Orville Dewey.

The two great commandments: sermons online

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BngUsh Trcmslation by




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^7/- 7 5




"Undc Vanya" is the second of the plays of Anton
Tchekhoff to reach the stage of the Moscow Art
Theatre. The story of the way it reached the hands
of Stanislavsky and his artists and the connection it
had with encouraging Tchekhoff to continue his liter-
ary efforts in the dramatic form are both of them
interesting chapters not only in the annals of the Art
Theatre but in the career of the playwright himsdf .

Long before the success of the revival of "The Sea
Gull" during the first year of the Art Theatre had
established Tchekhoff's fame as a dramatist, a play by
the name of "The Demon" had issued from his pen
and had found production in several unimportant
provincial theatres. Rewritten and retitled, it had been
submitted to the theatrical literary committee of die
Small Imperial Theatre in Moscow where Tchekhoff's
friends, Lyensky and Youzhin and the regisseur Kon-
dratyeff, were working zealously for its acceptance.

Stanislavsky and his associates, on the other hand,
were eager to add it to the growing repertory of the



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Art Theatre under the spur of the acclaim "The Sea
Gull" had achieved. Tchekhoff, however, had re-
turned to Moscow in the spring of 1899 from his en-
forced winter exile in the Crimea too late to sec "The
Sea Gull" in performance. A dose friendship sprang
up between him and his interpreting artists, but he
felt in duty bound to leave the new manuscript with
the rival theatre. A solution of the dilemma soon ap-
peared when the committee of die Small Imperial
Theatre demanded certain changes in the third act.
Tchekhoff refused to make any revisions, and the out-
come of the impasse was that the Art Theatre snatched
the manuscript as it stood, accepted it without question
and hurried the play into rehearsal. On the night of
November 7 (our calendar), 1899, therefore, "Uncle
Vanya" as we know it today, was publicly performed
for die first time on the stage with which Tchekhoff's
fame as a playwright was so inextricably interwoven.

Meanwhile, during rehearsals, the author had re-
turned to his southern retreat. A few days after the
premiere, he wrote from Yalta to Mme. Knipper, who
had created the role of Helena Andreievha and who
was later to become his wife:

"The telegrams began coming in the evening when
I was inbed. They send them on to me by telephone.
I woke up every time and ran with bare feet to the
telei^one, and got very much chilled; then I had


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scarcely dozed off when the bell rang again and again.
It's the first time that my own fame has kept me awake.
The next evening when I went to bed I put my slip-
pers and dressing-gown beside my bed, but there were
to more telegrams.

The telegrams were full of nothing but the num-

r of calls and the brilliant success^ but there was a
subtle, almost elusive something in diem from which
I could conclude that the state of mind of all of you
was not exactly of the very best. The newspapers I
have received today confirm my conjectures.

"Yes, dear actress, ordinary medium success is not
enough now for all you artistic players: you want an
uproar, big guns, dynamite. You have been spoiled
at last, deafened by constant talk about successes, full
and not full houses : you are already poisoned ¥Hth
that drug, and in another two or three xeaisyou will
be good for nothing! So much for you !" Jpf."

How far wrong Tchekhoff was as a forecaster of the
future as well as he was in the role of judge of his own
work, is seen from the fact that success did not prove
insidious to the Art Theatre, and that any dubious
note in the public reception of the new play soon van-
ished. It is a curious fact that in the quarter century
of the Moscow Art Theatre, only two plays, aside
from those with a spectacular appeal, have scored in-
stantaneous and emphatic triumphs at their premieres


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—"An Enemy of the People" and Goricy's "The
Lower Depths." Like so niany^j^hpr cherished favor-
ites in the Art Theatre repertiJtjqjptJncle Vanya" won
its way slowly and unobtrusively but surely to the
hearts of the theatre's patrons, and today, over two
decades later, it still holds an enviable position.

