A Tragic Actor by Anton Chekov
Translated by Constance Garrett
IT was the benefit night of Fenogenov, the tragic actor. They
were acting "Prince Serebryany." The tragedian himself was
playing Vyazemsky; Limonadov, the stage manager, was playing
Morozov; Madame Beobahtov, Elena. The performance was a grand
success. The tragedian accomplished wonders indeed. When he was
carrying off Elena, he held her in one hand above his head as he
dashed across the stage. He shouted, hissed, banged with his
feet, tore his coat across his chest. When he refused to fight
Morozov, he trembled all over as nobody ever trembles in reality,
and gasped loudly. The theatre shook with applause. There were
endless calls. Fenogenov was presented with a silver
cigarette-case and a bouquet tied with long ribbons. The ladies
waved their handkerchiefs and urged their men to applaud, many
shed tears. . . . But the one who was the most enthusiastic and
most excited was Masha, daughter of Sidoretsky the police
captain. She was sitting in the first row of the stalls beside
her papa; she was ecstatic and could not take her eyes off the
stage even between the acts. Her delicate little hands and feet
were quivering, her eyes were full of tears, her cheeks turned
paler and paler. And no wonder -- she was at the theatre for the
first time in her life.
"How well they act! how splendidly!" she said to her papa the
police captain, every time the curtain fell. How good Fenogenov
And if her papa had been capable of reading faces he would have
read on his daughter's pale little countenance a rapture that was
almost anguish. She was overcome by the acting, by the play, by
the surroundings. When the regimental band began playing between
the acts, she closed her eyes, exhausted.
"Papa!" she said to the police captain during the last interval,
"go behind the scenes and ask them all to dinner to-morrow!"
The police captain went behind the scenes, praised them for all
their fine acting, and complimented Madame Beobahtov.
"Your lovely face demands a canvas, and I only wish I could wield
And with a scrape, he thereupon invited the company to dinner.
"All except the fair sex," he whispered. "I don't want the
actresses, for I have a daughter."
Next day the actors dined at the police captain's. Only three
turned up, the manager Limonadov, the tragedian Fenogenov, and
the comic man Vodolazov; the others sent excuses. The dinner was
a dull affair. Limonadov kept telling the police captain how
much he respected him, and how highly he thought of all persons
in authority; Vodolazov mimicked drunken merchants and Armenians;
and Fenogenov (on his passport his name was Knish), a tall, stout
Little Russian with black eyes and frowning brow,
declaimed "At the portals of the great," and "To be or not to
be." Limonadov, with tears in his eyes, described his interview
with the former Governor, General Kanyutchin. The police captain
listened, was bored, and smiled affably. He was well satisfied,
although Limonadov smelt strongly of burnt feathers, and
Fenogenov was wearing a hired dress coat and boots trodden down
at heel. They pleased his daughter and made her lively, and that
was enough for him. And Masha never took her eyes off the
actors. She had never before seen such clever, exceptional
In the evening the police captain and Masha were at the theatre
again. A week later the actors dined at the police captain's
again, and after that came almost every day either to dinner or
supper. Masha became more and more devoted to the theatre, and
went there every evening.
She fell in love with the tragedian. One fine morning, when the
police captain had gone to meet the bishop, Masha ran away with
Limonadov's company and married her hero on the way. After
celebrating the wedding, the actors composed a long and touching
letter and sent it to the police captain.
It was the work of their combined efforts.
"Bring out the motive, the motive!" Limonadov kept saying as he
dictated to the comic man. "Lay on the respect. . . . These
official chaps like it. Add something of a sort . . . to draw a
The answer to this letter was most discomforting. The police
captain disowned his daughter for marrying, as he said, "a
stupid, idle Little Russian with no fixed home or occupation."
And the day after this answer was received M asha was writing to
"Papa, he beats me! Forgive us!"
He had beaten her, beaten her behind the scenes, in the presence
of Limonadov, the washerwoman, and two lighting men. He
remembered how, four days before the wedding, he was sitting in
the London Tavern with the whole company, and all were talking
about Masha. The company were advising him to "chance it," and
Limonadov, with tears in his eyes urged: "It would be stupid and
irrational to let slip such an opportunity! Why, for a sum like
that one would go to Siberia, let alone getting married! When
you marry and have a theatre of your own, take me into your
company. I shan't be master then, you'll be master."
Fenogenov remembered it, and muttered with clenched fists:
"If he doesn't send money I'll smash her! I won't let myself be
made a fool of, damn my soul!"
At one provincial town the company tried to give Masha the slip,
but Masha found out, ran to the station, and got there when the
second bell had rung and the actors had all taken their seats.
"I've been shamefully treated by your father," said the
tragedian; "all is over between us!"
And though the carriage was full of people, she went down on her
knees and held out her hands, imploring him:
"I love you! Don't drive me away, Kondraty Ivanovitch," she
besought him. "I can't live without you!"
They listened to her entreaties, and after consulting together,
took her into the company as a "countess" -- the name they used
for the minor actresses who usually came on to the stage in
crowds or in dumb parts. To begin with Masha used to play
maid-servants and pages, but when Madame Beobahtov, the flower of
Limonadov's company, eloped, they made her _ingenue_. She acted
badly, lisped, and was nervous. She soon grew used to it,
however, and began to be liked by the audience. Fenogenov was
"To call her an actress!" he used to say. "She has no figure, no
deportment, nothing whatever but silliness."
In one provincial town the company acted Schiller's " Robbers."
Fenogenov played Franz, Masha, Amalie. The tragedian shouted and
quivered. Masha repeated her part like a well-learnt lesson, and
the play would have gone off as they generally did had
it not been for a trifling mishap. Everything went well up to
the point where Franz declares his love for Amalie and she seizes
his sword. The tragedian shouted, hissed, quivered, and squeezed
Masha in his iron embrace. And Masha, instead of repulsing him
and crying "Hence! " trembled in his arms like a bird and did not
move, . . .she seemed petrified.
"Have pity on me!" she whispered in his ear. "Oh, have pity on
me! I am so miserable!"
"You don't know your part! Listen to the prompter!" hissed the
tragedian, and he thrust his sword into her hand.
After the performance, Limonadov and Fenogenov were sitting in
the ticket box-office engaged in conversation.
"Your wife does not learn her part, you are right there," the
manager was saying. "She doesn't know her line. . . . Every man
has his own line, . . . but she doesn't know hers. . . ."
Fenogenov listened, sighed, and scowled and scowled.
Next morning, Masha was sitting in a little general shop writing:
"Papa, he beats me! Forgive us! Send us some money!"