(The TLDR Edition of Five Plays by Anton Chekhov—all quotes verbatim, in the original order presented)
Act I: Ivanov
The house. Evening is coming on.
A: One needs money. Even suppose I find it, she still categorically….
C: That’s bad…I long ago saw in her face that she wouldn’t….
A: All nonsense, nonsense and more nonsense.
A: Nonsense and—
C: And a swindle.
A: Well, I am wholly unremarkable…
C: …And have sacrificed nothing.
A: I’d sit for whole days on my wife’s grave and—
C: And think?
A: I’d sit like that on her grave till I—
C: Dropped dead!
A: But it’s a long—
C: Long story.
A: The greyer, the more monotonous….
C: The better!
A: But the life I have lived — how exhausting it’s been!
C: Oh how exhausting!
A: How many mistakes, injustices, how much folly…
C: It’s an agony for me!
A: It’s an agony for me at home! As soon as the sun disappears, my spirit begins to be weighed down by depression.
C: What depression!
A: I am beginning to think, doctor, that fate has cheated me. The majority of people, who maybe are no better than I am, are happy and pay nothing for that happiness. I have paid for everything, absolutely everything!
C: You cut off withered leaves with scissors.
C: This is all nonsense. This is all so boring, boring! The air has set thick from boredom.
A: Well, have some tea.
CHEKHOV spits contemptuously.
A: Your situation is delicate and unpleasant
C: But mine is even worse.[Curtain]
Act II: The Seagull
The lake cannot be seen at all.
Some chairs, a small table.
The sun has only just set.
C: Why do you always wear black?
A: I’m in mourning for my life. I am unhappy…She loves me — she loves me not, she loves me — she loves me not, she loves me — she loves me not. [Laughs.]
C: To live In the rank sweat of an enseamèd bed, Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love /Over the nasty sty…
A: O you honoured ancient shades, who are borne at night over this lake, put us to sleep and let us dream of what will be in two hundred thousand years!
C: In two hundred thousand years there will be nothing.
A: So let us be shown that nothing.
C: Yes indeed. We are sleeping.
A: So you’re telling me — to carry on?
C: Yes … But only depict what is important and eternal.
A: I want to tell you something else…
C: I want to talk
A: … No one, no one knows how unhappy I am.
C: What will be will be.
A: Oh, what can be more boring than this nice rural tedium. It’s hot, it’s quiet, everyone talks philosophy … Soon I’ll kill myself like this.
C: You’re simply spoiled by success.
A: What success? I never liked myself. I don’t admire myself as a writer. Worst of all, I live in a kind of daze and don’t understand what I write …
C: Young decadent! You’re not capable of writing even a wretched little vaudeville sketch. Kiev bourgeois! Parasite!
CHEKHOV sits down and quietly weeps.
C: Worthless creature! [Walks to and fro, upset.]
A: Don’t cry. You mustn’t cry … [Weeps.] You mustn’t … [Kisses him on the forehead, cheeks and head.] forgive me … I’m unhappy.
C: If ever you need my life, come and take it.[Curtain]
Act III: Uncle Vanya
Overcast. Evening. Quiet.
A: You were young and handsome then, and now you’ve aged. Also — you like your vodka. What a way to live!
C: Everything is as before. I am the same man that I was, probably a bit worse since I’ve got lazy, I do nothing and only complain like an old grouch.
A: You’re just blaming your former beliefs for something … But they’re not to blame, you are. You forget that beliefs alone are nothing, a dead letter … What you needed was action.
C: Action? Not everyone can be a scribbling perpetuum mobile..
A: I’ll shut up. I’ll shut up and apologize…The weather is lovely today … It isn’t hot
C: Lovely weather for hanging oneself …
I’m getting exhausted … For God’s sake, stop.
A: I work all my life for learning, I’m used to my study, the lecture hall, colleagues I esteem — and then, I end up for no good reason in this tomb, see fools here every day, listen to worthless conversations … I want to live, I like success, I like fame, making a noise, and here it’s like being in exile. To pine every minute for the past, to watch the success of others, to be afraid of death … I can’t! I haven’t the strength!
C: Instead of grumbling you should reconcile everyone.
A: First reconcile me with myself! Day and night I am weighed down, as if by some devil, by the thought that my life is irrevocably gone. I have no past, it has been stupidly squandered on rubbish, and the present is terrible in its absurdity.
C: You are drunk! You never used to drink, and you never used to talk so much … Go to bed! I’m bored with you. What time is it?
A: God only knows. Leave me alone.
C: I must admit, I am becoming coarse. You see, I’m drunk too.
A: We need a drink.
C: When one has no real life, one lives by mirages. It’s still better than nothing…
A: So you don’t like life?
C: You know, when you walk in the forest on a dark night and if you then see a tiny light in the distance, you don’t notice exhaustion or darkness or the brambles hitting you in the face. Why are you crying?
A: It’s nothing, I just am.
C: You’ve been droning and droning all day long — haven’t you had enough! [In an anguished voice] I’m dying of boredom, I don’t know what to do.