It was "Uncle Vanya," too, which shares honors
with "The Sea Gull" and with Hauptmann's "Lonely
\y Lives" and Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" in the story of the
persuasion of Tchekhoff to pursue further the craft of
playwright. In the spring of 1900, the Art Theatre
was writing to him for another manuscript. He re-
fused, urged to diat conclusion by lack of confidence
in his powers. Thinking that perhaps diis self^
depreciation was due to the fact that he had never seen
cither "The Sea Gull" or "Uncle Vanya" on the stage,
the entire Art Theatre company set out for the Crimea
at the close of the spring season in Moscow, travelled
south, met Tchekhoff at die dock at Sebastopol, gave
eight performances there, proceeded to Yalta, where
the playwright had built his own house with his own
hands and had laid out his garden with the same per-
sonal care, and gave four more performances there.

In one of the souvenirs of Tchekhoff published by
die Moscow Art Theatre several years ago, the state-
ment is made: "The popularity of Tchekhoff in die
Crimea was great without any theatre to increase it;

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and here came the whole company of the theatre to
which he was attached, to show their beloved author
his own plays!"

The benign southern sun, the presence of Gorky in
the entourage, just then blooming into prime literary
fame, the close friendship between the two writers, the
inspiration of the sea and the spring and the success of
the creators of this youdiful theatre — ^all combined to
give Tchekhoff the necessary stimulus to carry on his

The Epitor


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Alexander Serebryakoff — A retired professor.
Helena Andreievna — His wife, aged twenty-seven.
SoNYA — /f« daughter by a previous marriage.
Marl\ Vassilievna Voinitskaya —

Widow of a privy councilor, and mother of
Serebryakoff' s first wife.
Ivan (Vanya) Voinitsky — Her son.
Mikhail Astroff — A doctor.
Ilya Telyeoin — An impoverished landowner.
Marina — An old nurse.
A Workman.

The action takes place ai 8erebryako§*s country place.


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A garden. Part of a house and terrace is seen. A
table is set for tea in an avenue of trees, under an old
poplar. Near the table are some benches and chairs.
On one of them is a guitar. A stving is near the table.
It b three o'clock in the afternoon of a cloudy day.

Marina, d quiet, gray-hmred, little old woman, sits
at the table knitting a stocking. Astroff is wdking
back and forth near her.

Marina [pouring tea into a glass] Have some, lit-
tle father?

Astroff [taking the glass from her unwillingly]
I don't seem to care for any, somehow.

Marina. Have a little vodka instead?

A$TROFF. No, I don't drink vodka every day.
And, besides, it is too warm. [A pause] Tell me,
nurse, how long have we known each oAer?

Marina [thoughtfully] Let me see, how long is it?
God only knows. You first came here, into our part
of Ae world — let me see — when was it? Sonya's
mother was still alive — two winters later she died;



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that was eleven years ago — (thoughtfully) perhaps

AsTROFF. Have I changed a great deal since?

Marina. Oh, yes. You were good-looking and
young, then, and now you are old and no longer good-
looking. You drink, too.

AsTROFF. Yes, ten years have made another man
of me. And why? Because I am overworiced. Nurse,
I am on my feet from morning until evening. I
know no rest at all: at night I shake under my bed-
clothes for 'f ear FU be dragged out to visit some side
people. Ever since I've known you, I haven't had a
single carefree day. How could I help growing old?
Life is tedious, anyhow; it is a senseless, dirty busi-
ness, and drags heavily. Every one in this neighbor-
hood is silly, and after you live with them for tv<^ or
three years you grow silly yourself. It is inevitable.
[Twisting his, mustache] See what a long mustache
I have grown. A silly, long mustache. Yes, I am as
silly as all the others, nurse, but not as stupid; no I
have not grown stupid. Thank God, my brain is not
muddled yet, though my feelings have grown dull.
I ask for nothing, I need nothing, I love no one,
except yourself alone. [He kisses her head] When
I was a child, I had a nurse just like you.

• Marina. Don't you care for a bite to eat?

