The Cure For Stupidity: A Reading of Chekhov's 'Cherry Orchard'
Last night I read Anton Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard'. Today I read the first two plays of the Oresteia of Aeschelus, 'Agammemnon' and 'The Libation Bearers' and the book length essay on the trilogy by Robert Fagles, and would've finished the third play 'Eumenides' were the first two of the trilogy not so depressing. But I want to share my impressions of the Chekhov here, not the Greek.
'Cherry Orchard' was frustrating. Having a fair idea of what Doctor Chekhov's on about now, I found many of the ideas in the stories tucked away out of sight in the play.
But what am I to make of it, after all?
I feel that I watch Dr Chekhov dissecting something which gives every indication of being a cherished and valuable living family system. If I were to discover this is an illusion I would be mollified, but I do not: the family and the world the Doctor dissects for our delectation is revealed for nothing more than entertainment and a night at the theatre. Human fables and follies are clinically exposed. It is perfectly barbaric.
I kept saying aloud to myself as I read "Oh my God these people are so STUPID!" Their stupidity, which Chekhov courteously justified by grief, madness, alienation, loose morals, and a variety of other straw men, is the salient feature of the play. Everybody is irredeemably stupid.
Robert Anton Wilson once asked if there is a cure for stupidity. Anton Chekhov presents, no not a cure for stupidity, but a purgative. Here is Doctor Chekhov's presciption:
An ordinary middle class life, free from slavery, lived for the sake of some basic common ideas - say, dignity, cheerfulness, liberty and productive work - this life, this life alone, in itself without any dogma, afterlife, metaphysics or creeds, this life is enough.
It may be that the cure for stupidity is found in the audience of a Chekhov play, if they only remember, and laugh - and then remember to laugh when they themselves commit the same follies, believing in the same ridiculous fables, as Chekhov's characters do.