A: There’s still hope….
C: We have here a decline which is the consequence of an impossible struggle for existence; a degeneration arising from stagnation, ignorance, a total lack of self-awareness, when a frozen, hungry, sick man, in order to preserve the remnants of life, to protect his children, instinctively, unconsciously grasps at anything to relieve his hunger and get warm, and destroys everything around without a thought for tomorrow. Now almost everything is destroyed, but nothing has yet been created to take its place. [Coldly] I see by your expression this doesn’t interest you.
A: What are you saying? …I understand so little of it.…
C: There’s nothing here to understand, it’s simply not interesting you.[Curtain]
Act IV: Three Sisters
Eight in the evening.
Offstage the barely audible sound of an accordion in the street.
There is no light.
C: I thought I wouldn’t live through it, you lay in a faint as if you were dead. But now a year has passed and we’re remembering it without pain… This morning I woke up, I saw a mass of light, I saw the spring, and joy welled up in my soul and I had a huge longing for home.
A: Of course, that’s nonsense.
C: Everything will come out all right, God willing. [Looking out of the window.] The weather’s good today. I don’t know why I feel so radiant.
A: You talk such rubbish, I’m fed up listening to you.
C: When I woke today and got up and washed, I suddenly started to think that everything in this world is clear to me, and that I know the way to live. A man, whoever he may be, must work, must toil by the sweat of his brow, and in that alone lie the sense and the goal of our life, its happiness, its joys.
A: How tiresome!
C: But I’ve really never done anything. Since I finished university I haven’t lifted a finger, I haven’t even read a single book…
A: Really, you are a….
C: Just think, I’m already beginning to forget her face. They won’t remember us either. We’ll be forgotten.
C: We’ll be forgotten. That’s our destiny, we can’t do anything about it. What seems to us serious and significant and really important — a time will come when it’ll be forgotten or seem unimportant…And it’s interesting that we absolutely can’t know what exactly will be regarded as sublime and important and what will be thought pathetic and ridiculous.
A: [in a piping voice]: Cluck, cluck, cluck…Someone really ought to write all this down …
C: I often think, what if one were to begin life afresh but consciously? If one life, the life already lived, were so to speak a rough draft and the other one a fair copy? Then all of us, I think, would especially try not to repeat ourselves, we would at least create a different setting for our lives, would make a home like this for ourselves with flowers and a mass of light …
A: Cluck, cluck, cluck … You say life is beautiful. Yes, but what if it only seems so!
C: For us …life has not yet been beautiful, it has choked us like a weed … My tears are streaming. We don’t need that. [Quickly wipes her face and smiles.] We must work, work. We’re gloomy and look at life so darkly because we don’t know work. We were born to people who despised work …
A: ‘For what does Nature bear us? For love, and love alone.’ [Laughs.]
A, C: [crossly]: Gentlemen, stop it! Haven’t you had enough?
C: I’ve never loved anyone….[They kiss. Two officers come in and, seeing the couple embrace, stop dumbfounded.] [Curtain.]
Act V: The Cherry Orchard
The set of Act One…There is no light.
It is after two in the morning. It is clear no one in the house has gone to bed.
A: I’m a fine example, what a stupid thing I’ve done!
C: What are you doing? Are you reading?
A: I must tell you now, I can’t hold out one minute more … What I’ve had to put up with.
C: I can imagine! What is it?
A: Six years ago Father died, a month later my brother Grisha drowned in the river, a lovely boy of seven. Mama couldn’t take it, she went off, went off without a backward glance … And Anastasy is dead. Petrushka Kosoy has left me, and….
C: I want to say something very nice and cheerful to you. Your cherry orchard is being sold to pay the debts.
A: The situation is wonderful here, the river’s deep.
C: There’s no other solution, I swear to you. Absolutely none.
A: I salute your existence which for more than a hundred years now has been directed towards the shining ideals of good and justice; your silent call to fruitful labour has not faltered in the course of a hundred years, preserving [with tears in his eyes] in generations of our family a good spirit, faith in a better future and fostering in us ideals of the good and of social consciousness.
C: You should take your pills now—You’ve gone mad!
A: I took all the pills.
C: You’ve again put on the wrong trousers. What am I to do with you!
A: Oh my childhood, my innocence! I used to sleep in this nursery, I used to look at the orchard from here, happiness woke up with me every morning, and the orchard was just like this, nothing has changed. [Laughs with joy.] All white, all white! Oh my orchard! After the dark and overcast autumn and the cold winter you’re young again, full of happiness, the angels in heaven have not forsaken you … If only I could take this heavy stone from my breast and shoulders, if I could forget my past!
C: Why? Why, my friend?
A: You were just a boy then, a dear little student, and now your hair is thin and you’re wearing glasses.
C: [Goes to the door]: He only thinks of himself.
You’ve aged too.
A: God! When are you going to bed?
C: What a fool you are.
A: I am a man of culture, I read a number of remarkable books, but I just can’t understand the direction in which I actually want to go, whether I should live or shoot myself, honestly, but all the same I always carry a revolver on me. Here it is…. [Shows the revolver.]
