Three Sisters (play)

Three Sisters (play)

"Three Sisters" (Russian: Три сестры - Tri sestry) is a play, written in 1900 and first produced in 1901, by Russian author Anton Chekhov. It is considered among Chekhov's major plays.


The Prozorovs

* Andrei Sergeyevich Prozorov - The brother of the three sisters, his character perhaps spans the most tragic arc in the play. In Act I, he is a young man on the fast track to being a Professor in Moscow. In Act II, Andrei still longs for his old days as a bachelor dreaming of life in Moscow but is now stuck in town with a baby and a job as secretary to the County Council. In Act III, Andrei's debts have grown to 35,000 rubles and he has been forced to mortgage the house, although he doesn't tell his sisters or give them any shares. Act IV finds Andrei a pathetic shell of his former self, now the father of two. He acknowledges that he is a failure and that he is laughed at in town because he is only a member of the Country Council of which Protopopov, his wife's lover, is President.

* Olga Sergeyevna Prozorov (Olya) - The eldest of the three sisters, she is the matriarchal figure of the Prozorov family though at the beginning of the play she is only 28 years old. Olga is a teacher at the high school, where she frequently fills in for the oft-absent headmistress. Olga is a spinster and at one point tells Irina that she would have married "any man, even an old man if he had asked" her. Olga is very motherly even to the elderly servants, keeping on the elderly nurse/retainer Anfisa, long after she has ceased to be useful, and taking her to the high school, to escape the heartless Natasha's clutches, when Olga reluctantly takes the role of headmistress permanently.

* Maria Sergeyevna Kulygina (Masha) - The middle sister, she is 21 at the beginning of the play. She married her husband, Kulygin, when she was 18 and just out of school. She falls in love with Vershinin and they begin an affair. When he is transferred away, she is crushed, but returns to life with her husband, who accepts her back despite knowing what she has done. She has a short temper, which is seen frequently throughout the play, and is the sister who disapproves the most about Natasha.

* Irina Sergeyevna Prozorov - The youngest sister, she is only a year younger than Masha (20, at the beginning of the play). It is her "name day" at the beginning of the play and though she insists she is grown-up she is still enchanted by things such as a top brought to her by Fedotik. Her only desire is to go back to Moscow, which they left eleven years before the play begins. She believes she will find her true love in Moscow, but when it becomes clear that they are not going to Moscow, she agrees to marry the Baron Tuzenbach, whom she admires but does not love. She gets her teaching degree and plans to leave with the Baron, but he is shot by Solyony in a pointless duel. She decides to leave anyway and dedicate her life to whoever needs it.

* Natalia Ivanovna (Natasha) - Andrei's love interest at the start of the play, later his wife. She begins the play as an insecure, awkward young woman who dresses poorly and is made fun of by the sisters. She apparently has no family of her own and the reader never learns her maiden name. Act II finds a very different Natasha. She has grown bossy and uses her relationship with Andrei as a way of manipulating the sisters into doing what she wants. She has begun an affair with Protopopov, the head of the local council (who is never seen), and cuckolds Andrei almost flagrantly. In Act III, she has become even more controlling confronting Olga head on about keeping on Anfisa, the elderly, loyal retainer, whom she orders to stand in her presence, and throwing temper tantrums when she doesn't get her way. Act IV finds that she has inherited control of the house from her weak, vacillating husband, leaving the sisters dependent on her, and planning to radically change the grounds to her liking. It is arguably Natasha, vicious and insensitive of anyone besides her children, on whom she dotes fatuously, who ends the play the happiest, having achieved everything she wants.

* Fyodor Ilyich Kulygin - Masha's much older husband and a teacher at the high school. Kulygin is a jovial, kindly man, who truly loves his wife, although he is aware of her infidelity. His hobby is to go for rambles (long cross country walks) with the headmaster- Kulygin is the honorary secretary for the rambling society in the local town. At the end of the play, though knowing what his wife has been up to, he takes her back and accepts her failings.

The Soldiers

* Aleksandr Ignatyevich Vershinin - Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the battery, Vershinin is a true philosopher. He knew the girls' father in Moscow and they talk about how when they were little they called him the "Lovesick Major." In the course of the play, despite being married, he enters into an affair with Masha but must end it when the battery is transferred. He frequently mentions how his wife regularly attempts suicide, but he never seems to care.

* Baron Nikolai Lvovitch Tuzenbach - A lieutenant in the army, Tuzenbach often philosophizes to be part of the group and impress Irina. He has loved Irina for five years and quits the Army to go to work in an attempt to impress her. He is repeatedly taunted by Solyony and between Acts III and IV, he retaliates and prompts Solyony to declare a duel. He is killed in the duel, perhaps allowing himself to be because he knows he will never win her heart.

* Vassily Vasilyevitch Solyony - A captain in the army, Solyony is a social mishap. He is in love with Irina and tries to put down the Baron to make himself look better, but Irina finds him crude and unappealing. He spends much of his time self-distructively mocking the Baron, who is the closest thing he has to a friend, and ends up killing him in a pointless duel. He is said to have a remarkable resemblance to the poet Lermontov in both face and personality, often quoting him. He always seems to sprinkle his hands and body with scent or perfume; it is later revealed that he does it to mask the smell of corpses on him.

