Three sisters (drama)

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Title: Three sisters
Original title: Три сестры
Genus: play
Original language: Russian
Author: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
Publishing year: 1901
Premiere: January 31, 1901
Place of premiere: Moscow Art Theater
  • Andrei Sergeyevich Prosorov
  • Natalja ("Natascha") Ivanovna, his bride, later his wife
  • Olga, Masha, Irina, his sisters
  • Fyodor Ilyich Kulygin, high school teacher, Masha's husband
  • Alexander Ignatevich Vershinin, lieutenant colonel and battery commander
  • Nikolai Lwowitsch Tusenbach, lieutenant
  • Wassilij Wassiljewitsch Soljony, Chief of Staff
  • Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin, military doctor
  • Alexei Petrovich Fedotik, second lieutenant
  • Ferapont, messenger of the land administration
  • Anfissa, nanny
Olga (Sawizkaja), Mascha ( Knipper ), Irina (Andrejewa), Moscow 1901

Three Sisters ( Russian Три сестры ) is a drama by Anton Chekhov that premiered on January 31, 1901 at the Moscow Art Theater . It was directed by Konstantin Stanislawski , the leading Russian director of the time. Chekhov's future wife, actress Olga Knipper, played the role of Masha in the premiere .


Act 1: Act 1 takes place on the name day of the youngest sister, Irina (20 years old). Several officers have come to congratulate. Irina, Mascha, Olga and their brother Andrei Prosorov have lived in the provincial governorate for eleven years . Because of their father, a brigadier general, they were once brought here. But the father has been dead for a year. Irina is particularly moved by the longing to return to Moscow soon , where they come from. “To Moscow!” Has become a kind of mantra of hope for her. She longs for great love and a fulfilled life through work. Mascha, the middle sister (24 years old), married her former teacher Fyodor Ilyich Kulygin at the age of 18, whom she admired. She is now completely disaffected and considers him a talkative know-it-all. Olga, the oldest (28 years old), works in the school service, but longs for a quiet life as a housewife. The brother Andrei is aiming for a career as a professor at a Moscow university . He falls in love with Natascha, a petty bourgeois girl who is treated with disdain and irony by the sisters.

Act 2: About a year has passed. Andrei married Natascha. Bobik, the first child, is born. Irina has accepted a job in the telegraph office, but it does not make her happy. Both the young Baron Tusenbach and the officer Soljony are in love with her. Irina does not reciprocate the feelings of either one or the other. Masha begins an affair with the married officer Vershinin. Andrej buries his dream of a university career. Instead, he has a subordinate role in the land administration and gambled away the common legacy of the siblings out of boredom. Natascha gains more and more power over the house and increasingly pushes the siblings to the edge. Presumably she starts an affair with Andrej's superior.

3rd act: Again about a year has passed. A fire startles the city. Sophie, the second child of Natasha and Andrei, was born. Natascha intensifies the conflict with Olga and urges her out of the house. Mascha reveals to her sisters that she loves Vershinin. Olga, who also had hopes for Vershinin, brusquely rejects the confession. Because of his enormous gambling debts, Andrei took out a mortgage on the house without asking the sisters . Irina realizes that they will never return to Moscow.

4th act: The battery is withdrawn from the city. Irina has decided to marry Tusenbach even though she does not love him. She completed her training as a teacher. They want to go away together. The day before, the jealous Soljony provoked Tusenbach and challenged him to a duel . Vershinin says goodbye to the desperate Masha. Kulygin, her husband, still loves her and wants to continue the marriage as if nothing had happened. Andrej has given up all ambition and will continue to live with Natascha, who now completely rules the house. Olga became the school director. Tusenbach is killed in a duel by Soljony. Irina decides to go away anyway and start working as a teacher.


Chekhov introduces formal elements into Three Sisters that were novel and unusual at the time the drama was written: there is no main plot, but a series of intersecting subplots. The piece also has no central "hero figure", but rather a collection of equivalent "non-heroes". A special feature of the piece is also the difficult network of relationships between the characters present and those who are absent: the father, who has been dead for a year, is extremely important for the present situation of the siblings. Likewise Protopopov, the chairman of the land administration, who does not appear in the play: initially he is considered Natasha's future husband, then he is Andrei's superior, later he also becomes Andrei's rival, as he probably has a relationship with Natascha.