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AsTROPF. No, During the third week of Lent,
an epidemic of eruptive typhoid broke out at Malitskoi,
and I was called there. The peasants were all
stretched side by side in their huts, and the calves
and pigs were running about the floor among the
sick. How filthy it was, and such smoke! Beyond
words! I slaved among those people all day. I
hadn't a crumb to eat. But when I got home there
was still no rest for me: a switchman was carried in
from the railroad; I laid him on the operating table
and he died in my arms under the chloroform. And
then although my feelings should have been deadened,
they rose again; my conscience tortured me as if I
had murdered him. I sat d own and shut my eyes-^^
li ke this — and thought ; will our descendants tw o
hundred years from to-day, for whom we are break ing
the padi, rememb er us in a kin dly spirit? No, nurse,
' ^tbey will forg et.

Marina. Man forgets, but God remembers.

AsTROFF. Thank you for that. You spoke the

[Enter Voinitsky from the house. He has been
asleep after dinner and looks somewhat disheveled.
He sits down on the bench and straightens his tie,]

VoiNrrsKY. H'm. Yes. [A pause] Yes.

AsTROFF. Have you had a good nap?


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VoiNiTSlCY. Yes, very good. [He yawns] Ever
since the Professor and his wife came, our daily life
seems to have left its groove. I sleep at the wrong
time, drink wine, and I eat all kinds of truck for din-
ner and supper. It isn't healthy. Sonya and I used
to work together and we never had an idle moment.

[ But now she works alone and I just eat and drink

land sleep. Something is wrong.

Marina [shaking her head] Such bedlam in the
house ! The Professor gets up at tweUre, the samovar
is kept boiling all morning, and everything has • to
wait for him. jBefore they came we used to dine
at one, like everybody else, but now we dine at seven.
The Professor sits up all night writing and reading,
and suddenly, at two o'clock, the bell rings. Heavens,
what's that? The Professor wants tea! Wake up
the servants, light the samovar! Lord, what con-
fusion !

AsTROFF. Will they remain here long?

VbiNiTSKY [whistling] A hundred years! The
Professor has decided to make this his home.

Marina. Just look here, for instance! The
samovar has been on the table for two hours, and
they are all out for a walk!

VoiNrrsKY. Never mind, don't get excited; here
they come.

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[Voices are heard. Serebryakoff^ Helena Andrei'
evna, Sonya, and Telyegin enter from the depths of
the garden, returning from their walk.']

ScREBftYAKOFF, Supcrb ! Superb! What glori-
ous views!

Telyegin. They are marvelous, your Excellency.

Sonya. To-morrow we shall go in the woods, shall
we, father?

VoiNiTSKY. Ladies and gentlemen, tea is served.

Serebryakoff. Won't you please send my tea into
the library? I have some work to finish.

Sonya. I am sure you will love the woods.

[HelenafAndreievna, Serebryakoff and Sonya go into
the house, Telyegin takes d seat at the table beside

VoiNiTSKY. There goes our learned scholar on a y
hot, sultry day like this, wearing overcoat, rubbers
and gloves and carrying an umbrella!

AsTROFF. He is trying to take good care of him-

VoiNiTSKY. How lovely she is! How lovely!
Never in my life have I seen a more l)eautiful woman.

iTelyegin. Do you know, Marina Timofeievna,
that when I walk in the fields or in the shade of the
garden, when I look at this table here, my heart swells
with a great happiness. The weather is enchantinjg^


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the birds are singing, we are M living in peace and
contentment — what more can the soul desire?
[Taies a glass of tea] Thank you with all my heart!

VoiNiTSKY [dreaming^ Such eyes — a glorious

AsTROFF. Cqme, Ivan, tell us somediing.

VoiNrrsKY [indolently^ What shall I tell you?

AsTROFF^ Haven't you any news for us?

VoiNrrsKY. No, it is all old. I am the same ^
ever, or perhaps worse, for I've l}ecome lazy. '^I do
nothing any more but croak like an old raven. My
mother, the old magpie, is still chattering about the
emancipation of woman, with one eye on her grave
and the other on her learned books, in which she is
forever searching for the dawn of a new life.

