Comparative Study of Offstage Action in The Cherry Orchard and Miss Julie

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                                                                                                                                   Duong, Danny


Comparative Study of Offstage Action in The Cherry Orchard and Miss Julie

“The most important events in Chekhov’s plays do not necessarily occur on Chekhov’s stage; often the audience experiences some of the most pivotal and dramatic action not by seeing it, but by hearing about it from the characters” (“ClassicNotes: Anton Chekhov”).

        In the plays, The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov and Miss Julie by August Strindberg, despite the vast difference in subject matter, plot, and setting, there is an underlying similarity in how each author creates his desired effects, especially through the use of action that does not take place onstage. Strindberg uses offstage action, while Chekhov has utilized a technique that has been dubbed “indirect action.” A second technique that both authors employ is character reflection: a technique wherein a character narrates about an event that has already passed. Through these two techniques, the authors demonstrate that offstage action and character reflection, when used effectively, bring forth the most in a play.

In Strindberg’s play, the culmination of drama occurs at the end of the play, when “the Count’s back” (Strindberg 447). Instantly the mightiness of Jean crumbles to weakness. Both Jean and Miss Julie tremble at the return of the Count. They obviously fear him, implying that he holds dominion over them. As a result, Jean reverts to his lowly status of servitude, and acting as the Count, he orders Miss Julie to slit her own throat because she is too ashamed, and frightened, to face her father after what she has done. It is to “save… [her] honor” and the Count’s “name” that she knows what she “ought to do,” which is take her own life (Strindberg 447). During all this, the Count is never once onstage. The most he does is speak to Jean through the speaking tube, from the other side, and he rings the bell to summon Jean. The audience learns this through the reactions of Jean and Miss Julie. His return sets into motion the resulting drama. This is Strindberg’s instance of indirect action in Miss Julie.

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        As for The Cherry Orchard, the most critical point in the play is Act III. Arguably the example of indirect action in this act is appropriately the climax of the play. Here, Ranyevskaya hosts a ball on the estate while the sale of the said estate is taking place in town. Gayev, the brother of the female lead, is present at the auction, accompanied by Lopakhin, and his objective is to purchase the estate. The cherry orchard, and particularly its sale, is the driving action of the play. In the midst of the conversation Ranyevskaya has with Trofimov, the tutor ...

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