Michael Chekhov, homo ludens

Authored by: Maria Ignatieva

The Routledge Companion to Michael Chekhov

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415710183
eBook ISBN: 9781315716398
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506867


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Michael Chekhov’s most famous roles during the Russian period of his creativity include Strindberg’s Erik XIV, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Khlestakov in Gogol’s The Government Inspector. A look at his Moscow repertoire of November 1924 reveals that he played both Khlestakov and Hamlet three times, incomparably combining the two most difficult and desirable roles for both tragic and comic actors. How could he achieve the hilarious laughter and comic catharsis experienced by audiences watching Khlestakov, and the tragic cleansing described by spectators watching Hamlet a few days later? Chekhov, who could play a major role in any genre a few days apart, demonstrated a unique inner and physical plasticity; however, playing tragedy and comedy were not two separate gifts that he would switch at will. Not only did he redefine the genres of tragedy and comedy themselves, he also played many roles in which the tragic and comic met and merged. Chekhov, a master of tragicomedy, was able to insert buffoonery into tragedy and make tragedy buffoonish. Chekhov’s art lay in the “gravitation and levitation of tragic and comic, and in the eradication of the borders between them […] ” (Chekhov 1986: 2.445). This chapter examines the role and significance of the comic acting tradition in Chekhov’s roles containing motives and devices from popular culture and carnival, as analyzed by Mikhail Bakhtin (1975; 1979; 1984).

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