Chekhov develops a dialogue technique that was almost revolutionary at the beginning of the 20th century: instead of a dialogue that drives the plot, the characters' conversations often lead "nowhere". The dialogue situation typical for the piece consists of several monologues that overlap. This creates the impression of talking past each other. There are also peculiarities in the use of the space: the plot develops in width and area. Instead of a vanishing point, there are “action islands”.

The play has no story arc in the Aristotelian sense that could be built up with tension, so there is no peripetia either . The time frame seems stretched; it extends over a total of three years. The element of time, however, is not used to create tension; it is itself a theme of the piece. Time flies - it is no room for human activity, for action or for conflicts. Almost all changes penetrate the characters' lives from outside: in the third act a fire destroys half the city, in the last act the brigade is relocated, etc. Chekhov's characters no longer change the world with their actions, but the world turns independently from them further. Chekhov is therefore widely regarded as a forerunner of the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett . In his dramas (" Waiting for Godot ", " Endspiel "), Beckett completed what Chekhov began as a dramaturgical experiment: writing pieces without any notable plot and without central conflict and not treating dialogues as an action - that is, as a " speech act " , but as (often inconsequential) speaking for the sake of speaking. Chekhov thus dissolves the classic Aristotelian drama structure and instead develops a model in which the modern man is no longer described as an individual who is empowered to act and who could shape the world.

This powerlessness to act corresponds to the characters' reluctance to live in the present. The memory of the past in distant Moscow or the philosophizing about life in a distant future dominate her thinking and feeling. For drama - which, in contrast to epic, is the literary genre that lives from the visualization of events - this is almost paradoxical .


Like all Chekhov pieces, “Drei Schwestern” defies a one-dimensional interpretation . Although the work is structured through chamber music , the complexity of the topics addressed and the accuracy of the character portraits allow for a variety of accents and interpretations. The aspects described below are therefore only approaches for interpretation. Chekhov himself always refused to explain his play. When asked what he "meant" with a certain passage, he always replied that it was all in the text.

In a way, Chekhov's drama can be understood as an “end time piece”. The story of the Prosorov siblings, who dream of a better life but are unable to tear themselves out of the atmosphere of weary listlessness, is paradigmatic for the state of the Russian intelligentsia at the dawn of the new century. Although the siblings are educated and endowed with many talents, they remain in an unproductive waiting state and complain that their diverse talents are only "ballast" for them. In the first act, Irina critically examines this way of life and decides to go to work. But the longed-for satisfaction does not come. Both Irina and Olga find their work only draining and tiring.

The once productive concepts of the bourgeoisie seem to have come to an end: they can no longer set goals or give people a purpose. “Progress, enlightenment, science, work, the well-being of humanity, general benefit, social justice, humanity - all the rhetoric with which the Chekhov heroes, their childhood and adolescence, in the time of liberal reforms and the development of radical left movements in Russia fall, have grown up, no good anymore. "the set pieces of great ideologies serve characters like Vershinin and Tusenbach only for inconsequential ranting .

In the characters in the play, Chekhov paints a portrait of his own social class, which he considers incapable of giving impetus to social development. “The fire that destroyed half the city in the third act is a glimpse of the revolutions in which this layer will finally perish. The future belongs to people like Natascha - the pragmatic sister-in-law of the three sisters who, without scruples, asks about usefulness and efficiency. Andrej and the sisters are passive spectators in a theater that plays the story of their downfall. "

History of origin

Anton Chekhov wrote “Three Sisters” in Yalta on the Crimean peninsula . He had to retire there in 1898 because of his tuberculosis disease. Chekhov felt cut off from the art life of the metropolises and tried to maintain the connection - especially with his later (from May 1901) wife Olga Knipper - through a lively correspondence. The process of creating the Three Sisters is documented in these letters .