C: The Walking Accident! Between you and me, a silly fellow. [Yawns.] I hope to God he doesn’t shoot himself.
A: You have to make a final decision — time won’t wait. The question’s really straightforward.[Sits Down]
Give me an answer!
C [yawning]: To what?[cross]
Why talk so much? Today in the restaurant again you talked a lot, and always off the mark. About the Seventies, the Decadents. And who to? Talking to waiters about the Decadents!
A: [waving his hand]: I’m incorrigible, that’s clear. ..
C: I tell you every day. Every day I say one and the same thing.
A: I quite agree with you.
C: I’m going to break down in sobs or scream or pass out. I’ve had enough! You’ve worn me out![On the point of leaving.]
A: [frightened]: No, don’t go away, stay, my dear. I beg you. Perhaps we’ll think of something!
C: What is there here to think about!
A: Don’t go, I beg you. I must say it’s more cheerful when you’re here …
C: That’s true. One must admit our life is idiotic … now everything’s all broken up, you can’t make sense of anything.
A: We talked a long time yesterday but didn’t come to any conclusion. Man’s pride, as you understand it, has something mystical. Perhaps in your own way you’re right, but reasoning straightforwardly, without fancy — what ground for pride is there, is there any sense in it, if man is poorly constructed physiologically, if in the huge majority of cases he is coarse, unintelligent, deeply unhappy? You have to stop being pleased with yourself. You must just work.
C: You’ll die just the same.
A: Who knows? And what does it mean — you’ll die? Perhaps man has a hundred senses and death eliminates only the five that are known to us, but the other ninety-five remain alive.
C: How clever you are!
A: [ironically]: Frightfully clever!
C: I’m extremely grateful to you. [Coughing.]
A: [confused]: What’s to be done with me, I’m a fool! When we’re home I’ll give you everything I have.
C: My heart’s thumping.
A: My hands are trembling..
A: We…we can’t understand that we are above love. Avoiding things that are petty and illusory, that prevent us being free and happy, there’s the goal and the sense of our life. Onward! We are going irresistibly towards a bright star burning there in the distance! Onward!
C: How well you speak!
A: There it is, happiness, there it comes, nearer and nearer, I can already hear its steps. And if we don’t see it, don’t recognize it, it’s not so terrible. Others will see it![Crying gently] [Angrily]
I have high blood-pressure, I’ve already had two strokes, it’s hard for me to dance, but as the saying goes…here’s the problem:
C: Have you read Nietzsche?
A: Guter Mensch, aber schlechter…
C [mocking]: Right.
A: How ugly you’ve become…how old.
A: If I could just know…I find such a disaster so incredible that I somehow don’t even know what to think, I’m getting confused … I might shriek out loud at any moment … I might do something stupid. Save me! Say something, say something…
C: It’s long been over…
C: There’s no turning back, the path’s got overgrown.
C: Calm down, my dear. You mustn’t deceive yourself, for once in your life you must look the truth straight in the eye.
A: What truth? You can see where truth is and where falsehood is, but I have really lost my sight, I can’t see anything. You’re boldly solving all the important questions, but tell me, my dear, isn’t that because … because you haven’t had time to suffer as a result of a single one of your questions? You look ahead boldly, and isn’t that because you don’t see and don’t expect anything terrifying, as life is still hidden from your young eyes? You’re bolder, more honest, you have greater depth than any of us, but just think, be generous… say it in other words, other words …
C: You don’t do anything, you’re just tossed from place to place by fate.
A: No, no, no, you mustn’t say that… [Blocks ears]
C: I’ve had enough of you, old man. [Yawning.] The quicker you drop dead …
A: You … big booby! [Mumbles.]
C: You know, you should go to bed …
A [With a wry smile]: I’ll go to bed, but without me here who will serve, who will look after things? There’s just the one me…
C [yawning]: What ignorance …
A [Offended]: You dare say that to me! Get out of my sight!
C [goes to the door, A follows him]: I beg your pardon!
A: [Wiping away tears] I’ve been through so much!
C: It’s all the same to me.
A: Wait a moment.
C [Looking at watch]: Everything on this earth comes to an end.
A: I’m ready now…. Let’s get it done right away, and basta— without you I…
A: Well, why not! At this time last year, if you remember, it was already snowing…Only, it’s cold…Three degrees of frost.
C: I didn’t look. [A pause.] Anyway, our thermometer’s broken.
A [Sobs quietly]: —
A: They’ve forgotten about me…It doesn’t matter…I’ll sit here a moment. [Sits] Life has gone by, as if I hadn’t lived. [Lies down.] I’ll lie down a moment.
C: You’ve got no strength, nothing is left, nothing. [Lies motionless]
There is the distant sound of a string breaking, as if in the sky, a dying, melancholy sound. Silence falls, and the only thing to be heard is a tree being struck with an axe far off in the orchard.[Curtain]
Source: All quotations from the Penguin edition of Plays, by Anton Chekhov, translated by Peter Carson