AsTROFF. And the Professor?

VoiNrrsKY. The Professor as usual ^ts in his
library from morning till night —

"Straining our mind, wrinkling our brow,
We write, write, write.
With no respite
Or hope of praise in the future or now."

Unfortunate paper! He ought to write his autobiog-
raphy; he would make a really excellent subject for
a book! Just consider, the life of a retired professor,

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as stale as a piece of old bread, racked \7ith gout,
headaches and rheumatism, h fe liver bursting wi th
jealousy and envy , living on the estate of his first
wife, although he hates it, because he can't afiFord to
live in town. He is everlastingly whining about his
hard fate, although, as a matter of fact, he is un-
usually lucky. {Nervously'] He is the son of a com-
mon deacon and has achieved the professor's chair,
has become the son-in-law of a senator, is called "your
Excellency," but never mind! Til tell you something;
he has beenjwriting about art fo r twent y-five ^years,
and he doesn't know the very first thing about it. For
twenty-five years he has been hashing over thi» thnng })^
of other men on realism, naturalism, and all suc h
nonsensej^ fo r twenty-five years he has been read ing
andjw riting things long know n to dever m«i^ and
uninteresti ng tQ ^tupjd onf^; fnr twcnt3c^ve years he
h as been pourin g wat^r from j^n e empty t umbler inte
anolhfir. Yet consider the man's conceit and pre-
tensions ! He has been pensioned ofiF. No living soul
has ever heard of him. He is totally unknown. That
means for twenty-five years he has been sailing under
false colors. But look at himl He stalks across the
earth like a demi-^od!

AsntOFP. I believe you envy him.

V<»NrrsKY. Yes, I do. Look at the success he


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has had with women! Don Juan himself was not
more lucky. His first wife, my sister, was beautiful,
gentle, as pure as the- blue heaven above, noble, great-
hearted, with more admirers than he has pupils, and
she loved him as only creatures of angelic purity can
love those who are as pure and beautiful as they are
themselves. His mother-in-law, my mother, adores
him to this day, and he still inspires her with a kind
of worshipful awe. His second wife is, as you see,
a great beauty; she married him in his old age and
surrendered to him all the glory of her beauty and
freedom. What for?

AsTROFF. Is she faithful to him?
VoiNrrsKY. Yes, worse luck!
AstROFF. Why "worse luck"?

VoiNiTSKY. Because such loyalty is false and un-
natural, root and branch. It sounds very well, but
there is no logic to it. It is immoral for a woman to
deceive an old husband whom she hates. But for her
to stifle her pathetic youth and intense longings within
her — that is not immoral!

Telyegin [in a tearful voice] Vanya, I don't like
to hear you say such things. Listen, Vanya: every one
who betrays husband or wife is faithless and would
betray his country, too.

VoiNirsKY [cross] Turn off the fountain. Waffles!

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Tblyegin. No,, permit mc, Vanya, My wife ran
away with a lover the day after our wedding, because
my appearance was unprepossessing. Since then I have
never failed in doing my duty. I love her and am
true to her to this day. I help her all I can and I've
given my fortune to educate the ^ildren she had by
her lover. I have lost my happiness but kept my pride.
And she? Her youth has fled, her beauty has faded
according to the laws of nature, and her lover is dead.
What is there left to her?

[Helena Jndreievna and Sonya enter, followed by
Maria Vassilievna carrying a book. The latter sits
down and begins to read. Some one hands her a glass
of tea which she drinks without looking upJ]

Sonya [hurriedly, to the nurse] Some peasants are
waiting out there. Go and see what they wish. I
shall pour the tea.

[She pours out several glasses of tea. Marina goes
out. Helena Jndreievna takes a glass and sits in the
svnng drinking.]

AsTROFF [to Helena Jndreiexma] I came to sec
your husband. You wrote me that he is very ill,
that he has riieumatism and what not, but he seems
as lively as a cridcet.

Helena Andreibvna. He had a fit of the blues
last night and complained of pains in his legs, but he
seems all ri^t to-day.