In November 1899 he wrote in a letter to the director and co-founder of the art theater Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko for the first time that he had a subject for a new play. He also mentions the title Three Sisters . He wrote to Olga Knipper on August 10, 1900: “The piece has started, it seems to me the beginning is quite good, but suddenly it leaves me cold, it is too banal for me - and now I don't know what to do should. ”Chekhov's doubts as to whether the subject and the writing would be exciting enough for a drama pervade the correspondence of the following weeks. On September 5, he wrote to Olga Knipper: "[...] I'm afraid it will be unclear or pale, and therefore, in my opinion, it would be better to postpone it until next season." On November 13, 1900, however, he reports : “The Three Sisters have already finished, but the piece has become boring, tough, uncomfortable; I say - uncomfortable, because it has, for example, four heroines [...]. The play is as complicated as a novel , and the atmosphere, supposedly, murderous. ”He is present at the first rehearsals in the Moscow Art Theater. Then he asked Olga Knipper to inform him by letter about the progress of the rehearsals. His fear that the play might not be successful with the audience and critics is growing. The nervousness causes him to travel all over Europe: from Nice to Algiers , from there to Italy . On January 20th, he wrote to Olga Knipper from Nice, only half jokingly: “If the play fails, I'll go to Monte Carlo and gamble away my head and neck there.” He received news of the successful premiere by telegram.

Reception and performance history

Chekhov's late dramas, which include Three Sisters , premiered at the Moscow Art Theater, directed by Konstantin Stanislavski. Stanislavski was not only an important director of the time - he also reformed the art of acting . Instead of declamation and effective star theater, he introduced a strictly realistic-psychological style of play that was based on the actor's empathy with the character and aimed at truthful expression. Accordingly, the stage sets were realistically declined living spaces for the characters. Stanislawski made Chekhov's pieces internationally known. The West European audience only became aware of the playwright through the tour of the artist theater.

Nevertheless, Stanislavski's role in Chekhov's reception was ambivalent. In a way, his interpretations were based on a misunderstanding: Stanislavski staged the pieces as melancholy "mood dramas". In this way, the figures became victims of unspecified social circumstances and offered the bourgeois audience projection surfaces for backward-looking longings. It is said that in Stanislawski's production of The Three Sisters the audience shed tears in every performance - much to Chekhov's annoyance. He said to Alexander Tikhonov: "You say you cried over my plays. You are not the only one. But I did not write you about that. It was Stanislavsky who made you so maudlin. I wanted something completely different. I wanted to say simply and honestly: look at you, see how bad and boring you lead your life! " In other words, Chekhov was interested in a pitiless view of his own class - not sentimentality and backward-looking longings for a supposedly intact old time.

Stanislavski did not recognize the modern features of Chekhov's dramas - or else he as a director could not do anything with them: the breaks between comedy and tragedy, the sometimes surreal and grotesque moments, those characters that are reminiscent of Shakespeare's fools and a "perspective from below" bring in (in the Three Sisters these are the nurse Anfissa and the pigeon Ferapont) and other elements. The Chekhov translator Thomas Brasch reports that Stanislavski literally forced Chekhov to delete such a grotesque scene before the world premiere of the Kirschgarten because he had no access to it. In this respect, it is tragicomic that Chekhov's plays became known worldwide through a director who basically did not fully understand his intentions and his modernity.

Chekhov fought in vain against the sentimentalization of his pieces during his lifetime. He always emphasized that his plays were comedies - or at least tragic comedies . Stanislavski's close colleague Nemirowitsch-Danchenko reports on the reading sample for Three Sisters : “In the theater the play was read out in Chekhov's presence. He fought his embarrassment and repeated several times: 'I wrote a cheerful piece.' "

Even Peter Stein became famous staging of Three Sisters from 1984 at the schaubühne drew on this performance tradition and prolonged so basically the one-sided reception of Chekhovian texts in Germany. In recent years, on the other hand, there have been a number of successful productions that put an end to the “Chekhov cliché”, saw the play as a tragic comedy and did not ignore its absurd and grotesque moments (such as the visually powerful production by Andreas Kriegenburg at the Munich Kammerspiele 2006 or the performance by Markus Dietz at the Hessian State Theater Wiesbaden 2012).

The translators also play a major role in this new view of Chekhov's plays. Thomas Brasch describes that in earlier decades Chekhov was often translated too softly in the ductus. A certain cliché of "Russian soul" and "Russian melancholy" should be used, which was popular with the audience. But the sharpness and the occasional "cold intellectual tones" (Brasch) in Chekhov's pieces were suppressed. The more recent translations (Brasch, Zemme , Clemen, Schanelec , Ruge) clearly work out the realism of the Chekhov language and the often surprising directness of the dialogues, including verbal attacks.

