convent (1063)—a community of women who live a life devoted to religious worship
chit (1066)—impudent girl; a child, girl, or young woman, especially one whose physical slightness seems to be at odds with an impertinent, forceful, or self-confident manner
highwayman (1067)—roadside robber; formerly, somebody who forced people traveling by road to stop, usually at gunpoint, and robbed them
simpering (1068)—say something coyly
subaltern (1069)—somebody who holds a subordinate or inferior position
insinuate (1069)—imply something; to hint at unpleasantness or suggest it indirectly and gradually
impudence (1069)—deliberate rudeness; showing a lack of respect and shameless boldness
brute (1070)—somebody brutal; somebody who is very cruel, ruthless, or insensitive
fire and brimstone (126)—damnation; eternal punishment
“My old lady died, for that matter, and I wept and wailed over her a whole month long. Well, that was it. I couldn’t weep and wail all my life. She just wasn’t worth it” (Luka, 3).
“You’re young, you’re pretty, you could enjoy yourself! Ten years from now you may want to strut and show your feathers to the officers, and it’ll be too late” (Luka, 3).
“I’m not a visitor, I’m a creditor—most unwelcome of guests, second only to Death” (Smirnov, 51).
“So you think you can get away with it because you’re a woman. A creature of poetry and romance, huh? Well, it doesn’t go down with me. I hereby challenge you to a duel” (Smirnov, 111).
“Trying to scare me again? Just because you have big fists and a voice like a bull? You’re a brute” (Mrs. Popov, 114).
Background and Summary
Anton Chekhov, a master ironist, is often credited as being the father of the modern short story and play. Indeed, he was the first modern master of an economical prose. He began as a freelance writer who wrote to pay the bills. In his early career he emphasized quantity over quality. But soon an editor placed strict restrictions on length and tone. Struggling to write within these narrow constraints helped Chekhov perfect his art. As he perfected his craft, his emphasis shifted and what emerged was quality over quantity. Many of his one-act plays bridge the gap between quantity and quality, and that is where one will find “The Brute: A Joke in One Act.” Certainly, the war between the sexes did not begin with Chekhov; however, “The Brute” brings to this ageless war a vivid battle between Mrs. Popov and Smirnov. Mrs. Popov is determined to faithfully mourn her unfaithful husband while Smirnov is an equally determined creditor bent on hounding the widow for the repayment of his loan. This war of words escalates, and soon in utter frustration, Smirnov challenges the “grieving” widow to a duel. When Mrs. Popov proudly accepts, sparks begin to fly--but not sparks of contempt. Smirnov finds in her defiance an overwhelming attraction that he cannot fight. As the play ends, the proposal for a duel is rescinded and a proposal of marriage is issued instead.
Luka is a loyal footman who tries unsuccessfully to pull his employer out of her depression. He is old and is greatly intimidated by Smirnov.
Mrs. Popov is a reclusive widower who clings mightily to her grief. She is determined to prove to the world that she can be more faithful to her marriage than her deceased, philandering husband was in life.
Mr. Grigory S. Smirnov faces foreclosure of his farm if he isn’t repaid money owed to him by the late Mr. Popov. He hounds Mrs. Popov who remains unmoved. His frustration leads to a threatened duel which leads to a proposal of marriage.
Chekhov examines how thin the line is that exists between anger and passion, between love and hate. He explores the complexities of the human condition when faced with financial ruin and infidelity.
Readers often find Chekhov’s works often have no real plot. There is only a brief moment of confrontation which drastically condenses the experiences of his richly detailed characters. This is surely true of “The Brute” or as it is sometimes translated, “The Bear.” A review of his plays at newberkshire.com asserts, “[His early one-act plays] show us a theatrical genius stumbling into the greatness he would later achieve” (par 1). This eleven-page play confirms a conviction held by Chekhov who claims “brevity is the sister of talent” (quotidiantheatreorg, par 7). Elyse Sommer writing for Curtain Up observes that Chekhov’s dialogue is like “counterpoint in music” where “[c]haracters talk from within the shell of their own miseries. They talk more at than to each other so that we have conversations where no one seems to be listening to anyone but themselves (par 13). Much of the action in his plays take the form of arrivals and departures and allow characters to come together to fill in the details of their lives (Sommer, par 12). Chekhov was not only an author; he was also a physician. In a letter printed in Alexander’s collection, Chekhov confesses, “Besides medicine, my wife, I have also literature—my mistress” (Literature Resourse Center, par 10). Nevertheless, Chekhov never divorces himself from his medical training. Indeed, Chekhov observed, and he dramatized what he saw without making judgments. Sommers reminds, “It’s up to the audience to make what it will of the human canvas he spreads before them” (par 16).
The one-act play consists of a single scene that takes place in the country home of Mrs. Popov. Entrances by the three main characters drive the action and dialogue.
“Anton Chekhov.” Contemporary Authors. 2004. Literature Resource Center. Gale Group Databases. Tarrant County Community College Library. 28 March 2004. http://ezp.tccd.net:2051
“Anton Chekhov.” Quotidian Theatre Company. 2003-2004. 28 March 2004. http://www.quotidiantheatre.org/chekhov.htm
Hall, Frances Benn. “Charming Entertainment.” newberkshire.com. 28 June 2003. 28 March 2004. The Chekhov One-Acts at Shakespeare and Co., Lenox, MA
Sommer, Elyse. “A Chekhov List of Facts.” Curtain Up. 2002. 28 March 2004. http://www.curtainup.com/chekhob.html