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3 Sisters

Act I Act II Act III Act IV and Director's Notes
Act One: Translation v. Adaptation

TOPICS: drama + comedy + postmodern + american age + self + future + death + past + present + time + space + love + family + generations + god * 2007


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List of Characters

The action takes place in a provincial town: In a letter Chekhov suggested that the town was like Perm, located in central Russia

Act I

Act I: Noon, spring of 1897 is the time Bristow suggested in program notes to the play

a large room is visible: In a large 19th-century house, this room could be used both as a dining-room and a ballroom

the fifth of May: Russians did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until after the 1917 revolution; the Russian calendar was about 12 days behind

your name-day, Irina: Russians celebrated the feast-day of their patron saint with festivities resembling a birthday party

already in a white dress: As opposed to black, the traditional colour of mourning

at my lessons till the evening: Olga means she gives private lessons

The only difficulty is poor Masha: Masha can't go because her husband can't leave his job

half a hundredweight: 54 pounds

two or even two and a half: 180 pounds, 200 pounds

or an engine-driver: On the railroad

wakes at twelve o'clock: Noon

will kick the bucket: Lit., die of a stroke

such a person as Dobrolyubov: Probably Chekhov means N. A. Dobrolyubov (1836-1861), a literary critic read by progressive thinkers; that the doctor doesn't know who Dobrolyubov is indicates his shallowness; however, the reference may be to the poet A. M. Dobrolyubov (1876-?), who first appeared in print in 1895

By the sea-strand: Masha recites the first two lines (she repeats the second line) of A. S. Pushkin's (1799-1837) long poem Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820)

Nanny dear: The actual Russian word Olga uses is Nyanechka, a diminutive for "nanny."

A samovar! How awful!: Olga is upset because a samovar would be an appropriate gift for a wedding shower or wedding anniversary, not a name-day party.

Irinushka, you must be nice: Lit., Arinushka, a deliberate mispronunciation of "Irinuska," a diminutive for Irina

Nyemetsky Street: Lit., German Street

fifteen miles away: Lit., twenty versts

Novo-Dyevitchy: A famous Moscow cemetery; Chekhov himself is buried there

Chook, chook, chook: Solyony is imitating sounds made by domestic fowl

Look how small I am: In later editions, Chekhov added: You make me feel better when you say my life is great.

it gets light so early: Because of their high latitudes, most Russian cities have very short nights in the summer

mass of darkness: I.e., the ignorant and uneducated masses

court councilor: Rank 7 in the Table of Ranks for the Civil Service

Feci quod potui, faciant meliora potentes: I have done my best; let others do better if they can

mens sana in corpore sano: A healthy mind in a healthy body

my good girl: Lit., Matushka, an old-fashioned word for mother; the implication is that Masha is trying to treat him like a child

with a lisp: Lit., with exaggerated r's

That phrase has been haunting me all day: Educated Russians would immediately recall the next two lines: "And linked to the chain with a scholarly mien/ A tomcat is seen going round and round. . ." (Bristow translation)

Act II

Act II: Bristow suggests that this act begins at 8 p.m., winter of 1899

It's Carnival: Carnival Week was celebrated just before the beginning of Lent

Bobik: The nickname of Natasha's first child

mummers: masked and costumed persons who paraded through the streets or visited houses on holidays; in Russia mummers are called skomorokhi and trace their origins to the 10th century

Andryushantchik: A diminutive for Andrey

Tyestov's or the Bolshoy Moskovsky: Two famous Moscow restaurants

Venez ici: Come here (French)

the Military Academy: Before 1914 almost all major Russian cities had military schools; the Moscow Military Academy was founded in 1832

Gogol says it's dull living: From the short story "How Ivan Ivanovitch Quarreled with Ivan Nikoforovitch"; N. V. Gogol (1809-1852), famous Russian novelist and dramatist

Balzac was married at Berditchev: At the time of the play, Berditchev was part of the Russian Empire

another kind of patience: patience is a type of solitaire card game

the game is working out right: Russians often used a game of patience to decide questions (as Pierre does in Book 10 of War and Peace)

Tsitsikar: A city in northeast China

Masha, come to tea, my dear: Lit, Mataushka, come to tea

minister was condemned for the Panama affair: Baihot, French minister of public works, was sent to prison in 1893 for accepting a bribe from developers who hoped to build a canal in Panama