Quotes (selection)

“We describe life as it is, and no further beep or pup… We have neither short-term nor long-term goals, our hearts are empty. We have no politics, we don't believe in the revolution, we have no God, we are not afraid of ghosts, personally I am not even afraid of death or going blind. "

- Anton Chekhov : diaries, notebooks

"Something gigantic is rolling towards us, something monstrous, a mighty storm will shake the indolence of our society out of the bones and make it crash out of joint."

- Tusenbach : in: Drei Schwestern (translation by Thomas Brasch)

Productions (selection)

Film adaptations

Translations into German (selection)

  • Thomas Brasch , Insel Verlag Frankfurt am Main, 1985
  • Werner Buhss, Henschel Theaterverlag
  • Andrea Clemen, S. Fischer Theaterverlag, 1995
  • Eugen Ruge , Merlin Verlag
  • Angela Schanelec , S. Fischer Theaterverlag, 2008
  • Peter Urban , Diogenes 1974
  • Ulrike Zemme, Rowohlt Theaterverlag 1994

Text output (selection)

  • Anton Čechov: Three Sisters: Drama in four acts (Original title: Tri sestry . Translated and edited by Peter Urban), Diogenes, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-257-20103-6 .
  • Anton Chekhov: Three Sisters and Other Dramas: The Seagull / Uncle Vanya / The Cherry Orchard (translated by Andrea Clemen). 5th edition, Fischer- Taschenbuch 12925, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-596-12925-6
  • Anton Chekhov: The Great Dramas [contains: Platonov or The Anarchist as a Lover ; Ivanov ; The seagull ; Uncle Vanya ; The three sisters ; Der Kirschgarten ] (translated by Thomas Brasch), 2nd edition, Insel Taschenbuch 2989, Frankfurt am Main / Leipzig 2003, ISBN 978-3-458-34689-0
  • Bodo Zelinsky: Chekhov's dramas [ The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard ]. In: Reclams Universal Library No. 17523, Interpretations . Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 978-3-15-017523-1

Literature (selection)

  • Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko: Chekhov or the birth of modern theater . Alexander Verlag Berlin / Cologne, 2011, ISBN 978-3-89581-252-1
  • Anton Chekhov: Letters 1897-1901 . Edited and translated by Peter Urban. Diogenes Verlag Zurich 1979, ISBN 9783257015843
  • Anton Čechov . Edited by Peter Urban. Diogenes Verlag Zurich. ISBN 9783257019339

Audio book


Web links

Wikisource: Три сестры  - Sources and full texts (Russian)


  1. From the lecture "Basic Forms of Drama I" by Prof. Christopher Balme at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich on January 23, 2007.
  2. Erika Fischer-Lichte: History of Drama from Romanticism to the Present . Wilhelm Finck Verlag Munich 1990. pp. 110 ff, ISBN 3-7720-1760-6
  3. ^ Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko: Chekhov or the birth of modern theater . Berlin, Cologne 2011
  4. Peter Rezvykh: “Notes on Chekhov”. Original contribution to the program of the Münchner Kammerspiele on “Three Sisters”. 2006/07 season
  5. Dagmar Borrmann: “Chekhov's Three Sisters”. History of a Misunderstanding ”. Original contribution for the program of the Hessian State Theater Wiesbaden. 2012/13 season
  6. a b c d e Anton Chekhov: Letters 1897-1901 . Edited and translated by Peter Urban. Zurich 1979
  7. Erika Fischer-Lichte: History of Drama from Romanticism to the Present . Wilhelm Finck Verlag Munich 1990. ISBN 3-7720-1760-6 . P. 120ff
  8. quoted from: Siegfried Melchinger: Chekhov . Velber near Hanover 1968
  9. ^ Ilma Rakusa: Chekhov up to date. In: August 1, 1986, accessed December 9, 2014 .
  10. a b Rudolf Rach: Thomas Brasch. The new Chekhov translations . In: Suhrkamp Theaterblatt 4 (1982)
  11. ^ Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko: Chekhov or the birth of modern theater . Berlin, Cologne 2011
  12. Hellmuth Karasek: The poetry of the inanimate life . In: Der Spiegel . No. 6 , 1984 ( online ).
  13. ( Memento of the original dated November 24, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  15. ^ Anton Chekhov: Diaries. Notebooks . Edited and translated by Peter Urban. Diogenes, Zurich 1983, ISBN 3-257-01634-4 .