Much difficulty lies in categorizing “The Cherry Orchard” in the list of comedies. Critics could not come to conclusion in defining its genre. The play has been debated for many years with respect to its style and genre. Neither it could be called a tragedy nor could it be categorized as a comedy but a combination of both. There are equal tears and laughter in the play. At one moment it seems like a comic masterpiece but in the next moment, it becomes tragic. Perhaps, Anton Chekhov blended the ingredients of the two main genres of drama i.e. tragedy and comedy. The play shares the type of “The Winter’s Tale” by William Shakespeare.
Comedy and tragedy are entirely opposite even then they are combined to form a new form of drama; called tragi-comedy. A comedy is written to make the audience laugh. In ancient Greeks and Romans, comedy was a stage play with a happy ending. In light of the definition of comedy, “The Cherry Orchard” is not a comedy as its ending is not happy at all but pessimistic, gloomy and sad. On the other hand, a tragedy is the combination of many of the important ingredients, defined by Aristotle, such as the belonging of the hero from an upper class, his sufferings due to hamartia and the catharsis of piety and fear.
“The Cherry Orchard” does not fit in this category too. Although there is suffering in the play for Mrs Ranevsky and her family yet there is no catharsis of feelings of piety and fear, while watching this play. Mrs Ranevsky does not do anything to save her estate from the auction. Moreover, she does not change her habits and instead of collecting money by cutting cherry trees and building cottages as advised by Lopakhin, prefers the aristocratic lifestyle. She, free-handedly, lends money to Pishchik and spends gold on his aristocratic lifestyle. Hence, the play does not create feelings of piety and fear. The proverb “as you sow so shall you reap” applies in this situation. Mrs Ranevsky does not change with the changing atmosphere of Russia and does not give up her feudal living style, therefore, in return she faces disaster, which is definitely justified in the eyes of readers/spectators.
Anton Chekhov, the writer of the play, defined “The Cherry Orchard” as a comic masterpiece. Indeed, lots of dialogues and actions of the characters in the play, define it as a comic masterpiece. For example, Gavyv’s imaginary billiard shots, his solute to an old bookcase, his addiction to candies, the actions of Simon Yepichodov’s alias twenty-to Calamities, the love triangle between Yepichodov, Dunyasha and Yasha, which is merely created for the purpose of comedy, the language of Peter Trofimove, Yasha’s exchange with Dunyasha in an orchard, Yasha’s flirt with Dunyasha etc. all are evidence that this play is a comic masterpiece. Even then, the play is not a pure comedy. The ending of the play is not happy at all. Many of the characters, like Simeonov-Pishchik, are half comic and half tragic.
The genre of the play depends on the vision of the reader/spectator. How he sees this play is the important thing. The difference between the visions can be adjudged between the review of the writer of the play and its producer. Anton Chekhov defines “The Cherry Orchard” as a farce but Konstantin Stanislavsky, the producer of the play, defines it as a tragedy. While reviewing the play, he writes:
“It is not a comedy, not a farce, as you wrote—it is a tragedy no matter if you do indicate a way out into a better world in the last act…when I read it for the second time…I wept like a woman, I tried to control myself, but I could not. I can hear you say. ‘But please, this is a farce…’ No, for the ordinary person this is a tragedy”.
Views of Konstantin Stanislavsky are considerable but it is also a fact that “The Cherry Orchard” does not fit into the definition of congenital tragedy. It does not complete all the requirements of a tragedy as defined by Aristotle.
Anton Chekhov may call this play a farcical comedy but most critics find the play melancholic. The downfall of the upper class and the uprising of the middle class is the main theme of this play. Ultimately, the breakdown of the elite class is dreadful and creates sadness. At the same time, it cannot be ignored that the comic situations give relief to the spectators/readers. It is a matter of fact that most critics agree to call this play a tragedy instead comedy. It is crucial to quote David Magarshack’s reviews with respect to the kind of this play. The relevant portion is reproduced as under:-
“The dying, melancholy sound of a broken string of a musical instrument…is all Chekhov needed to convey his own attitude to the ‘dreary’ lives of his characters… With the years this sound acquired a nostalgic ring, and it is this sad nostalgic feeling Chekhov wanted to convey by it. It is sort of requiem for the ‘unhappy and disjointed’ lives of his characters.”David Magarshack’s – British translator
The writer namely Anton Chekhov wanted to write a comic masterpiece in form of “The Cherry Orchard” but like contemporary writers, he could not stay away from the dilemma of society and consciously or unconsciously, mixed comedy with tragedy. A lot of incidents in the play refer that the writer’s views are different from ordinary people as he has called this play a farce. The play is still directed and produced simultaneously debated but its genre up till now is a mystery.
Resultantly, it is wrong to say that the play is a pure comedy. It is a hotchpotch of comedy and tragedy, therefore, to add this play to the list of comedies is totally unfair and unjustified. A number of actions and dialogues of different characters are comic but it is sure that the play is not a pure comedy. In addition to comedy, the play is also sad, gloomy and depressing. In short, the play can be considered a tragi-comedy rather than pure comedy.