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AsTROFF. And I hurried here twenty miles at a
break-neck gallop 1 Never mind, though, it isn't the
first time. Now that Tm here, however, Fm going
to stay until to-morrow and at any rate sleep quantum

SoNYA. Oh, splendid! You spend the night with
us so seldom. Have you had your dinner?


SoNYA. Good. You will have it with us. We
dine at seven now. [Drinks her tea] This tea is cold'

Telyegin. Yes, the samovar has gone out.

Helena Andreievna. Never mind, Ivan Ivano
vitch, well drink our tea cold, then.

Telyegin. I beg your pardon, my name is not
Ivan, but Ilyitch, ma'am — Ilya Ilyitch Telyegin, or
Waffles, as they sometimes call me because of my
pock-marked face. I am Sonya's god-father, and his
Excellency, your husband, knows me very well. I
now live with you on this estate, and perhaps you will
be good enough to notice that I dine with you every

Sonya. Ilya Ilyitch is a great help to us; he is
our rig^t hand. [Tenderly] Dear god-father, let me
pour you some more tea,

Maria Vassiuevna. Oh! Oh!

SoNYA. What IS it, grandmother?

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. -t


Maria Vassilievna. I forgot to tell Alexander
— I am losing my memory — I received a letter to-
day from Pavel Alexeievitch in KhariLofiF. He sent
me a new pamphlet.

AsTROFF. Is it interesting?

Maria Vassilievna. Yes, but odd. He refutes
the very theories which he defended seven years ago.
It is appalling!

VoiNrrsKY. There is nothing appalling about it.
Drink your tea, mamma.

Maria Vassilievna. But I want to say some-

VoiNiTSKY. But that is all we have been doing
these last fifty years, talking and talking and reading
pamphlets. It's high time to have done with it!

Maria Vassilievna. It seems you never care to
listen to what I have to say. Pardon me, Jigan, but
you have changed so this last year that I hardly know
you. You used to be a man of stanch convictions and
had an illuminating personality —

VoiNiTSKY. Oh, yes. I had an illuminating per-
sonality, which illuminated no one. [A pause] I had
an illuminating personality! You couldn't say any-
thing more cruel. I am forty-seven years old. Until
last year I tried to let your pedantry Wind my eyes
to the truth in life. You yourself are blind! But


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now — Oh, if you only knew! If you knew how I
lie awake at night, heartsick and angry, to think how
stupidly I wasted my time when I might have been
wresting from life everything which my old age now

SoNYA. Uncle Vanya, how dreary!

Maria Vassilievna [to her son] You speak as
if your former convictions were to blame somehow,
but you yourself, not they, were at fault. You have
forgotten that a conviction, in itself, is nothing but a
dead letter. You should have done something.

VoiNiTSKY. Done something! It isn't every man
who is capable of being a ^rpetuum mobilejmth the
pen like your Herr Professor.

Maria Vassilievna. What do you mean by that?

SoNYA [imploringly] Grandmother! Uncle Vanya!
I beg you!

VoiNiTSKY. I am silent. I apologize and am
silent. [A pause]

Helena Andreievna. What a fine day! Not
too hot. [A pause]

VoiNiTSKY. A fine day to hang ones elf.

[Telyegin tunes his guitar. Marina appears near
the house, calling the chickens.]

Marina. Chick, chick, chick!

Sonya. What did the peasants widi, nurse?

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Marina. The same old thing, the same old non-
sense. Chick, chick, diick!

SoNYA. Why do you call the chickens?

Marina. The speckled hen disappeared with her
chicks. Fm afraid the crows have got her.

[Telyegin plays a polka. Every one listens in
silence. A Workman enters."]

Workman. Is the doctor here? [To Astroff]
Please, Mikhail Lvovitch, Fve been sent for you.

AsTROFF. Where do you come from?

Workman. The factory.

AsTROFF [annoyed] Thank you. I suppose I shall
have to go whether I wish to or not. [Looking around

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