Je vous prie...: I beg of you, excuse me, Masha, but your manners are a little unrefined (Natasha consistently uses clumsy French)

Il paraît...: It seems my Bobik is no longer asleep

I am strange, who is not strange: From the play Woe from Wit by A. S. Griboyedov (1795-1829)

Be not wrath, Aleko!: From Pushkin's poem "The Gypsies" (1824); Aleko is the hero, but the exact words that Solyony quotes do not occur in the poem

temperament of Lermontov: Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841) was a poet who was sometimes called the Russian Byron; Lermontov was killed in a duel

Oh my porch, oh my new porch: A popular Russian folk song; Paul Schmidt prints the music and words in the notes to his translation of the play (The Plays of Anton Chekhov, HarperCollins, 1997, p. 321)

Petty, vulgar creature: Lit., Meshchanka!, a female member of the petty bourgeoisie; since Andrey (and his sisters) are members of the gentry, Andrey has married beneath his class

three-horse sleigh: a troika

O fallacem...: O delusive hope of man!


Act III: Bristow suggests the act begins between 2 and 3 a.m. during the summer of 1900

Behind the scenes a bell is ringing: A jarring noise made by a provincial church bell; Chekhov was particularly concerned with the sounds in Act III; in a letter he wrote that the only noise is off in the distance, off stage, vague and muffled, and everyone on stage is tired and sleepy

know where father is: Lit., Papasha, an affectionate form of address to an elderly man

In 1812 Moscow was burnt too: When the French under Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, the people of Moscow burned the city rather than let it fall into enemy hands

baby Sophie: Lit., Sofochka, Natasha's second child

The vulgarity!: The Russian word used here is poshlost', which has no English equivalent; Nabokov has suggested that it is "not only the obviously trashy but also the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive."

In vino veritas: There is truth in wine

May I offer you this fig?: In a letter Chekhov wrote that the song was from an operetta he once heard, but he could not recall its name

Young and old are bound by love, and precious are its pangs: An aria sung by Prince Gremin in Act III of Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin

Tram-tam-tam: In a letter Chekhov wrote that Vershinin says the words "Tram-tam-tam" as a kind of question and Masha answers in kind; Masha should say "tram-tam" and start to laugh, but not loud, just a little, almost to herself

I may provoke the geese: Refers to Krylov's fable "The Geese"

Amo, amas...: Masha declines the Latin verb "love"

Omnia mea mecum porto: All I own is what I carry with me

Gogol's madman: Memoirs of a Madman (1835)

your honour, to you: Lit., "your worship"; Andrey wants to be addressed according to his rank, but Ferapont responds with a title of a higher rank

Zemstvo: A local council

you get a pension: A military pension because of their father's service

Act IV

Act IV: Bristow suggests that this act begins at noon in the autumn of 1900

kochany: Polish for sweetheart

modus vivendi: mode of living

thinking it was a Latin word: The joke is that the Russian word for nonsense, chepukha, when written in Cyrillic cursive can be read as renixa in Latin

My heart of gold: In later editions Chekhov replaced this with: You've gone on far ahead, I won't catch up with you. I'm left behind like a migrant bird grown old and unable to fly. Fly, my dear, fly, and God be with you! [a pause] It's a pity you shaved your moustache, Fyodor Ilyich.

KULYGIN. Oh, drop it! [sighs]

ut consecutivum: A Latin grammar term

order of the Stanislav of the second degree: A civil service decoration

Maiden's Prayer: A parlour piano favourite written by Baranowski

with a repeater: his pocket watch strikes the hours

put an extinguisher over it: an extinguisher was a bell-shaped device that was used to put out candles

having to challenge him: to a duel

And the farther you go, the better: In the first version of the play Chekhov added: [a pause]. But do as you like! It doesn't matter. . .

And, restless, seeks the stormy ocean...: Solyony misquotes slightly from Lermontov's "The Sail"

ANDREY and FERAPONT come in]: Note that there is no previous stage direction for Andrey to exit

kvass: a homemade beer

baby Sophie: Lit., Sofochka

Il ne faut pas faire du bruit...: Stop making noise, Sophie is asleep already. You are a bear (once again Natasha uses awkward French)