* Ivan Romanovitch Chebutykin - Sixty years old and a doctor in the army, Chebutykin, like Kulygin, starts off as a fun, humorous old man that lavishes the sisters with expensive gifts. Later on in Act III, while drunk, he suffers an existential crisis and reveals to all about Natasha's and Protopopov's affair. In Act IV however, he seems to have come to terms with his crisis. Though he loved the mother of the sisters (whose name is never mentioned), she was married. It is possible that he is the father of Irina, which would account for their close relationship.

* Alexei Petrovich Fedotik - A sub-lieutenant, Fedotik hangs around the house and tries to express his love to Irina by buying her many gifts. He also is an amateur photographer, and takes photos of the group and Irina. In Act III, he loses all his belongings in the fire, but retains his cheerful nature.

* Vladimir Karlovitch Rode - Another sub-lieutenant, Rode is a coach at the high school(presumably with Kulygin). He has very little to do in the play.

The Others

* Ferapont - Door-keeper at local council offices, Ferapont is an old man with a partial hearing loss. He repeatedly blurts out random facts, usually relating to Moscow.
* Anfisa - A nurse in the family, Anfisa is 82 years old and has worked forever with the Prozorovs. Natasha begins to despise her for her feebleness and threatens to throw her out, but Olga takes her to live in her school apartment. She is the one character in the play, apart from Natasha, who ends up content.

Unseen Characters

The Three Sisters has a great number of important characters that are talked about frequently, but never seen. These include Protopopov, The head of the local Council and Natasha's lover, Vershinin's Suicidal wife and two daughters, and Andrei and Natasha's children Bobick and Sasha.


"Three Sisters" is a naturalistic play about the decay of the privileged class in Russia and the search for meaning in the modern world. It describes the lives and aspirations of the Prozorov family, the three sisters (Olga, Masha, and Irina) and their brother Andrei. They are a family dissatisfied and frustrated with their present existence. The sisters are refined and cultured young women who grew up in urban Moscow; however for the past eleven years they have been living in a small provincial town. Moscow is a major symbolic element: the sisters are always dreaming of it and constantly express their desire to return. They identify Moscow with their happiness, and thus to them it represents the perfect life. However as the play develops Moscow never materializes and they all see their dreams recede further and further. Meaning never presents itself and they are forced to seek it out for themselves.


Act one begins with Olga (the eldest of the sisters) working as a teacher in a school, but at the end of the play she is made Headmistress, a promotion she had no interest in. Masha, the middle sister, is married to Feodor Ilyich Kulygin, a schoolteacher. At the time of their marriage, Masha was enchanted by his cleverness, but seven years later, she considers him to be rather dull, and not as intelligent as she first thought. Irina, the youngest sister, dreams of going to Moscow and meeting her true love. Andrei is the only boy in the family. He is in love with Natalia Ivanovna (Natasha). The play begins on the first anniversary of their father's death, also Irina's name-day. It follows with a party. At this Andrei confesses his feelings to Natasha.

Act two begins about 21 months later fact|date=September 2007, Andrei and Natasha are married and have their first child, a daughter. Natasha is having an affair with Protopopov, Andrei's superior, a character who is mentioned but never seen onstage. Masha begins to have an affair with Aleksandr Ignatovich Vershinin, a lieutenant colonel who is married to a woman who constantly attempts suicide. Tuzenbach and Solyony declare their love for Irina.

Act three takes place about a year later in Olga and Irina's room (a clear sign that Natasha is taking over the household as she asked them to share rooms so that her child could have a different room). There has been a fire in the town, and everyone is helping. Olga, Masha and Irina are angry with their brother, Andrei, for mortgaging their home and keeping the money to pay off his gambling debts. Masha tells Olga and Irina about her continuing affair with Vershinin. Kulygin (her husband) becomes more affectionate towards her, but she less so with him. Irina decides she will marry Tuzenbach because Olga (who is a little old-fashioned) suggested she should because it is her duty as a woman. Chebutykin is drunk, and smashes a clock belonging to the sister's and Andrei's mother, whom he loved.

In the fourth and final act the soldiers, who by now are friends of the family, are preparing to leave the area. Just as they are leaving, Solyony kills Tuzenbach in a duel. This does not occur onstage, but a shot is heard and the death is announced shortly before the end of the play. Masha returns to her accepting husband. Olga reluctantly takes the position of permanent headmistress of the school where she teaches and moves out. She is accompanied by Anfisa, protecting the elderly woman from Natasha's clutches. Irina's fate is uncertain but she wants to move on with her teaching career. Natasha remains as the chatelaine, in charge and in control. Andrei is stuck in his marriage with two children, the only people that Natasha truly dotes on.

External links

* [ Oxquarry Books] - Full translation
* [ Project Gutenberg] - Full translation of several Chekhov plays
* [ Full text of "Three Sisters" in the original Russian]
* [ Brandeis University online biography and listing of his plays]
* [ IBDb records for full casts in New York productions]

Significant productions

* August 30 - October 13, 2007 Soulpepper Theatre Toronto, Version by Nicolas Billon with László Marton, Directed by László Marton, Website
* July 29 - August 3, 2008 Playhouse, QPAC, Brisbane, Australia, directed by Declan Donnellan, Chekhov International Theatre Festival (Moscow), part of Brisbane Festival 2008:

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