, one flesh, all the rest is dreary and cannot be reckoned upon, however cleverly we make our calculations. So the point is not in the girl's being nice but in her being loved.14

Works Cited Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich. The Plays of Anton Chekhov. Trs. Paul Schmidt, New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print. ---. Letters of Anton Chekhov. Trs. Constance Garnett. eText by Tom Allen, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. Project Gutenberg. Web. 1-7 Dec. 2009. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. [Collins edition]. eText by Dianne Bean. Project Gutenberg. Web. 1-7 Dec. 2009.

13 I'm completely in love with you! (Pshchik 364) 14 Letter to his brother Mikhail. Yalta, 26 October 1898. Holderfield 3 of 3

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